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Are we too stupid?

Posted on 6 April 2010 by Jacob Bock Axelsen

Guest post by Jacob Bock Axelson

In a recent interview, the famous environmentalist James Lovelock bluntly stated that “humans are too stupid” to mitigate global warming. Perhaps a better question is whether or not there is any way that we can cooperate in preventing climate change. This subject has been part of the research performed by the evolutionary biologist Manfred Milinski and co-workers at the Max Planck Institute in Plön, Germany.  The Milinski group have identified that indirect reciprocity, information and perceived risk are important pieces of the puzzle. To better understand these concepts, and the results, we will briefly review the game theory of cooperation. Before we begin I should mention that cooperativity may have very strong switch-like dynamics e.g. whereas an agency with thousands of workers and engineering PhDs can produce low risk manned lunar flights, infinite individual geniuses cannot. Therefore, evolution has favoured cooperativity in biophysical mechanisms such as membrane formation, enzyme kinetics, protein folding, genetic regulation, cellular interaction and flock behavior.

In 1968 Garrett Hardin addressed the issue of misuse of common goods in the famous paper entitled "The Tragedy of the Commons". The paper created enormous controversy and has thus been cited more than 3608 times in the scientific literature (according to ISI Web of Knowledge). Hardin’s idea was based on the premise that the cost of individual use of common goods is distributed to the community. Individuals may then act according to their misguided self-interest and utilize any common resource to depletion – an individually undesirable state. Hardin mentions that psychological denial is evolutionary favorable and states: "The individual benefits (...) from his ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole, of which he is a part, suffers." Thus, one may regard the tragedy-of-the-commons partly as a consequence of individual illusory superiority (also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect). As it were, the ancient greeks had already identified some problems of unlimited freedom, in 1624 the poet John Donne wrote the famous phrase "no man is an island, entire of itself" and in 1882 the playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote the play "An Enemy of the People" on the problems of dealing with pollution. More interestingly, many native peoples are known to have somewhat successfully managed common resources such as the active use of wildfires by native Americans.

In 1971 Robert Trivers coined the term "reciprocal altruism" or "you scratch my back, I scratch yours" as a short description of the mechanism of rewarding someone for their good deeds (Trivers 1971). Major progess was seen when Axelrod and Hamilton let academics write strategies for computer tournaments and subsequently published the results in the famous paper "The Evolution of Cooperation" in 1981. The question was: what is the optimal strategy when a group of generally unrelated individuals play the Prisoner’s Dilemma (see figure below) over and over again?



Figure 1: Top: Prisoner’s dilemma punishment matrix (years in prison per game). ‘Loyal’ means that you do not reveal information about your friend and ‘Betray’ means that you help the police. The colors and sums shows the consequences of the player’s choices. By minimizing the personal average punishment (in italics) the game thus reaches the stable Nash equilibrium of snitching. Contrary to this, the unstable Pareto optimum is that both are loyal because at least one prisoner will be unhappy with exchanging their 1-year sentence with 5 or 3. Bottom: the tit-for-tat (direct reciprocity) strategy.

The superior, strikingly simple, strategy was conceived by the mathematical psychologist Anatol Rapoport, whom had worked on the Prisoner's Dilemma for years. The strategy was that you should initially cooperate and then reciprocate your opponent i.e. start by being nice and then do what your opponent did to you last time - also known as direct reciprocity. The strategy was termed "tit-for-tat", which in the nuclear arms race had an extreme cousin known as "mutual assured destruction" and it bore resemblance to the legal concept "eye-for-an-eye" found in the Torah.

The result seemed to explain the emergence of cooperation if it were not for the fact that the dynamics in this simplified setup is highly unstable and prone to enter a "tragedy of the commons"-like scenario. Say a single one-time misunderstanding occurs: you misunderstand and think you have been cheated so you will cheat in the next round thus spurring more cheating of your partner. The “tit-for-two-tats” strategy proposed by Axelrod partly solved this instability problem. Many other strategies have been proposed amongst which the “win-stay lose-shift” (or Pavlov) strategy by Nowak and Sigmund (1993) performed markedly better in the long run than various tit-for-tat strategies. Put simply, by acting ‘as per reflex’ you could avoid sharp retaliations caused by misunderstandings.

The next major contribution was again made by Nowak and Sigmund (1998) when they studied the aspects of indirect reciprocation in evolutionary learning games. The game is the same as the Prisoner’s dilemma, but some players may now choose to punish, or discriminate against, the defectors. The inclusion of such indirect reciprocity inevitably complicates the understanding of the dynamics (see figure 2 and 3 below).


Figure 2: I) Indirect reciprocity. II) Building a reputation in the population affecting your future. Nowak and Sigmund (2005)


Figure 3: (left) Problems with indirect reciprocity. B has recently not helped anyone i.e. defected for some time. Should C altruistically sacrifice reputation by not helping A if A logically does not help the defector B? (right) The dynamics of a simplified game of “the good, the bad and the discriminator”. The triangle is a phase portrait i.e. the time evolution of the ratios of each type of player. Note that without sufficient discriminators/punishers everybody ends up defecting (the red lower left corner is the final outcome for the lower part of the combinations of player types). Nowak and Sigmund (2005)

All of the above is purely theoretical and somewhat confusing. Therefore there has recently been a strong interest in performing experiments with real test subjects. In 2005 Milinski and co-workers let students play a new kind of common goods game where funds are pooled to invest in mitigating climate change (Milinski 2005). They found that a finite - probably insufficient - level of altruism was always present in a population. If players were also enlightened with expert knowledge on the climate they even cooperated significantly more. Furthermore, allowing participants to take reputation into account and use indirect reciprocity also lead to cooperation comparable to publicly displaying the players’ level of altruism.

