“Our research shows people have great difficulty managing systems with long time delays,” says Professor John Sterman. “We tend to assume systems respond to policies much faster than they actually do. When delays are short, it's often best to wait and see whether a problem arises, and then take corrective action. But when there are long delays, doing so means action comes too late.”
The climate system contains extremely long delays: It takes time to develop more efficient vehicles and buildings and new carbon-neutral technologies, and still more time to replace existing energy-consuming and energy-producing infrastructure with these new technologies. There are additional delays between emissions reductions and changes in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, between greenhouse gas concentrations and average global temperatures, and between temperatures and harmful impacts such as changes in ice cover, sea level, weather patterns, agricultural productivity, extinction rates, and the incidence of diseases.