The World viewed by Wally. Part I

One looks at the world and sees different things.

In articles such as this I will make you look at things in a different way. Though if you’ve already thought about things in this way you: Have a sick mind / Have an open mind / Have too much time on your hands.

It has been in the news a lot lately. Global problems. There’s a fair few of em. Global warming, I don’t like this, but I don’t object to it as much as you’d think as this is earth’s way to solve its problems.

No, the problem I’ll discuss in this post is one closer to us. It’s a two fold problem. Supply and Demand. Simple.

But this isn’t about a simple resource, it’s about all resources.

This article will be about supply and demand. And I’ll throw in some human characteristics along the way.

According to NATO over 800 million people are living below poverty standards. With a total of 6.6 billion people now inhabiting this world that’s 1 in 8. Ergo: 800 million people go hungry every day. And that’s just the poor ; every year a fair amount of land is stricken by some sort of natural disaster creating a local shortage in food. Looking at this in terms stated above, the demand outstrips the supply. The demand for food. The demand for other resources generating wealth for the individual.

This is due to 2 facts.

  1. The earth has a carrying capacity, this is a finite amount. Though factoring in technology this is not a fixed number.
  2. People don’t generate a homogeneous distribution of resources gotten from said carrying capacity

The demand, in fact, does not outstrip the supply. It’s in the field of distribution and logistics that we come up short.

Now, I’d like to believe that we can strive to rectify this situation. And some of us are. Without the World Food program and other programs of similar nature we’d have a whole lot less hungry people simply based on the fact that there’d be a whole lot less people.

But, we live in a capitalist world filled with people who have a deeply ingrained instinct of taking care of #1 first. Up to a point you can’t really blame a lot of people. Because while we may not want for anything now, I’d personally like it very much to have some insurance that I’ll not want for anything in the near future aswell. Building up a buffer is natural. But while we build this buffer we neglect to help these 800 million people who suffer every day.

Based on Carrying Capacity, Population, Western inability to give up comfort and its ability to concentrate on its own fairings (read: ignore others). We are faced with a problem.

Because while we may only have 800 million people living under the poverty line now . . . . The current population growth will double the Earth’s population in 40’ish years. And most of these people won’t be born in the plush west. Now, there’s many different prognosis on what the wealth distribution of these people will be . . . .  but let’s just say most of ’em aren’t rosy predictions.

Here’s the Question:

What do we do about this.

This post is meant to make you think and I want to hear your reactions


Disclaimer: Facts and figures have been researched but they will vary with different sources. Due to wanting to write a short concise post I didn’t go into idiotic amount of detail and so: some things are generalized. In these posts gaps have been left intentionally, some of these are there for you to point out, others to ignore. Some of them are there for you to hook an opinion on, some of them are just there because I didn’t see myself putting them there and others because I’m woefully unaware of them.


Quote of the day:

This isn’t one of those things involving ethics, is it?

I don’t do Ethics. It upsets my stumoch


29 responses to “The World viewed by Wally. Part I”

  1. Ina says:

    You make me proud to be your mum. I have not yet found an answer to your question, for I don’t know if we, humans, are capable of enough changing capacity, to really make a difference.
    We have to learn to ask ourself the question, with everything we want to buy: do I really need or want this, or can I do without. We have to look at ourselves closely and see if what we want to eat is nessecary. Enough is enough. That won’t make a person less happy.
    By the way, I used to be the moralist of the family. Are you taking over?????
    Love Ina

  2. aelle says:

    Ha, THANK YOU Ina! Wally, you’ve got a really smart mom. Reducing consumption is answer #1 and no, we are not too lazy for that. You know my whole view on this, but for your readers I’ll post it here when I find time to develop it properly – right now I’m late for school.

  3. Wally says:

    Hmmmm, I think we’ll have to suspend judgement on my being the next moralist in the family untill you hear what my initial solution to the problem was.

    While it is true that reducing consumption and gaining awareness of what’s going on around the world is the ultimate solution. . . . . . . We can’t assume that these things will be reached before the proverbial jumper reaches the ground.

    As the Jumper keeps saying on the way down: “So far, so Good”

    So we must ask ourself, how many of us are Jumpers and how many of us are trying to fly.

