Sunday, July 08, 2018

Climate Change Will Get a Whole Lot Worse Before It Gets Better, According to Game Theory

To understand why governments continually fail to take decisive action against climate change you’ve got to have a strong grasp on game theory and the tragedy of the commons.

A firefighter douses flames from a backfire in San Andreas, California (Credit: Getty Images / JOSH EDELSON / Stringer) Click to Enlarge.
It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.  According to new research published in Nature, humanity will witness marked sea level rises and frequent killer heatwaves before governments take decisive action against climate change.  And to predict the future, mathematicians have turned to game theory.

The paper, published by a team of mathematicians, uses game theory to explain why it is so hard to protect the environment, updating it so they could model the effects of climate change, overuse of precious resources and pollution of pristine environments.

The bad news is that the model suggests that, when it comes to climate change, things might have to get demonstrably worse before they can get better.  The good news, on the other hand, is that game theory could help policymakers to craft new and better incentives to help nations cooperate in international agreements.
The new mathematical model suggests the global environment has to deteriorate in a dramatic way – hurricanes becoming more intense, more droughts and heatwaves – before our eyes before governments will be spurred on to make things better.  “When human activity leads to drastic environmental deterioration, through global warming, cooperation becomes the winning strategy,” Nowak says.

However, this new mathematical model also enables policymakers to explore future possibilities raised by climate models and explore next steps on a more rational basis.  “This opens up many new possibilities,” says Nowak.  Because key impacts of climate change occur over a long timescale, one option is not to rely on environmental decline to spur policymakers into action.  Instead we need to devise incentives that work over much shorter timescales, say a year or so.  “We even show which feedback is needed,” Nowak says.

“You could give people, cities or countries financial incentives to work together on a problem and, if they succeed, they get these incentives and can move to bigger and more complex problems, along with even larger rewards.”  The financial incentives hinge on the actions of the players, whether they are people or countries.  “Cooperation leads to more valuable games, defection to less valuable ones, and can be designed to occur quickly enough to make a difference,” Nowak says.  “This new approach is a game changer.”

Read more at Climate Change Will Get a Whole Lot Worse Before It Gets Better, According to Game Theory

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