My latest article at IER. A nice graphic:
“In light of all of these arguments, how can it possibly be that U.S. “leadership” is necessary on this issue when the U.S. controls only 10-12 percent of carbon dioxide emissions? ”
I think the calls are for action, not aggressive action.
To expand a little. If one of the richest countries in the world with one of the largest CO2 emissions per capita wants to free-ride on everyone else cutting back, the other countries are not going to go along. This seems so obvious as to be almost self-evident.
If the consequences of inaction are not enough to get these other countries to act, then why would they simply because the US does something? Surely, they’d have even more of an incentive to do nothing and free-ride themselves the more countries that sign on.
Other countries don’t act simply because the US does something. We are supposing for the sake of argument that everyone benefits if everyone cooperates. There will be an even bigger benefit to any individual country if everyone else cooperates and they defect. Even the USA – the second biggest emitter – does not make that much difference on its own.
The question is how do you get everyone to cooperate so everyone gets the benefit? The “rational” behavior is to defect and let everyone else take the strain. It is clearly going to be difficult to get everyone to cooperate. If the biggest wealthiest country and biggest single emitter defects it will be almost impossible to get everyone else to cooperate.
Think tragedy of the commons. If all the farmers could agree to limit their use of the commons, grazing could be preserved for the benefit of all. If the farmer with the largest herd ignores the voluntary limits, the smaller farmers are not going to hold back, since their contribution to the damage is less than that of the largest farmer. The tragedy unfolds.
This is a different argument from saying that there is no benefit to action. If there is no benefit, there is no point trying to get everyone to cooperate, so the whole argument is moot. Simply putting this argument forward assumes there is a benefit to be had.
“If the biggest wealthiest country and biggest single emitter defects it will be almost impossible to get everyone else to cooperate.”
Why? Are the consequences of them doing nothing just not that big of a deal? I don’t see how you can argue that the consequences of global warming aren’t enough incentive to get these other countries to act, but the US doing something about it will somehow incentivize them. It doesn’t make any sense. To me, saying that a solution is impossible unless the US acts is the same as saying a solution is impossible.
The rest of the world is not a block – it is made up of individual countries just like the USA. Each one has the same choice to make as the USA. Each one will only cooperate if they beleieve most other countries will also cooperate. If the USA fails to do so it makes it overwhelmingly less likely that other countries will believe the rest will cooperate.
Imagine you are Monrovia. You contribute a small amount to the problem. The USA says to you “I am the biggest contributer to the problem, I contribute 1000 times as much as you and I am much richer than you, but I think you should cooperate with the rest while I free ride on your sacrifice” What are you going to do? You are going to say “F off, if you wont cooperate why the hell shoud I?”
Every country can say If I don’t take action, the rest will, so I don’t need to, since my contribution is only a small part of the total. The difference is that for 194 of the 195 counties, their contribution is smaller than the USA, so they have a stronger argument for not contributing.
In the tragedy iof the commons, tragedy could be avoided if all farmers cooperated to restrict grazing on the common. Imagine how that is going to work if the largest and wealthiest farmer continues to graze without restriction, but says “Well, if all the others cooperate we can still maintain the grazing. I am sure they will all do the right thing, but I dont see why I should not take advantage of their sacrifice.”
The cooperative restrrictions are much, much more likely to be effective if the biggest and wealthiest farmer takes a lead.
Sure, I think your logic should apply at the individual level.
Bill Gates is about 100,000 times wealthier than I am, so he should cut his carbon emissions 100,000 times more than I do. I choose to not-drive one day of each year, so I don’t want to see Gates ever enter any vehicle whatsoever.
When I see Al Gore stop flying around in jets, and when he stops buying beachfront property… I’ll take him seriously when he tells me to sacrifice my standard of living.
… I contribute 1000 times as much as you and I am much richer than you, but I think you should cooperate with the rest while I free ride on your sacrifice” What are you going to do? You are going to say “F off, if you wont cooperate why the hell shoud I?”
Ahhhmmm with ya!
Tel, why should BG attempt to achieve all his reduction from reducing car use, when car use represents a tiny part of his emissions? That does not make sense.
I agree, it is much harder to get everyone else on board if the wealthy refuse to make any attempt. But the likes of BG and Al Gore do make significant efforts to reduce their emissions. BG spend loads of money in research to try to cut carbon. AL Gore “purchases enough “green power” — renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and methane gas — to balance 100 percent of his electricity costs.” and Gore “has completed a host of improvements to make the home more energy efficient, and a building-industry group has praised the house as one of the nation’s most environmentally friendly. ‘Short of tearing it down and starting anew, I don’t know how it could have been rated any higher,’
They are already doing their bit and probably have reduced their emissions to much less than they would be without any concern for carbon saving. If Al Gore had not done so, I agree entierly that it would be very much harder to persuade the rest of America that they should make savings. That is pretty much my point, so I am glad you agree with me.