  4. Marnix says:

    I used to kinda think that way untill I heard stories of people who went to Afrika to dig water wells.
    They all come back with the same story: The people there are to lazy to deserve us doing anything about it.
    Yes about 10% of the people in those vilages try and help but the rest just sit around doing nothing but looking at us white people dig for them. And even then the holes will be closed again when you come back a year later because they are to lazy to maintain it properly(yes they wer einstructed on how to).
    Sure some people there deserve help but I have learned that there is a damn good reason for some to live the way they do.

    In other countries they do not care about it in an other way: Make enough to live today and do not think about tomorrow. If I make the 10X currency I need for today in 5 minutes I can go “home” and be lazy the rest of the day. Yay no more working today. Instead people like that could work the rest of the day to actually get out of poverty but no they just dont care enough themselves to do this (Seen this kinda behaviour in India and hear it heppens in other countries aswell)

    In India It is also the caste system that is supposed to not exist anymore. But religion still has a great influence there and the poor people feel it is karma to be poor and will not activly seek to become richer and make it better for themselves because that would actually screw up the reincarnation process.

    As I see it you will have to look at each individual case before doing anything at all because some just do not “want” to be helped.

    I say let them change first before we should even consider trying to change. If they really want our help then let them show it. If they can then we can start thinking on how to help them in a way that will work for both parties.

  5. Marnix says:

    maybe fun to note:
    The first story came from like 20 years ago while the most recent 3 years ago.
    Maybe something has changed in the last 3 years but I really doubt it. We have been going to Afrika for decades and in those 17 years between first and last story nothing had changed. I think this is sad to say the least.

  6. Ina says:

    What do Africans have to change into? We look at aothers trough white glasses, thinking our way of doiing thins is right and we know it all. Why is our way of living and doiing things better than others. Secondly: people here don’t really change and sertently not overnight, yet we expect others to change in a rapid speed.
    First, even there we have to aks the question, is what we are doiing the proper thing.
    Ask someone here why he si dooing something a sertain way, you know a better way, he will answer: I have allways done it like this and it has always been ok.

  7. Marnix says:

    nope if you read carefully you will see that I wrote what they will have to change into in order for me to ever consider changing myself into someone who cares.
    They will have to show that they want help. Not just say it, show it.
    Help digging that hole instead of sitting on your ass watching white people dig.
    Make sure that hole is still there when the white people come back a year later.
    Work more even though you made your daily target in 5 minutes.

    I am not saying we do everything right but I am saying those people do not deserve our help unless they can show us a change in their behaviour first.

    And also stated: decenia. not overnight. And you want us to change in order to help them while they don’t change at all in some cases. Why should we if they don’t even try?

    This ofcourse does not count everywhere anyway.

  8. aelle says:

    Marnix, it’s not just about helping others, it’s also about helping ourselves. I don’t have a well in the back of my garden. Hell, I don’t even have a garden. Hence : I cannot grow my own food, I cannot draw my own water.

    Right now my State of, huh, non-lazy people (whoever has set foot in a French administrative building is laughing their ass off right now) take care of that for me, but -as explained in the post- given the current population growth, current comsumption habits (of goods and energy) and current repartition of production, there may very well come a day when I’ll hardly be able to afford my daily tofu despite of my state’s efforts. Then it will simply become impossible to ship my tofu to France because it will cost too much energy compared to the possible benefit. I’m not even talking about comfort or leisure here, just survival. And we all know how well populations cope when their survival needs are not fulfilled. (Was somebody mentionning Africa? Riots, loots, genocide and military coups, anyone?)

    And if it’s not happening within my lifetime, it’s happening to my kids, and I kinda don’t want this either…

  9. aelle says:

    (oh boy, to be edited for grammar and stuff, おねがいします。Also, I just noticed you changed my link name – that’s why I’ve been getting so many visits from here today! Curious readers who just won’t ask questions!)

    (Now I really should get back to that monthly report of mine, turns out I am very, very bad at filling up a page in Japanese with few ideas.)

  10. Sjors! says:

    Ahh! The state of the world adress.. I like this one.

    Regardless of helping other countries, marnix.. There are other issues at hand. We spent more resources then the west can create so we get our stuff elsewhere. One day that stuff will run out. To many people, to few resources, we know that story.