In 2008 the Milinski group found that only if disaster was 90% certain, i.e. the individual would suffer irreversible losses, could humans be motivated to reach a given target of total required preventive investments (Milinski 2008).


Figure 4: Results of the climate change game with real humans. Students were initially given an amount and in subsequent rounds asked to invest in a common climate pool. Filled circles were when investments were done publicly and open circles for when the investments were anonymous. The triangles was rounds when players was allowed to see each other’s investment history and decide to help each other. Red is for enlightened participants and blue for unenlightened. Blue open circles then gives a (slowly decreasing) basic level of altruism. Milinski et al. (2005).

In conclusion, theory and experiment indicates that we may be able to cooperate on climate change if a) social punishment is strong and active and b) the population is sufficiently enlightened about the facts and c) everybody knows that they will pay a price if they do not contribute in time. Lovelock probably knows this and simply finds the demands too high. In any case, the minimum 10-20 years it could take to replace the use of fossil carbon is the time it will take to reveal most of the final answer.

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Comments 101 to 140 out of 140:

  1. Jacob: There is nothing remotely trade war-like about a scientifically founded carbon tax and coordinated import restrictions. Here is a link: http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/0,1518,649903,00.html It is in German the title would be "Economists warn about CO2 trade wars". They would not share your view that there is nothing remotely trade-war like... Jacob:I highly doubt that. Here is a link to the problem of organized crime in CO2 certificates trading. It is in German. http://www.abzocknews.de/2009/12/13/organisierte-kriminalitat-milliardenbetrug-mit-dem-emissionshandel/ The translation is "organised crime creates a fraud worth billions with certificates trading" approximatively. You will also find the 90% figure in the article. Maybe wiki missed this? Jacob: The nightmarish problem with the mafia is mostly the violence. So, as long as they quietly skim off the emissions money by fraud all is ok? Come on... Jacob:t would make no sense to disregard the defection of the largest economy It would, if you wanted to understand why the signatories defected as well. In fact if this is your question it makes no sense to investigate the US at all, precisely because it did not sign the treaty, so it could by definition not defect. Jacob: You seem unaware that... I am not. My question is how a tit-for-tat would work in the emission tax scenario, you seem to have missed that.
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  2. Jacob: There is nothing remotely trade war-like about a scientifically founded carbon tax and coordinated import restrictions. Some disagree. Here is a link, in German: http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/0,1518,649903,00.html The title says: economists warn about CO2 trade wars. Maybe they missed something? Jacob: The nightmarish problem with the mafia is mostly the violence. Everybody knows that. So, as long as they quietly skim off the emissions trade by fraud all is ok? Come on.. Jacob: I highly doubt that. Here is a link, again in German: http://www.abzocknews.de/2009/12/13/organisierte-kriminalitat-milliardenbetrug-mit-dem-emissionshandel/ The translation is "organised crime creates a fraud of billions with the trade of certificates" Wiki probably missed that. Jacob: It would make no sense to disregard the defection of the largest economy. It would if your objective was to understand why the signatories defected. In fact it would make no sense to talk about the US in this case as they did not sign so they could not defect by definition. Jacob:You seem unaware that tit-for-tat beats defection on payoff. No, I am not. You seem to have missed my point. Thje question is how you can implement a tit for tat in the case of emission taxing.
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  3. embb The title says: economists warn about CO2 trade wars. Maybe they missed something? Der Spiegel certainly misses on the truth about climate scientists, but perhaps they are right in this case. At the other extreme, Lovelock and even the Pentagon predicts climate change related wars. A trade war seems the lesser evil. My post is about peer-reviewed realistic mechanisms that can avoid both the tax and the wars. "organised crime creates a fraud of billions with the trade of certificates" As that article correctly states, this large tax fraud has no effect on emissions. An analogue would be to conclude anything on the usefulness of dollar bills in light of the fact that 90% carry traces of cocaine. "(...) the US in this case (...) did not sign so they could not defect by definition." Surely most would agree that not signing at all is defecting to act on mitigating climate change. Who would sign and implement major emission cuts after that? "The question is how you can implement a tit for tat in the case of emission taxing." You did write "if you emit co2 I will emit co2", but no matter. You still incinuate a game between two prospective taxpayers. The pay-off demands for a dilemma are obviously: temptation > mutual cooperation > mutual defection > being cheated. For two agents the 'tax-payment-game' is trivial and looks something like this: i) Mutual defection and temptation is the initial saved tax payment, tax, plus the high probability of a fine, fine=tax, and N years in prison: pay-off = tax - fine - N*income << 0. Naturally, on top of this comes the future cost of indirect reciprocity from your surroundings that disapprove of parasitic freeloaders. However, you benefit from the public goods financed by the tax. ii) Mutual cooperation and being cheated is 0 plus the public goods financed by the tax. Your average payoff when cooperating is larger than 0, and your average payoff when defecting is much less than 0. No dilemma. If you disagree, then by all means, try to disprove it. Of course, the mafia may change the pay-off matrix. However, that is a choice between money versus lowered life expectancy, reduced fertility, stress and violence. A choice that most are able to turn down. Back to reality: A production company in China is part of society, so the authorities can document if they used power which lead to CO2 emissions. The company immidiately recieves the pay-off from not paying the tax, but faces much stronger punishment when caught, because the authorities do not wish to loose exports. China, inspite of