Year 4, Month 11, Day 1: My Heart Went Boom

Time Magazine’s Bryan Walsh finds a story that shows we clever apes are too distractable to get ourselves out of this fix:

…it shouldn’t be surprising that a new study in Nature Climate Change confirms the fact that the kind of long-term cooperation demanded by effective climate policy is going to be even more challenging than we thought.

American and German researchers led by Jennifer Jacquet of New York University put together a collective-risk group experiment that is centered around climate change. Here’s how it worked. Each subject in groups with six participants was given a $55 operating fund. The experiment went 10 rounds, and during each round, they were allowed to choose one of three options: invest $0, $2.75 or $5.50 into a climate account. The participants were told that the total amount contributed would go to fund an advertisement on climate change in a German newspaper. If at the end of the 10 rounds, the group reached a target of $165 — or about $27 per person — they were considered to have successfully averted climate change, and each participant was given an additional $60 dollars. (If the numbers seem rough, it’s because I’m converting from euros — the currency used in the experiment — and rounding off.) If the group failed to reach the $165 target, there was a 90% probability that they wouldn’t get the additional payout. As a group, members would be better off if they collectively invested enough to reach that $165 target — otherwise they wouldn’t get the payout — but individually, members could benefit by keeping their money to themselves while hoping the rest of the group would pay enough to reach the target. (That’s the so-called free-rider phenomenon, and it’s a major challenge for climate policy.)

Yes….but. October 22:

Yes, humans are notoriously short-sighted and selfish, so the recent New York University study suggesting that our collective inability to think in the long term bodes poorly for our species’ survival on a climate-changed world is unsurprising. But there’s more to it than one study can possibly indicate. If that same study were performed on people who had fully educated themselves about the generational impacts of climate change, the results would be quite different.

John Adams famously averred his readiness to study politics and war so that his children could learn mathematics and philosophy, allowing their children in turn to study painting, poetry, music, and architecture. Our capacity for similar behavior hinges on our full understanding of the crisis — which should remind our news and opinion media that their profession should not elevate fleeting but profitable scandals over their responsibility to foster the Jeffersonian ideal of a “well-informed citizenry.”

Warren Senders

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