    My prediction: it won’t be the poor rising up against the rich when the proverbial shit hits the equally imaginary fan. It will be the rich pre-emptively confisquating everything worth taking. Reasons for going to war may be veiled with a thin veil of morality, but most people kinda realise the true reason for conflict.

    If there’s nothing to take, it aint worth getting involved.

    I know of no solution.

  11. Wally says:

    well well, so this is the method to get people posting. Expect the next post to be about . . . . abortion!

    In support of Marnix’ point: We had a cousin go to Sri Lanka for an internship and helped a nursing home get some better equipment through a moneyraiser somehow. When she visited next year all that stuff had been flogged and you can bet your behind the proceeds didn’t do the elderly in that home any good.

    But, that wasn’t the main sentiment I was trying to get across in this post. One of the things I didn’t post was of the current global economical status in the world: India and China are experiencing a rapid growth. These people will “soon” be at a level of prosperity that they’ll all want a car, big-screen TV and microwave oven. Their required resources will go up. Then there’s the really poor breeding like rabits. They don’t need much in terms of resources per capita but there’ll be sheitloads of them all needing a little bit.

    Let’s be real here: One option is to just let all these people die. Darwinianly speaking there is something to be said for that. . . .

  12. Marnix says:

    hehe yeah that would be the easy way out. Very natural.

    Though I do not mind help beeing given, I do mind being told “we” have to change our consumption.
    I simply will not change my “consumption” behaviour.

    What we should change instead is no more then 1 baby per person like in China. This stops growth and eventually lowers global population. It is ofcourse impossible to realize this. I do agree it is getting rather full and the earth can not support it much longer. But I am sure there will be some new kind of epidemic that will wipe out some parts of the world to make up for that eventually.

    I think it will not be so bad in the end with resources. New stuff gets invented all the time and substitutes will be created for recources that run out. We can always put up a few more nuclear power plants for electricity ^^.
    They have been trying to scare us like that for a while but they even stopped doing that as it seems there will not be as big a problem as they first thought there was going to be.

    Just fyi: This is all comming from a vegetarian. And beeing a vegetarian means it takes way less energy/ resources to put food on my table. Eating a cow is way less effecient then eating the green stuff that could grow there instead. If you really wanna change then change that because 1. It is easy and 2. It actually makes a BIG difference 😛

  13. wallynes says:


    “What we should change instead is no more then 1 baby per person like in China”

    Exactly what I was aiming for. Well . . . minus the China bit. They’re not EXACTLY going at it the right way.

    How would you go about making sure 1 person -> 1 baby

    But seeing you come up with the whole “very natural” argument . . . . I’ll stick to the diet Nature proscribed me.

  14. Marnix says:

    1 baby per person: 2 people can make 2 😛
    Easy enough I would say.

  15. Marnix says:

    But what you are saying is you want people to change but the easyest change with a big impact you are not willing to make.
    Very hypocrythical if you ask me 😛

    Before you preach something you should at least show that you are willing to change yourself or what you say is useless.

  16. Wally says:

    Interresting standpoint to take Mr. I don’t eat meat coz I was raised without it and don’t like it anyway. What was your thesis about anyway? How to test if dogs would eat poisoned meat or something close to that?

    Personal assaults/insults and character smearing have always been a most usefull tricks to derail discussions

    Let me recap though:
    Solutions include:

    * Change in what to eat
    * Change in what we buy and what we need
    * Realization of the state of the earth of ALL people
    * Cutting down on population growth

    Now, as I said a couple of comments back; I was aiming for something.

    While I’d like for every citizen of this world to have an epiphany on what we’re heading to and changing what is neccesary. I think this is must unlikely before we do unreperable damage. The damage we’ve done to this planet is of such an extent already it will take many many millenia to undo every bit of it.
    But this is the way to go! People need to have an understanding of the consequences of what they do on a broader scale than their immediate surroundings.
    What we need to accomplish this is time. Time can be supplied by keeping our population stable for a while. Our carrying capacity will increase over time, this is hard to dispute, but we need time.