“AL Gore “purchases enough “green power” — renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and methane gas — to balance 100 percent of his electricity costs.””
So-called “renewable” energy doesn’t subtract emissions, it emits less.
So, “renewable” energy doesn’t offset anything. Al’s just adding a tiny bit more emissions.
The point is that he is making an effort to reduce his carbon useage. It is not necessary that he makes a negative contribution. He argues that everyone should try to cut back, and he demonstates this by cutting back. Most people recognise that if he did not cut back himself it would make it less likely that others would do so. Is it more or less likely that everyone else will cut back if Al Gore refuses to do so, arguing that his contributions are only a small percentage of the whole?
Now put the USA in place of Al Gore, and that is how the rest of the world views it.
This is quite simple, I don’t know why everyone does not get it – or am I missing something?
“Each one will only cooperate if they beleieve most other countries will also cooperate.”
You say that but I don’t see why that would be true. If they believe most other countries will cooperate then they have less incentive to do anything themselves, not more. You just state that the US is important and must act without explaining how that will get the rest of the world on board. Simply saying that the US must act or nobody will doesn’t explain why the US acting will incentivize other countries to act, which you would need to do if you want to call them important.
Personally, I don’t think any individual country is important because each one by themselves don’t have much impact on anything. And I also don’t believe there will ever be any agreement done on a global scale unless it is written in a way that enriches the elites in these countries at the expense of everyone else. No chance you get politicians on board voluntarily to enact policies that harm them or their buddies.
Let’s say that the US did act, I could still make the same argument as you and just replace the US with the number 2 country on the list. For example, I could say, “Every country can say If I don’t take action, the rest will, so I don’t need to, since my contribution is only a small part of the total. The difference is that for 193 of the 194 counties, their contribution is smaller than #2 so they have a stronger argument for not contributing.” Plus their argument for not contributing is even stronger because they can say the US acted which bolsters my view that if I don’t take action everyone else will.”
So your argument doesn’t explain why the US is important in getting something done. Maybe they are important, but you haven’t demonstrated that at all.
I think it is indisputable that it is harder to get the rest to agree if the biggest backs out. Take the marginal case – wehere everyone is will cooperative *only* if everyone else is in. Then if anyone backs out there is no agreement. Back off a little bit, and everyone will cooperate as long as those responsible for 99% of the problem (whatever it is, cattle on the common or CO2) agree. Then some small countries (farmers) could back out and the rest will still agree. Back a bit further, and those responsible for 90% have to agree. Lots of small countries could then back out and the rest would still go ahead, but if the biggest is responsible for 10%, then it only takes that one country to back out and the agreement fails. That one country may be the equivalent of 50 smaller ones. That means the biggest has more power than 50 smaller ones to spoil the agreement.
So we could have agreement with only 150 of 200 countries if the biggest is ageeable, but we need agreement between 199 of 200 if the biggest does not cooperate. It is harder to get agreement among 199 than among 150.
OK the US signs on, why does that make any of those 50 other smaller countries want to sign on?
Like you said already, “Every country can say If I don’t take action, the rest will, so I don’t need to, since my contribution is only a small part of the total.”
You can’t say that and also say that the biggest country signing on makes them more likely to sign on too. Based off what you said, even after the biggest country signs on, every other country can still say if I don’t take action, the rest will, as evidenced by the US signing on, so I don’t need to since my contribution is only a small part of the total. How would you resolve this?
“How would you resolve this?”
I hope you will agree that it is possible in principle to get agreement between ALL parties, even if any individual party would be “rational” to defect. Rational in this context means that the outcome of the exchange is same or better for that party if he defects. However, there is more at stake that just the narrow outcome of this exchange. Because of this, or possibly because parties do not always behave “rationally” , it is possible to get 100% agreement. Even though every party could benefit more from this exchange if they refuse to agree, they may calculate that overall they will benefit more from agreement.
Assuming we agree that this is possible in principle, we can also agree that it is possible in principle to get agreement among everyone else except the USA.
All we have to ask ourselves is whether this agreement is more or less likely with the USA in or out.
It seems almost self evident that it is harder without the USA. This is also true if ANY country backs out. However, the task becomes very much more difficult if the USA backs out than if Burkina Faso backs out.
This is partly because 10% is a significant chunk of benefits to miss out on. It is obviously going to be harder to get agreement between everyone else since they will get 10% less benefit for the same cost. The already difficult agreement has become harder. If Burkina Faso backs out then the other countries will not notice any change in their benefit, so they have no reason to be lesslikely to agree.
But on top of this is the reason agreement is possible at all – all those other factors apart from the direct benefits of the agreement. This makes the USA even more important than the direct emissions would suggest.
Also, can you explain how these countries were able to get anything done without the US doing it first? Shouldn’t all these countries have refused to do anything until the US got on board? http://www.c2es.org/international/key-country-policies/policies-key-countries
Mail (will not be published)
This site uses valid HTML and CSS. All content Copyright © 2010 Consulting by RPM