Environmental Crises and Solutions: WIP

This was originally a reply to a comment by redditor bsoile61 on this article. Edited since original version so it makes sense without bsoile61’s comment, though it still requires the article to be read. WIP, so all critique is welcome.

Progressivism sometimes achieves good things, such as the transition from traditional monarchies and feudalism to democracy and market economies. For science to actually have any impact on the world beyond pure advancement of knowledge, without applications, it needs to interact with government and business. While there are likely substantial biases and naivete in the recommendations here, simply “sticking to science” isn’t exactly going to effect any changes, and scientists are experts who have valid contributions to make in issues like this.

The article does ring of the usual bureaucratic bullshit that seems to come out of these things. I can’t say I know enough about environmental issues to be a good judge on how important it is, but some of the issues seem pretty big and urgent. Unfortunately, this proposal seems to mostly be passing the buck to the UN, which I don’t really trust as an effective organization and doesn’t seem to have a good track record for getting things done. The power of individual governments is limited to economic incentives and straight-up banning stuff, which usually has significant negative effects for those individual countries.

If there were some treaty to drastically reduce whatever shitty things we’re doing for the environment that are actually important, it would need to have at least these two things:

  1. Less cost to poorer and weaker nations than richer and stronger ones. Lots of places are in the shit already, and for them getting to a point where environmental concerns can become a priority is important.
  2. A way to punish defectors including the extremely powerful countries like the USA and China, so we don’t all sign some treaty, pat each other on the back, and then ignore it.

This situation is analogous to an iterated prisoner’s dilemma, where any single government or other organization loses out if they do something to prevent environmental harm without most other countries and organizations doing similar things as well. A pretty good strategy is tit-for-tat, but the “tit” in this case is simply to carry on doing whatever harm it is they were doing in the first place. This means that we need a punishment strategy beyond that, but what it could be I don’t know. If it were something sufficiently bad then other countries would never defect at all and it would be alright, but anything that’s bad enough for that to work we probably wouldn’t want to do anyway, and then countries might call the bluff.

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