    However, how do we accomplish this. Koffi Annan going on TV tomorrow and pleading that people should only have 1 child a piece won’t help. Too many people don’t have TV, others have more pressing concerns and some don’t have the means. Sooooo . . . any ideas

  17. Marnix says:

    Right and saying we (meaning me aswell) should change is not a personal attack on the way I am doing things?
    That is still the biggest issue I have with this whole thing. You say “we” should change as if we are doing anything wrong. As far as I am concerned we are doing nothing wrong. So if anything, you should consider your words very carefully because you start smearing the whole western world with initiating the whole discussion.

    I still stand by it: If you are not even willing to change the way you eat, you have no reson to stand on the side of the discussion you are standing on now. Start by showing a change in yourself before preaching that others should change.

    And no I did not let any animal eat anything bad. I actually did something positive in that research.

  18. Wally says:

    You’re completely missing the point. And if you want to take responsibility for the entire western world then: yes, it’s a personal attack.

    And just because I don’t make YOUR change doesn’t mean I don’t have any right to be on this side of the discussion.

    This discussion is not about you though. Nor is the concept of “we” what you think. We is the world, the human race.
    We, the western world, however have the power to do anything about it, and as Stan Lee said: “With great power comes great responsibility”
    Africa will not be initialting any steps soon to help the “greater good” anytime soon

    So are you going to sit back and accept what’s going to come just because our ancestors were ruthless enough bastards to pillage the colonies. (A major reason in why we’re so well off comparitively speaking). Or are you going to say: Well, I’m doing my part (I don’t know how much of a “your part” you are doing) but I’ll participate in this theoretical discussion anyway.

  19. Marnix says:

    yeah because this is a fun discussion so I love to participate in it 🙂

    And indeed I do feel like I do plenty in my own little way. Why do you think I have always said I do not want childeren. Not only because they are a bother but I have felt that this world can not se a few more as it is getting full enough anyway. Maybe I will end up having one or two anyway but as I have seen since I was about 18 or so I do not want to put any on this planet.

    And it is not my change. But it is one of the most easy ones to make for any individual. And you saying you will not even consider doing that makes me wonder what you yourself would be willing to do to actually start this change?

    Step one in changing the world still starts at oneself. If you are not willing to start changing you will never convince anyone about any change they might have to make. If you make a change now and show people what influence that change might make then you will have a valid arguing point.

  20. aelle says:

    Ok, screw the monthly report, there are more interesting things to be said here.

    First about the whole “I’m not doing anything wrong” discussion : there’s always room for improvement… besides, the average American uses about twice as much ressources overall as the average Swiss, who uses about 4 times as much as the average Chinese, and right now all 3 think they are reasonably confortable, thank you very much. So the “I am confortable” and the “I am doing my part” are very relative I think.

    About the developpement of India and China : there is actually more of an ecological movement in China than in many Western countries. One of my friends who did an internship there bought some antibacterial throw-away tissues to clean her bathroom and was terribly scowlded by her host mother : “Imagine the amount of trash if all Chinese people did like you! Use rags like everyone else!”

    Now about the other points raised :
    Changing the way I eat : agreed, and done, and improving.
    Changing the way I consume : agreed, and done, and improving.
    Cutting down on population growth : agreed in theory but it very much depends on how you go at it (I’ll come back to it)
    Realization of the state of the earth of ALL people : not really. I mean, not everybody needs to have an epiphany at once. (It makes as little sense as the people who say, I won’t go veg because if everybody did overnight, what would we do with all the cows?)
    It’s a snowball effet. A few decades ago some people had this realization, they went off to lead the simple life, grow their veggies in their garden, stop using plastic bags at the supermarket, clean the house with vinegar and baking soda, live in hippie communes ; and had little influence over the rest of the population. More recently, more “mainstream” people have become aware of the state of the planet, and make more or less drastic changes in their lives.Those people have access to internet, may write in newspapers, give speeches, make movies and more generally make others around them think. Small changes happen – not for everyone of course. But one day the equilibrium point will be reached and exceeded, and the “unaware” people who are just in there for cash simply won’t have a market anymore. If they want to keep making cash they’ll have to sell sustainable products, else they can join the movement. End of the problem.