being a communistic dictatorship, has already understood the pay-off from international trade and domestic entrepreneurship. It gets better. James Hansen has proposed that the tax revenue is divided among the payers. The dividend actually creates incentive to further and further decrease your emissions. This is guaranteed to work because it has been working in California for the last 35 years. BTW, the latest and most extreme reform was put in place by the famous 'armchair activist' Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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  4. Jacob: A trade war seems the lesser evil. A post ago you said that no one sees even the remotest chance for a trade war. Now it is "the lesser evil" and even real wars a possibility? Aren`t you a bit inconsistent? Jacob:As that article correctly states, this large tax fraud has no effect on emissions. I agree the type of fraud in the article does not affect the emissions. Still, a post ago you claimed there is no link between organized crime and emission trading... How about these: http://www.environmentalleader.com/2010/03/08/steps-to-stop-carbon-trading-and-emissions-offset-fraud/ "Any asset market comprised of buying and selling non-physical, hard-to-measure goods is a con man’s dream." http://www.ecoseed.org/en/general-green-news/green-topics/emission-trading/6856-Environmental-lobby-group-claims-carbon-credit-fraud-on-China-dams "An environment group slammed “false” carbon credit trading related to mainland China’s dams which allegedly *** undermines the Kyoto Protocol***, leading to a renewal of a carbon trading platform’s ban on the country’s hydroelectric power projects, reported South China Morning Post. " Jacob:Surely most would agree that not signing at all is defecting to act on mitigating climate change. No, you are wrong here. The definition of defection is, from wiki: More broadly, it involves abandoning a person, cause or doctrine to whom or to which one is bound by some tie, as of allegiance or duty. If the US did not sign then most would agree that he did not become "bound by some tie" - as the act of signing means becoming bound to the agreement. So, there is no way for the US to defect on an agreement that was not signed.
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  5. Jacob:For two agents the 'tax-payment-game' is trivial and looks something like this: i) Mutual defection and temptation is the initial saved tax payment, tax, plus the high probability of a fine, fine=tax, and N years in prison: pay-off = tax - fine - N*income << 0. Okay, let us make this concrete. We are talking about carbon tax in the Us and China say. temptation is to lie about the carbon enmission and to not tax the local companies for energy consumption, thus acquiring a competitive advantage on the world market. Fine - are you suggesting the WTO fine the country that defects? Prison is of coursemeabningless in this context, so is tit for tat. Naturally, on top of this comes the future cost of indirect reciprocity from your surroundings that disapprove of parasitic freeloaders. However, you benefit from the public goods financed by the tax. You mean the world public opinion? ii) Mutual cooperation and being cheated is 0 plus the public goods financed by the tax. Your average payoff when cooperating is larger than 0, and your average payoff when defecting is much less than 0. No dilemma. So US gets more money BY levelling the carbon tax on american companies and China gets a lot less by letting its companies become more competitive? I really dont see how this should work, can you explain? During the whole discussion I kept coming back to the point that the difference to the PD is that here we are not talking about individuals inside a state but about states with no organization above them. You keep coming back to explain trivial stuff about individuals. Unless you answer to my objections this is pretty much pointless. Jacob:China, inspite of being a communistic dictatorship, has already understood the pay-off from international trade and domestic entrepreneurship. Oooh, so they cooperarted in Kopenhagen? I missed that. Or maybe this wonderful change happened since December? What is the point of even talking about game theory if you end up believeing that the actors will not defect without any real analysis? If you disagree, then by all means, try to disprove it.
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  6. embb A post ago you said that no one sees even the remotest chance for a trade war. Now it is "the lesser evil" and even real wars a possibility? Aren`t you a bit inconsistent? I claimed a tax and trade restrictions is not like a trade war. A trade war is the lesser evil as opposed to real war. I never denied the possibility of war. No inconsistency. I agree the type of fraud in the article does not affect the emissions. Still, a post ago you claimed there is no link between organized crime and emission trading... I doubted it. My bad. "Any asset market comprised of buying and selling non-physical, hard-to-measure goods is a con man’s dream."(...) Any game is a con man's dream. Strategies such as tit-for-tat amend that by stimulating cooperation through reciprocity. "An environment group slammed “false” carbon credit trading related to mainland China’s dams which allegedly *** undermines the Kyoto Protocol***, leading to a renewal of a carbon trading platform’s ban on the country’s hydroelectric power projects, reported South China Morning Post. " Apparently compliance can be checked in China. Contrary to what you persistently claim. If the US did not sign then most would agree that he did not become "bound by some tie" - as the act of signing means becoming bound to the agreement. So, there is no way for the US to defect on an agreement that was not signed. If USA signs it, they will come. If USA doesn't sign it, climate change will come. Cooperation or Defection. Take your pick. (...)are you suggesting the WTO fine the country that defects? Prison is of course meaningless in this context, so is tit for tat. I proved that taxes are always rigged to not be a dilemma. If there is no dilemma tit-for-tat will definitely beat all-defection. So US gets more money BY levelling the carbon tax on american companies and China gets a lot less by letting its companies become more competitive? In this case the 'prison time' can be substituted for 'trade restrictions'. You will see it makes sense. During the whole discussion I kept coming back to the point that the difference to the PD is that here we are not talking about individuals inside a state but about states with no organization above them. You keep coming back to explain trivial stuff about individuals. Unless you answer to my objections this is pretty much pointless. States, individuals - no matter. Tit-for-tat beats all-defection. No organization. No judge. No God. Just maths. they cooperated in Copenhagen? I missed that. Or maybe this wonderful change happened since December? If China, US and the rest of the world had signed a comprehensive deal to combat climate change it would have been wonderful? Absolutely. I was referring to the situation where a treaty to tax carbon emission was already in place. What is the point of even talking about game theory if you end up believing that the actors will not defect without any real analysis? I have never postulated that. It is the point of the post to analyse how to avoid defection. You must have missed that. Now, enough of what I know. What are your solutions to mitigate climate change? You must have something considering your clear stance.
