Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist, gave a talk at Pop!Tech on why the threat of global warming fails to get our attention while the threat of terrorism consumes us.
In a nutshell, there are four characteristics of a threat that human brains have evolved sensitivity towards. Terrorism presents all four of these characteristics, global warming none.
Human agency (Personal):
Terrorism has a human face, global warming doesn't.
Humans are good at spotting fast not slow, relative not absolute, changes.
Moral sensitivity (Immoral):
Emotions are raised around, say, food (nausea) and sex (disgrace), but we're oblivious to atmospheric chemistry.
Terrorism can kill you right now, global warming can't. The brain responds to present, not future, threats.
Sounds plausible to me.
The talk is available at the following links:
The Psychology of Global Warming I (YouTube)
The Psychology of Global Warming II (YouTube)
The Psychology of Global Warming (view or download from Pop!Tech)