The reason why we care and plan for the future may be genetic, researchers said.
Lead researcher Dr Peter Sozou, of the University of Warwick's Medical School and the London School of Economics and Political Science, revealed that individuals might have an innate tendency to care about the long-term future of their communities, over timescales much longer than an individual's lifespan.
AdvertisementHe said we care at all about the long-term future because we have evolved to value social benefits because in our ancestral environment they tended to deliver local benefits - helping our kin to survive.
However in the modern age, it is this biological preference for social good which gives us an interest in the future of the planet.
"In the modern, global environment, such preferences may cause people to care about global problems such as climate change," he added
Using a mathematical model, the researchers sought to determine what weight individuals should attach to future benefits.
It is shown that the answer depends on whether the future benefits are social benefits for their community or private benefits for themselves.
The study revealed that individuals could take a long-term view of benefits for their community, but a more short-term view of private benefits to themselves.
Humans, generally value a reward today more highly than a reward tomorrow - in other words they discount future benefits.
However, the model shows that the discount rate is lower for social, rather than individual, benefits.
"This analysis shows that the social discount rate is generally lower than the private discount rate," said Dr Sozou.
"An individual's valuation of a future benefit to herself is governed by the probability that she will still be alive in future.
"But she may value future benefits to her community over a timescale considerably longer than her own lifespan," he added.
According to Sozou, evolution is driven by competition. Caring about the future of your community makes evolutionary sense to the extent that future members of your community are likely to be your relatives.
The findings are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.