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  7. Jacob Bock Axelsen (#106) "Now, enough of what I know. What are your solutions to mitigate climate change?" Two things I could support: 1. Reducing Carbon Emissions As long as this is done via a rapid build up of innovative nuclear power plants (Generation IV) until the cost of electricity is low enough to convince “Joe Six-pack” to trade in his 4X4 for an electric vehicle. No government mandates; just let intelligent self interest persuade the masses. I love my electric car because it is fun to drive rather than its ability to reduce my “Carbon Footprint”! 2. Major Carbon Sequestration Programs Carbon should be sequestered along the lines pioneered by Hammurabi (Babylonian empire). Farmers should be encouraged to overproduce non-perishable foods and timber. The EEC was on the right track with its “Butter Mountains” and “Wine Lakes” although these products were too perishable. Have you ever wondered what would happen to our wonderful high tech civilisation if the recent Icelandic volcano had been a Mount Tambora? How well would we handle another 1816, the “Year without a summer”?
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  8. gallopingcamel We are in the middle of the holocene extinction event due to the lack of intelligent self-interest. The policy of laissez-faire is so appealing, and control so disgusting, that it is only now we might realize that we need control. Instead of putting trust into the "invisible hand" then let us intelligently devise a real visible hand to point the direction of best self-interest. Indirect reciprocity will take care of Joe and his friends as they are not islands entire of themselves. I have never heard of non-perishable foods. That seems to me to be the actual reason for inventing money. Natural trees are not good sequesters with respect to excess CO2 in the atmosphere. Even the Freeman Dyson knows that. A "year without a summer" would be an emergency independently of any plan to mitigate global warming. The prospect of disaster is still not a good justification for creating mountains of rotting food for no use most of the time. I am in favor of a new clean generation of nuclear power, but that may take long and they are very expensive to build. Geothermal is a low-hanging fruit in comparison. I hope this was useful to you.
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  9. Jacob:I claimed a tax and trade restrictions is not like a trade war. And major euoropean econimists claim it is, they actually warned France against it. I go with their opinion. Jacob:States, individuals - no matter. Tit-for-tat beats all-defection. No organization. No judge. No God. Just maths. This is completely false. Once again: for individuals there is a higher authority, namely the state, that can punish defection and reward cooperstion, ON THE SHORT TERM. Taxes would not work if tghe state collected taxes only to avoid an uncertain catastrophe in 100 years, this is even in YOUR article, for heavens sake. So, what is the punishment and what is the reward in the case of the carbon taxes? Surely not the good feeling that the state avoided the global warming??? And what is the higher authority in your view? Can you give a clear answer to that? If not, your statement that it does not matter whether we talk about states or individuals is clearly untenable. Jacob:I have never postulated that. It is the point of the post to analyse how to avoid defection. You must have missed that. You are right, I missed that. So, how can defection be avoided? Can you give a concrete answer? I mean if you just name reciprocity, I would be interested to know how reciprocity would work in the case of carbon taxes and how would the punishment of defection look like? Jacob:What are your solutions to mitigate climate change? You must have something considering your clear stance. What I have are doubts. I am in this discussion to clear them, as yet not with much success :)
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  10. embb for individuals there is a higher authority, namely the state, that can punish defection and reward cooperation, Consider the fig tree/fig wasp symbiosis. If the female wasp invades an immature fig, the tree responds by cutting the fig off and thus both the fig and larvae perish. Tit-for-tat works because the defecting genes are purged and symbiosis is perpetuated. It was evolved thousands if not millions of years ago, and it does not involve an executive power. Taxes would not work if the state collected taxes only to avoid an uncertain catastrophe in 100 years Are there certain catastrophes? The tax would of course be used to further sustainable energy sources - immediate payoff in terms of environment and security. Your descendants will certainly appreciate it as it is evolutionary favourable. Examples would be the chemotaxis behavior of E. Coli or the sporulation of B. Subtilis both involving benefits only to future generations. Both mechanisms are extremely simple, stunningly robust and have been evolved millions of years ago. What I have are doubts. I am in this discussion to clear them You still have doubts, in spite of my reference to the fact that clever taxation and regulation have lead californian power plant companies to ask users to minimize their consumption? Please do not take offense, but your incapacity to quench these specific doubts seems suspicious and fits perfectly into Kingsley Davis' definition of someone who wish to obstruct reforms (from Hardin, 1968): "(...) worshippers of the status quo sometimes imply that no reform is possible without unanimous agreement, an implication contrary to historical fact. Hardin continues: (...) automatic rejection of proposed reforms is based on one of two unconscious assumptions: (i) that the status quo is perfect; or (ii) that the choice we face is between reform and no action; if the proposed reform is imperfect, we presumably should take no action at all, while we wait for a perfect proposal." So I ask, do you have any interest in maintaining status quo? If not, what is the best way to get states, individuals, companies etc. to cooperate about mitigating climate change? Please, do not be modest and claim that you cannot imagine it.