    Step one in changing the world still starts at oneself : very much agreed. That’s actually the only thing we can do : start thinking, improve ourselves, and hope to emulate others around us. While incentives may work, interdictions never have and never will – humans just don’t react well to their freedom being taken away (hence my opinion on global contraception : make it easy and cheap, give people the information and let them make their choice). But people who stop being in denial, aware people, will be willing to make sacrifices in a way that rules would never achieve. If they see it will serve the greater good, they’ll happily give up for good meat, dairies, one-use products, babies (not for me though… because 😀 ), driving, cheap imported food, most of what is consensually considered as a confortable lifestyle. See previous paragraph for snowball effect.

    Awareness is contagious. And call me optimistic, but I do believe I’ll see some change in global awareness within my lifetime. Don’t doubt that a handfull of people can change the world – it has never been otherwise.

  21. Wally says:

    “Step one in changing the world still starts at oneself.”

    I take it you’ve gotter rid of your car then? I’d hate to be the one pointing out that you are the ONLY one posting here that has one all to himself. I’ll trade my eating meat for your continued operation of a motorvehicle and there’s my right to be on this side of the discussion.

    I don’t agree with the whole “Enforcing things don’t work” thing though. It’s fundamentally true, but people have always charished the idea of freedom more than freedom itself. What we could do is go about it as we’re going about smoking in holland (and Japan).
    The movement to rid holland of smoking is one carried by the fact that the majority of the population are rooting for it and the rest kinda see sense in it eventhough it imposes on a hobby of theirs. We are taking away their freedom . . . . but we’re doing it with their blessing. [Insert manipulative Dictator here]
    So we’re back to creating understanding and realisation of what we’re doing. And for that we need time . . . .

    Also there’s a small part of human nature I haven’t brought up before now. Why should I surrender some of my freedom when XXXXX’s inhabitants don’t. It will have to start somewhere, and if there’s one thing people hate it’s unfair treatment of themselves.

    And that’s where my idea of a global population controll centre comes in. Admittedly, it’ll be hard to set up and the amount of power that that unit can wield will certainly lead to corruption. BUT, it’s mission is to implement population controll on a homogeneous Global level. I won’t go into how it will be funded (I’m stupid about money) and I won’t try to figure out how we can use this to make sure cultural, religious, etc diversity endures while allowing for the trend of continued racial mixing. But some sort of institution to govern this will stave off what will be the “west’s” main problem with the whole “limited population idea”: We’ll be the ones that have to start . . . . and in 20-50 years there’ll be sooo many people from countries that haven’t quite gotten around to implementing those things that we’ll be islamed (Example) who will promptly change everything back and Allah will finally have conquered Europe. Having blind hope that awareness is contagious can be a very dangerous move as we’ve all seen that stupidity is equally contagious.

    I keep hammering on the time thing because we’re growing fairly rapidly now. And I don’t know how much more nature can take. I don’t much mind the whole poverty/flood/epidemic thing as it will give nature a rest. But it’d be nice that when the dust settles I’ll have a world worth living in.

    As for my part in this: I don’t own a car, nor do I have a licence or the intention of getting one(Unless I make it into development work and I REALLY won’t be able to make due with public transport and a bicycle). And I’ll be equally barren as far as offspring is concerned. Also, I’m aware of the problem and using this medium (and others) to try and spread it.

  22. Marnix says:

    Ah as to the point of my car: I am opposite of you in this discussion remember. So I can drive one if I like :). And polution of cars/trains is a completely different discussion again. As it turned out that trains are just as bad for the environment as cars, just not in the same place.

    And I would like to take your poverty/hunger/desease one step further. We do not need to have a world worth living in. As far as I am concerned we all die and some other species can try it.
    Maybe that is why I do not care to change. Somewhere deep inside of me I want things to get out of hand in the hope that the shit hits the fan and we all die out. It would be for the best in the long run I am sure.

  23. Marnix says:

    Bah can not edit anything so will have to make a new post.

    Anyway I still think that if you really want to make a difference you should consider becomming a veggy. And not wait untill I get rid of my car because I do not care and I will not get rid of it.
    If you do care you should do what is right from your! point of view and you should not dismiss it on sight.
    I was stictly speaking of your moralism. You want the world to change, start and do not stop where it does not hit you hard. Not making babies and not driving a car is very easy for you and it is no big sacifice for now. But it seems not eating cows is a big one to you. So why would you want the world to change if you yourself can not make that step.
    I still think that you can not be preaching unless you fully beleive it yourself.
    This is where moralism turns into reality and people saying they want the world to change but do not start right there and then just does not compute with me.
    I can not understand how you can still be on that side of the discussion unless you even consider the change. Yes you said you’d consider it if I get rid of the car. But what I do or don’t do should have no influence on your moralism. This is your view of the world and you should make a difference no matter what anyone else does. Even if you are the only person in the world who thinks that way.

