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This is a video about climate change.

(https://youtu.be/DkZ7BJQupVA?t=85)

So I like to say that climate change is the policy problem from hell.

You almost couldn't design a worse problem as a fit with our underlying psychology or the way our institutions make decisions.

Many Americans continue to think of climate change as a distant problem...

Sorry for this unclear title, but I don't understand the whole sentence even though I know the meaning of every word here.

Does "you almost couldn't design a worse problem" part mean you can't even think a worse problem than climate change cause it's the worst and most serious one?

And also "as a fit with..." part is confusing for me.

What does this sentence mean and what is he trying to say?

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    Questions like this often seem to be met with suggestions that you look things up, but that a torturous enough sentence structure that I really think it deserves an answer... – SamBC Feb 16 at 16:25
  • @FumbleFingers Okay I read all the answers and now I got what the sentence means, but "as a fit with" still confuses me and i think I don't understand the structure of this sentence. Can you explain more about "as a fit with..."? Is it like "when it comes to..."?? – dbwlsld Feb 16 at 17:03
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    Imho the cited usage is a clumsy attempt to introduce an element based on the "casual / colloquial" usage to be a good fit with (something), which usually means to be synergistically compatible with it (two things go together so well that the sum is greater than the parts). Except in this case, they (the problem, and the people / institutions who must solve it) don't go together at all well. – FumbleFingers Feb 16 at 17:35
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    (Because climate change is a long-term problem, but people in general, and politicians in particular are only really adapted to solving short-term problems. Because human lives and terms of office are relatively short in the context of things that happen over decades and centuries.) – FumbleFingers Feb 16 at 17:38
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So, let's look at the sentence, so we can start pulling it apart:

You almost couldn't design a worse problem as a fit with our underlying psychology or the way our institutions make decisions.

The principal verb here is could, which is negated as couldn't. The subject is you, and the object is the verb complement, "design a worse problem...".

So, this parses as

You couldn't (design a worse problem as a fit with our underlying psychology or the way our institutions make decisions)

I've excluded the almost because it is simply there to weaken the couldn't. If "you couldn't" do something, it is impossible to do that thing. If "you almost couldn't" do something, it is almost impossible to do that thing. So, this means that it is almost impossible to:

design a worse problem as a fit with our underlying psychology or the way our institutions make decisions.

The as introduces a prepositional phrase. In this case, it could refer to the properties one might be attempting to design into the problem. Taking it in context, it applies refers to the worse - the ways in which the problem would be designed badly.

(design a worse problem) (as a fit with (our underlying psychology) or (the way our institutions make decisions))

As a fit with refers to how well the problem 'fits' into things - or how well suited those things are to the problem.

Thus, in this hypothetical idea of designing a problem (which isn't something we do in real life), we would be trying to make the problem not fit "our underlying psychology" and make it not fit "the way our institutions make decisions".

our underlying psychology

That noun phrase simply refers to the way our (people's) minds work.

the way our institutions make decisions

That noun phrase refers to the processes or methods (the way) used by major organisations (instutitions) to decide things (*make decisions).

Taken as a whole, then, it says that it would be almost impossible to invent a problem that would be a worse fit for the way our minds work and for the way major organisations make decisions. This is an idiomatic way to say that the problem is not something that we are suited to solving, given the way our minds work and the way organisations make decisions.

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"You (almost) couldn't design a worse problem..."

This is a bit of exaggeration. Most problems in our lives are not designed, but this is suggesting that even if you were able to create a problem, it could not be worse than climate change. This kind of pattern is quite common in English. You might hear "It couldn't rain any harder if it tried" or "They couldn't design a more confusing web site if they wanted to".

"... as a fit with our underlying psychology...

The author implies that the reason climate change is particularly hard to solve is human nature (ie we want to be successful, have big families, own big houses and cars, eat lots of rich food, and all of these cause climate change)

"... or the way our institutions make decisions"

The author implies that our governments and businesses work to maximize growth in the short term, not survival in the long term.

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