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  11. Jacob: Consider the fig tree/fig wasp symbiosis. I think you do not understand my question. It is so simple: how do you imahgine tit-for-tat working among states? You answer with a fig-tree example. How come? Jacob:The tax would of course be used to further sustainable energy sources - immediate payoff in terms of environment and security. In terms of environment no gainsat all. Energy security could be a gain but it is almost accidental - there are cheaper and more efficient ways to achieve energy security. So, all is left is a sort of collective good feeleing - hardly enough to justify the cost. Jacob:You still have doubts, in spite of my reference to the fact that clever taxation ... There is a STATE above the californian companies. So, your example does not answer my question. Jacob: So I ask, do you have any interest in maintaining status quo? I asked you a simple question and got no acceptable answer. Why do you think that i should need any other motivation? Jacob: what is the best way to get states, individuals, companies etc. to cooperate about mitigating climate change... That is a good question, one that you did not answer either. I am not modest - I did not see any acceptaböe solution and I think you have none either, otherwise you would answer my concrete questions ;)
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  12. embb I forgot to mention. I am contractually obliged to divulge science to the public. How do you imagine tit-for-tat working among states? You defect to fulfill your emission goals, we punish through trade restrictions, UN resolutions, treaties that disfavor your interests, making the IMF put conditions to loans during economic downturns etc. Reciprocity. It gets better. Axelrod points out that a small cluster of players using tit-for-tat may completely eliminate all the defectors (and keep them from reemerging). Quite interesting. Lots of recent research points in that direction incl. the references in my post. Have you read any of them? I can provide a lot more. In terms of environment, no gain at all. There is no environmental gain from preventing climate change? Energy security could be a gain but it is almost accidental - there are cheaper and more efficient ways to achieve energy security. What are those ways? And compared to what, exactly? Do the cheaper ways destroy the planet? I meant security in terms of not being dependent on imported oil, what do you mean by 'energy security'? There is a state above the Californian companies. So your example does not answer my question. The fig tree/fig wasp symbiosis shows that tit-for-tat works without executive power. Isn't it amazing how nature always beats humans in ingenuity? I did not see any acceptable solution Let me reiterate: should anything be done to prevent climate change?
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  13. Jacob:You defect to fulfill your emission goals, we punish through trade restrictions, UN resolutions, treaties that disfavor your interests, making the IMF put conditions to loans during economic downturns etc. Reciprocity. This supposes that "we" is a powerful coalition of states that will act in concert and has enough economic clout to make these threats realistic. Do you have any example of such coalitions? OPEC comes to mind or the case of nuclear non-proliferation. What you are describing is what I understand under trade war. is there any difference in your view? It is also a nice circular logic by the way. What you say is that if you already have a powerful coalition then you can have a powerful coalition. Jacob:There is no environmental gain from preventing climate change? There is no short term environmental gain in reducing the emission of CO2 as it is not a pollutant. whether there will be a long term environmental gain in a hundred years say, is a matter of debate. e.g. germany's efforts will cost billions of euros and would reduce the temperature by less then 0,2 defrees in a hundred years. I wonder if you can sell this to voters. Jacob:I meant security in terms of not being dependent on imported oil, what do you mean by 'energy security'? Exacrtly the same thing. How about diversifying your suppliers ? Way cheaper then emission reduction I guess. Jacob:Isn't it amazing how nature always beats humans in ingenuity? Yes indeed, but I am afraid it is irrelevant to our discussion. Jacob:Let me reiterate: should anything be done to prevent climate change? I honestly do not know. All I know is that there is a large risk of proposing the wrong solutions with the idea that we have to do something. Economic war would be one such - and you seem to have no other solutions
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  14. embb This supposes that "we" is a powerful coalition of states that will act in concert and has enough economic clout to make these threats realistic. Do you have any example of such coalitions? How do you explain the international stop for leaded gasoline, CFCs, DDT, thalidomide, phthalates, asbestos etc.? Can you prove there was no reciprocity involved? Does it not involve negotiated treaties between states? There are plenty of strong coalitions. EU, G8, G20, NAFTA etc. All they have to do is agree. The more that joins the easier the transition. What you say is that if you already have a powerful coalition then you can have a powerful coalition. You did not understand that a small cluster can eliminate all defectors by growing bigger. No circular logic. It is part of the dynamical properties. You have to read some of the papers to understand these effects. Since you did not answer my question I must conclude that you have not read any of them and do not wish to understand more than you already know. Is that correct? There is no short term environmental gain in reducing the emission of CO2 as it is not a pollutant. Not according to the EPA. Second, there are also both immediate and future health effects of climate change. Do you think voters favor cash in return for a destroyed planet? Long term environmental gain in a hundred years say, is a matter of debate e.g. Germany's efforts will cost billions of euros and would reduce the temperature by less then 0,2 degrees in a hundred years. Is there anything that is certain? How do you know