    I applaud you for bringing this issue forward and I love the fact that you want to change the world and make it better. But if you wanna survive critisism you should not dismiss solutions the way you did. You will be killed for it in a real discussion/debate (for me it is more just a way to pass time at work:)). If you wanna argue this point make sure you have a good reason for not doing everything you can already. Or people will just laugh at you and dismiss you and you will have gotten nowhere.

  24. Wally says:

    Ok, so the fact that I AM making an effort doesn’t phase you and you’re hung up on the fact that I don’t make YOUR effort. I am 27 years old, I’ve thought about vegetarianism before and I have dismissed it after lengthy debate (between myself and myself. It was a hard one, but I won in the end)

    Me making every sacrifice in the book won’t help the world. I won’t be just another person looking at things and trying to make a difference. I’ll be a hippy freak.

    And you may not need a nice world to live in and to be honest . . . . I’ll make new friends, if everyone I know dies I’ll survive. I’m not doing having this discussion out of the nicety of my heart: I want to live. Preferably in a nice place, with some people around so I don’t go nuts. Other than that humanity is free to destroy itself. I just don’t see that happening without it taking a significant part of the earth with it.

    Besides, I didn’t say: You get rid of your car, I don’t eat meat. I was merely pointing out that you’re just as bad as me . . . in a different field. I wouldn’t mind seeing those numbers on trains being as bad as cars though. And then I’ll use my brain and see how much they apply to reality. Let’s face it. The “For every carnivore you can feed 30 veggies” doesn’t work in Australia where there’s huge chunks of land where you can’t grow serious crops, but some grasses will survive long enough for cows to eat them. Lies, really bad lies and statistics and all that.

    But I think people that will want to seriously discuss this problem will want to seriously discuss this problem and not be hung up on my eating habits. They’ll recognize that I am making an effort and move on.

  25. Wally says:

    But . . .

    any thoughts on how to go about these changes in other people/countries/etc

  26. Ina says: got no answer to that last question. I like the discusion. Holland has a saying: improve the world and start with yourself. Maybe there is not enough time, but giving a good example en slowly spreading a new attitude may be possible. I try to stay out of the car as much as possible. I do eat meat, but, as I am well informed, I will not put grandchildren on this planet.;)
    One can only look at oneselves and see if there is any change possible there. We don’t have the right to inpose on others what we think is right. We don’t like it if religious groups want to dictate us what they think is right. So don’t oint at others, unles in case of criminal acts, and work on yourself. And that is difficult enough.

  27. We need more hippy freaks!

  28. F. Mura says:

    A version of the “prisoner’s dilemma” may suggest ways to break through
    the Kyoto impasse

    AT ANY given summit on climate change, it is never long before some
    politician declares how “urgent” or “vital” or “imperative” it is to
    stop the planet from overheating. And yet few governments are willing to
    tackle the problem by themselves. In practice, what these impassioned
    speakers usually mean is that it is urgent–no, vital!–no,
    imperative!–for all countries but their own to get to grips with
    climate change.

    That is natural enough. After all, all countries will enjoy the benefits
    of a stable climate whether they have helped to bring it about or not.
    So a government that can persuade others to cut their greenhouse-gas
    emissions without doing so itself gets the best of both
    worlds: it avoids all the expense and self-denial involved, and yet
    still escapes catastrophe. The most obvious free-riders of this sort are
    America and Australia, the only rich countries that refuse to put a
    limit on their emissions. But they are far from being the only
    offenders: most poor countries, too, are keen to palm the responsibility
    for curbing global warming off on rich ones, and to continue to grow and
    pollute as much as they like.

