Guest essay by Eric Worrall
- They both keep quiet, and when convicted they both receive moderate sentences.
- One prisoner rats on the other prisoner. The prisoner who betrays his fellow villain receives a light sentence, the other prisoner receives a heavy sentence.
- Both prisoners rat on each other – they both receive heavy sentences.
So how does the Prisoner’s dilemma apply to carbon dioxide mitigation?
The answer of course if that, if CO2 matters, it is a prisoner’s dilemma on a global scale.
Of course, if CO2 has minimal impact on global climate, then it makes no sense to reduce CO2 because it is a waste of resources. But lets consider the interesting scenario – what if CO2 is every bit as dangerous as the IPCC claims it is?
Consider two countries, country A and country B. Both countries have the following options:
- They can both attempt to reduce CO2 – both countries will accept moderate to severe economic damage.
- Country A could attempt to reduce CO2, while country B continues full steam ahead, maximising economic growth. Country B gets the advantage of an unencumbered economy, and the full benefits of industrialisation – they can afford to switch on the air conditioning, when the weather is too hot. Country A not only gets slammed with the costs of climate mitigation, and the economic damage of trying to compete with country B from a position of permanent structural disadvantage, but any benefit from reduced CO2 thanks to country A’s sacrifices are mostly enjoyed by country B.
- Both countries could ignore the issue of CO2. Both would experience equal pain from climate disruption, but with maximal economic development, both countries would be able to switch on the air conditioning, when the weather outside was too hot.
Of course, in the real world we’re dealing with more than two countries – there are hundreds of countries. If just a handful of those countries decide to break ranks, to ignore CO2 mitigation, openly or covertly, the countries which betray the effort will receive most of the benefit which accrues from the sacrifices of everyone else.
In the paranoid swamp which is global politics, no serious attempt at altruism could survive the first economic recession it caused. Voters would quickly reject the pain, especially if they saw everyone else was accruing any benefit to be realised from their sacrifices.
So it never, under any circumstances, makes sense to be the sucker. Even if the IPCC is right about CO2, your sacrifices will mainly benefit the people who don’t make an effort.
It makes much more sense to steam full power ahead, maximise economic growth, and use the full resources of your expanded industrial base to mitigate any problems which arise from the consequences of climate change.