that it is not worth billions of euros to mitigate climate change even by 0.2 degrees? How about diversifying your suppliers ? Way cheaper then emission reduction I guess. Such as deploying more dangerous oilrigs? How do you make your assertion as to the price? Did you know that the compounded price of a gallon of gasoline in the USA could be as high as 15 dollars due to taxation, regulation, environment protection etc.? Of course, that is not even counting the price of the health insurance and mitigation of climate change. How about diversifying the sources instead? What is it exactly about biofuels, windmills, solar power, geothermal heat etc. that you oppose so much? China is already ahead of the USA in many areas, which also seems to contradict the notion that it does not pay off to mitigate climate change. How do you explain that? Is it the free market? All I know is that there is a large risk of proposing the wrong solutions with the idea that we have to do something. So you argue for the preservation of the status quo because the proposed reforms may be imperfect? That is why I conclude that you have an interest in not mitigating climate change. Luckily, reforms can be passed with a majority alone and they are coming. Economic war would be one such - and you seem to have no other solutions I have provided my solutions here, here, here, here, here and here. Trade war based on science is infinitely less harmful than real war based on dangerous nationalistic issues. If the trade war solves the problem due to the fact that reciprocity works to eliminate defectors, then how can you possibly oppose it?
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  15. What sort of philosophy produces the following behavior? It was hailed as a breakthrough in the fight to cut carbon emissions. In 2007, researchers found that heavy electricity users cut their consumption after being told that they used more energy than their neighbours. Almost a million US households have since received similar feedback and have cut electricity use by an average of 2.5 per cent. But a new study has identified a wrinkle in the plan: the feedback only seems to work with liberals. Conservatives tend to ignore it. Some even respond by using more energy. The findings come from a study of over 80,000 Californian households, just under half of which received feedback on energy use. Overall, the technique worked: households who got the feedback cut electricity by around 2 per cent, say Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn at the University of California, Los Angeles. But important difference emerged when Costa and Kahn looked at the political leanings of those in the survey. Homeowners who identified themselves as Republicans cut energy use by just 0.4 per cent on average. And those Republicans who showed no practical interest in environmental causes – people who did not donate to environmental groups and did not choose to pay extra for renewable energy – even increased electricity use by 0.75 per cent. Republicans won’t be nudged into cutting home energy Why would somebody behave like that? I can understand doing nothing, but actively increasing one's electric bill as well helping to erase efficiency gains? What's up with that?
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  16. Jacob:How do you explain the international stop for leaded gasoline, CFCs, DDT, thalidomide, phthalates, asbestos etc.? You honestly see no difference between banning a chemical and deliberately making the countrie's industry uncompetitive?? Jacob:Can you prove there was no reciprocity involved? Does it not involve negotiated treaties between states? Sure, it works as long as there is no serious incentive to defect. Jacob:You did not understand that a small cluster can eliminate all defectors by growing bigger. OPEC? Non-proliferation? Strange that you did not react to those cases, right? Somehow the small groups missed the opportunity to eliminate defectors. Any ideas why? Jacob:Not according to the EPA. So, you think that decreasing the amount of CO2 in a neighborhood increases the quality of life in that neighborhood? That people will be willing to have a CO2 free neighborhood? Surely not. Jacob:Second, there are also both immediate and future health effects of climate change. I think you mix up weather with climate. As we get to here at every cold spell the weather is NOT the climate. Jacob:Do you think voters favor cash in return for a destroyed planet? Yes. If they didn't you would not be thinking about game theory. Jacob:How about diversifying the sources instead? What is it exactly about biofuels, windmills, solar power, geothermal heat etc. that you oppose so much? Nothing, I do not. We were talking about game theory and just for the record I do not oppose game theory either :) Jacob:So you argue for the preservation of the status quo because the proposed reforms may be imperfect? That is why I conclude that you have an interest in not mitigating climate change Jacob, do you support geo-engineering? If no, why not? Just because the solutions might be imperfect? Jacob:Trade war based on science is infinitely less harmful than real war based on dangerous nationalistic issues. There was no war that was not started with these arguments, in the last millenium. It will be short and sweet and by the time the leaves fall all will be settled, right? Jacob:If the trade war solves the problem due to the fact that reciprocity works to eliminate defectors, then how can you possibly oppose it? Because it is stupid and uncontrollable and can easily end up in a real war. War is war and it is bad. People actually die in trade wars too if you haven't noticed. So, in the end this is where all the game theory ends up? You might have spared yourself the effort.
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  17. To sum up my problem with the article: 1. Any taxation on CO2 emissions must be globally respected to be viable. Otherwise it will be nothing more then a harakiri of the states that implement it. 2. The game theoretical models presented in the article do not apply because of the following: 2.1 The rewards of defection are immediate and measurable in hard cash while the rewards of cooperation are highly theoretical are nothing more then the "saving the planet in 100 years". Moreover the defector can still benefit from the defection AND the hypothetical saving of the planet. The game theoretical models are all in a context where reward and punishment are both immediate and tangible. Try the prisoners dilemma with the twist that cooperation does not get you out of prison but a priest will tell you that your soul will go to heaven. I am not really curious about the result - seems to be obvious. 2.2 If defection is so tempting there is one way of making this work, which is a global police force ( "indirect reciprocity" is a nice euphemism for it, but in reality we are talking about swift punishment of defection in a way that will hurt. In the end the vision is of a powerful coalition of states who are convinced that they are right and will force their vision on everyone else. You may call this any number of fancy technical names, it is a world police state. Are we too stupid to implement this? I sure hope so.