    The problem, of course, is that if everyone is counting on others to
    act, no one will, and the consequences could be much worse than if
    everyone had simply done their bit to begin with. Game theorists call a
    simplified version of this scenario the “prisoner’s dilemma”. In it, two
    prisoners accused of the same crime find themselves in separate cells,
    unable to communicate. Their jailers try to persuade them to implicate
    one another. If neither goes along with the guards, they will both
    receive a sentence of just one year. If one accepts the deal and the
    other keeps quiet, then the turncoat goes free while the patsy gets ten
    years. And if they both denounce one another, they both get five years.

    If the first prisoner is planning to keep quiet, then the second has an
    incentive to denounce him, and so get off scot-free rather than spend a
    year in prison. If the first prisoner were planning to betray the
    second, then the second would still be better off pointing the finger,
    and so receive a five-year sentence instead of a ten-year one. In other
    words, a rational, self-interested person would always betray his fellow
    prisoner. Yet that leaves them both mouldering in jail for five years,
    when they could have cut their sentences to a year if they had both kept

    Pessimistic souls assume that the international response to climate
    change will go the way of the prisoner’s dilemma. Rational leaders will
    always neglect the problem, on the grounds that others will either solve
    it, allowing their country to become a free-rider, or let it fester,
    making it a doomed cause anyway. So the world is condemned to a slow
    roasting, even though global warming could be averted if everyone

    Yet in a recent paper, Michael Liebreich, of New Energy Finance, a
    research firm, draws on game theory to reach the opposite conclusion.
    The dynamics of the prisoner’s dilemma, he points out, change
    dramatically if participants know that they will be playing the game
    more than once. In that case, they have an incentive to co-operate, in
    order to avoid being punished for their misconduct by their opponent in
    subsequent rounds.

    The paper cites a study on the subject by an American academic, Robert
    Axelrod, which argues that the most successful strategy when the game is
    repeated has three elements: first, players should start out by
    co-operating; second, they should deter betrayals by punishing the
    transgressor in the next round; and third, they should not bear grudges
    but instead should start co-operating with treacherous players again
    after meting out the appropriate punishment. The result of this strategy
    can be sustained co-operation rather than a cycle of recrimination.

    Mr Liebreich believes that all this holds lessons for the world’s
    climate negotiators. Treaties on climate change, after all, are not
    one-offs. Indeed, the United Nations is even now trying to get its
    members to negotiate a successor to its existing treaty, the Kyoto
    Protocol, which expires in 2012. Many fear that the effort will collapse
    unless the laggards can be persuaded to join in. But the paper argues
    that rational countries will not be deterred by free-riders.
    They will continue to curb their emissions, while devising sanctions for
    those who do not.

    The Kyoto Protocol already embodies some of these elements. Countries
    that do not meet their commitments, for example, are supposed to be
    punished with a requirement to cut their emissions more sharply the next
    time around. But Mr Liebreich argues that there should also be sanctions
    for rich countries that refuse to participate, and stronger incentives
    for poor countries (which are exempted from any mandatory
    cuts) to join in. Rather than trying to craft an agreement that is
    agreeable to all, the more enthusiastic countries should simply press on
    with a system to which recalcitrant ones could later accede.

    The global regime on climate change, Mr Liebreich believes, should also
    be revised more frequently, to allow the game to play itself out more
    quickly. So instead of stipulating big reductions in emissions, to be
    implemented over five years, as in Kyoto, negotiators might consider
    adopting annual targets. That way, co-operative governments know that
    they cannot be taken advantage of for long, whereas free-riders can be
    punished and penitents brought back into the fold more quickly.

    There are flaws in the analogy, of course. In the real world,
    governments can communicate and form alliances, which makes the dynamics
    of the game much more complicated. And governments may not act
    consistently or rationally. Most observers, for example, assume that
    America’s policy on global warming will change in 2008, along with its
    president. And most countries’ willingness to act is presumably linked
    to the severity of global warming’s ill effects. If things get bad
    enough, then with any luck everyone will play the game.

  29. wallynes says:

    Looking at that vision two things sprang to mind:

    – What’s the time frame of the game
    – What are the sanctions

    In the last proposal a yearly target is mentioned, so that takes care of the first bit.

    It’s then down to the 2nd point. How do you hurt a country that refuses to cooperate that will make them want to cooperate. As mentioned countries and governments may not act consistently or rationally. The first couple of taps on the nose may not be enough while the big slap may drive them into a corner greatly increasing their pigheadedness (through national pride or devious leadership).

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