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Climate change program cooperation and game theory


The above article, “Sustainability scientists advise countries on climate change,” discusses the reasoning behind why so many countries are lagging behind when it comes to lowering their greenhouse gas emissions. Two scientists at Michigan State University (Dietz and Zhao) have proposed that the basic ideas behind game theory are the same ideas that are dictating how countries are acting when it comes to climate change programs. Dietz and Zhao are certainly not the first scientists to see the connection between climate change resistance and game theory; however their findings are important because they have also proposed a type of linear compensation that will hopefully attract countries to act positively in the efforts against climate change.  In their linear compensation proposition, countries that do not meet their annual reduction quota will be punished based on how well or poor other countries have done that year. This new system of punishment will deal with the “uncertainty [of] how difficult it will be to reduce emissions” by rating countries based on how well they did against the norm.

While the linear compensation system is an interesting topic, the article’s section on game theory is much more relevant to this class. It is fairly clear why so many nations show resistance to climate change programs after looking at this situation as a type of game. As with all games in this class there are two players. These two players can be views as one nation (let’s call it “nation Z”) vs. all the other nations (lumped as “one player”).  Each player has two decisions that can be made – either participate in the climate change program or opt out of the program.  Of course, if all of the nations participate in the program, then all of the nations will receive a very positive payoff. However, if nation Z participates in the program but all of the other nations do not, then nation Z will receive a negative payoff. This is because it’ll cost a lot of time and money to reduce gas emission but a single country cannot create much positive climate change. Nation Z may also choose not to participate in the program while a lot of other countries do participate.  This would mean that nation Z gets a “free ride” and a large payoff without putting in any time or money. In this game, ‘not participating’ would be the best response for nation Z because it would give that country the greatest payoff regardless of would all the other countries decide. However, if every single country makes its decision based on this game theory logic, it is clear why we are having so much trouble getting countries to participate in gas reduction programs. Hopefully, more cooperation and trust between nations can eventually result in more countries choosing to participate instead of acting out of self-interest.


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September 2011