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  18. embb You honestly see no difference between banning a chemical and deliberately making the countrie's industry uncompetitive?? What gives you the idea that reducing CO2 emissions makes a country's industry uncompetitive? I have proof of the contrary: Spain, China, Denmark and Germany. How do you explain that most experts agree that a proposed reform to phase-out fossil fuels by 2050 in Denmark is not only necessary, but realistic, at a time when the economy is down and the danish oil production is in permanent decline? Samsø is completely self-sufficient in renewable energy, without any subsidies whatsoever. How do you explain all that? OPEC? Non-proliferation? OPEC is an excellent example of how powerful a coalition using reciprocity can be. Thank you. However, they were opposed by other coalitions so they did not eliminate 'defectors'- luckily. Non-proliferation more or less worked - otherwise you would have nuclear weapons all over in the Nash-equilibirum. In fact, it seems to be working even better these days. Nobody wants the tragedy-of-the-commons of a nuclear war, as I mentioned in the post above. you think that decreasing the amount of CO2 in a neighborhood increases the quality of life in that neighborhood? Neither I nor the EPA ever postulated that. Whatever gave you that idea? I think you mix up weather with climate. As we get to here at every cold spell the weather is NOT the climate. As I have recently studied the classic one-dimensional calculation of the Earth's boundary layer involving solving the Heat-diffusion equation for latitude bands using a Green's function, then surely such a mistake on my part can be ruled out. Did you ever read my post here on chaos? You just dismiss that "The Lancet and University College London's Institute for Global Health issued a major report concluding that climate change is the "biggest global health threat of the 21st century."? What is your source to the contrary? Jacob:Do you think voters favor cash in return for a destroyed planet? Yes. If they didn't you would not be thinking about game theory. The dilemma is that they want the planet to be safe and receive the temptation at the same time. You cannot see that? do you support geo-engineering? If no, why not? Do you think geo-engineering is more or less risky than switching to sustainable energy? If you argue for geo-engineering you will be contradicting your own concerns with the economic impact of reducing carbon. Why play around with huge risks when we are looking to reduce risks? If defection is so tempting there is one way of making this work, which is a global police force (...) it is a world police state. There is no police force in the case of the fig tree/fig wasp, is there? It is highly relevant because natural selection, which is mostly a Nash-equilibrium, can favor reciprocity and enhance symbiosis. We can undoubtedly learn from that. Interestingly, you put blind trust into economists' warning of trade wars in spite of the fact that the recent economic downturn was not correctly anticipated by economists and and no policies to properly mitigate the crises were proposed either. How come? The fact that Nobel prize winners themselves readily discard all current economic theory is not something you would take seriously? Look at CFCs. Here is what I said: A growing cluster of countries can eliminate defectors using science based coercive strategies and that is exactly what happened. Rather striking really.
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  19. Jacob:What gives you the idea that reducing CO2 emissions makes a country's industry uncompetitive? Aren't we talking about an emission tax? It will increase the production costs hence make the industry less competitive. Jacob:OPEC is an excellent example of how powerful a coalition using reciprocity can be. If you think so... I seem to remeber lots of defections during its existence. Also, Russia, one of the biggest producers, is not a member. Are you sure this is the right model? Jacob:Neither I nor the EPA ever postulated that. Whatever gave you that idea? Simple: CO2 is a pollutant. People prefer to live in less polluted areas. Thus people should be willing to pay for having less CO2 in their area. Some element of this chain is faulty, which one is it? Jacob: You just dismiss that "The Lancet and University College London's Institute for Global Health issued a major report concluding that climate change is the "biggest global health threat of the 21st century."? No, I did not. You were talking about "immediate" effects, they are ttalking about "threats". Surely you see the difference. Jacob:Do you think geo-engineering is more or less risky than switching to sustainable energy? You completely miss my point. You were advocating immediate actions regardless of the risks. I am asking YOU if this is your attitude towards geo-engineering as well? Remeber? "So you argue for the preservation of the status quo because the proposed reforms may be imperfect? That is why I conclude that you have an interest in not mitigating climate change." If you argue against geo-engineering then according to YOUR own logic you have an interest in not mitigating climate change. That is all. Jacob:There is no police force in the case of the fig tree/fig wasp, is there? You might want to rethink this a bit. Evolution is about the survival of the fittest - so defectors will just die. If this is your example of a non-violent scenario you are really wrong. :)
