Message Font: Serif | Sans-Serif
No. of Recommendations: 5
Refusing to act because the Chinese don't? Would they act IF we were serious? Is there some reasoning behind this that rises above 3rd graders in the playground arguing about goes first?

Absolutely. It's called a collective action problem. If you only obtain the desired results if everyone (or nearly everyone) chooses a certain path, but you lack the institutional framework to compel everyone to choose that path, and there are economic incentives for people to choose not to follow the path, you have a collective action problem.

One of the archetypical collective action problems is the Tragedy of the Commons - where there is a common resource and a host of independent actors that can draw at will from that resource, they all have an incentive to draw as much as possible - even if collectively they might be better off drawing at a more sustainable rate. That's because no single party can "save" the commons by refusing to draw from it - others can step in and increase their rate of draw.

You see it already today with climate change. Europe (collectively) has undertaken a lot of steps to try to reduce their emissions....but what has it gotten them? Emissions are still skyrocketing globally, because China hasn't stopped emitting. In a given month, China adds enough extra emissions to undo much of what Europe strives and strains to do. When Europe declines to burn coal, China just imports more; when Europe declines to burn gas, it just gets piped to China. They experience more costs (as they have an economic cost as energy intensive uses migrate to other economies) and get fewer benefits (as their emissions aren't reduced, just migrating to other countries).

The whole notion of "leadership" is just an exercise in wishing away the collective action problem - assuming that other actors won't free ride, even though it's in their economic interest to do so. There's nothing in the politics of China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, and the other BASIC nations that suggests that they will do so.

Worse, the examples of China and India illustrate that resistance to controlling emissions is not just a function of wealth disparities in capitalistic countries. Those countries are poor, on the global stage, and they are engaging in rapid industrialization so that they can continue to bring hundreds of millions of people out of dollar per day poverty that comes with subsistence agriculture. They're not one percenters, and they're not going to stop what they're doing if we demonstrate that "we are serious" about emissions controls.

Print the post  


When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.