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  20. an emission tax? It will increase the production costs hence make the industry less competitive. You are wrong. To maximize profits the electricity producers of California are now begging consumers to use less electricity. "Jacob:OPEC is an excellent example of how powerful a coalition using reciprocity can be." I seem to remeber lots of defections during its existence. Also, Russia, one of the biggest producers, is not a member. OPEC caused the oil crisis in the 1970's. Have you never heard about that? I said that they did not succeed, so what is your point? CO2 is a pollutant. People prefer to live in less polluted areas. Thus people should be willing to pay for having less CO2 in their area. You need to read about how CO2 acts as greenhouse gas on the mean temperature of the Earth. The FAQ for policy makers from the Fourth Assessment Report from IPCC is a good start. There is also plenty of good information on this site. You were talking about "immediate" effects, they are talking about "threats". Surely you see the difference. There are serious health effects of Global Warming now. It is about the same problem of trends in statistics that people misunderstand when mixing up weather and climate. Read the reference. You completely miss my point. You were advocating immediate actions regardless of the risks. I am asking YOU if this is your attitude towards geo-engineering as well? Please point to studies that show that geo-engineering will pose a smaller risk than reducing emissions of CO2. If you argue against geo-engineering then according to YOUR own logic you have an interest in not mitigating climate change. If geo-engineering is proven less risky than reducing CO2 pollution then I would favour it, thus disproving your argument. Where are your references to the risks and what is the overwhelming scientific concensus about geo-engineering? Evolution is about the survival of the fittest - so defectors will just die. The fittest fig wasps survived and cooperate because the tree uses reciprocity. Your world police state argument is also self-contradictory. Imagine if you were right about everything we have discussed and people still wish to mitigate climate change. Then they would indeed make a world police force - and sadly history proves that people often have favoured that so why would they stop now? I argue the contrary, and the recent history with CFCs etc. and the game theory of this post indicates that it is not needed at all. If there was a truly democratic world government with a police force, then there would indeed be no need for the game theory I wrote about. This is not the case and will not be for some time. We can conclude that all that is needed is a comprehensive protocol calling for ending the use of fossil carbon. Similar measure were taken before and natural phenomena shows us that evolution has handled defection with reciprocity alone. The US may start already this year with taxing and capping carbon pollution because of global warming, money lost overseas and because China may beat them to it. Note: there is nothing about the mafia, deadly trade wars, crippling homeland competitiveness, feeling-good pious wishful thinking or the slightest concern about a potential world police state.
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  21. "To maximize profits the electricity producers of California are now begging consumers to use less electricity." So? Do you see any electricity company begging for a carbon tax? "I said that they did not succeed, so what is your point?" That it is a bad example for an international coalition that worked. "Please point to studies that show that geo-engineering will pose a smaller risk than reducing emissions of CO2." Did anyone ever do a comparative study? Please point to a study that shows that CO2 taxing is less risky then geo-engineering. You still miss my point: you said that I have a stake in the status quo BECAUSE I think CO2 taxing is too risky. I said that based on the same logic YOU have a stake in maintaining the status quo because you think geo-engineering is too risky " The fittest fig wasps survived and cooperate because the tree uses reciprocity." Okay, lets discuss this clearly: you cite this as a benign example of reciprocity and this is false. How about the following reading: The non-cooperating wasps were punished with extinction because the fig tree used reciprocity" . translated to human terms it would mean to eradicate the non-cooperating states - surely less then a benign solution. "We can conclude that all that is needed is a comprehensive protocol calling for ending the use of fossil carbon." I cannot even guess how you came to this conclusion. The whole discussion revolves around the point that only a "comprehensive" agreement makes sense ans in order to get that you need to make every major player to cooperate - and that there is no benign way of achieving that. So, in the end you are arguing for a (trade)war against defectors. This is where we started and we this is where we are now. As I said you can call threatening and blackmail indirect reciprocity if you prefer fancy terms, but it is still what it is. "The US may start already this year..." and this is for the present discussion almost totally irrelevant. When will China, India and Brazil start - this is the question. Maybe you`ll care to explain just how the US will use "indirect reciprocity" to get them on board without causing a global catastrophe? "Note: there is nothing about the mafia, deadly trade wars, crippling homeland competitiveness, feeling-good pious wishful thinking or the slightest concern about a potential world police state." Sure: anyone can chose to close their eyes if they wish to. Still there is a small hint here: "We also set up a tough, WTO-consistent border adjustment mechanism so that there won't be any "carbon leakage" of companies manufacturing things overseas in countries that don't manage their emissions. Imports from those countries will have to pay a fee at the border." Care to explain how this is going to be managed?
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  22. embb, Do you see any electricity company begging for a carbon tax? The carbon regulation made companies beg the consumers to use less energy. The dividend/tax made that happen and Schwarzenegger finalized the legislation. The funny thing is that economists had nothing to do with it. It was originally thought out by a physicist. How about that? "I said that (OPEC) did not succeed, so what is your point?" That it is a bad example for an international coalition that worked. OPEC worked in the 1970s to cause almost total collapse of the world economy. They were using reciprocity, so it was actually a very good example that you brought out. Thanks a lot! "Please point to studies that show that geo-engineering will pose a smaller risk than reducing emissions of CO2." Did anyone ever do a comparative study? You do not need it. Geo-engineering may aggravate the environmental problems, since nobody really knows what could happen. Climate science is already disputed by the policy makers who wish to maintain the status quo, so how can they argue that geo-engineering is less risky? What is the science? No science, no policy. Global warming plus all the unwanted - and, mind you, very expensive - sideeffects is guaranteed to be mitigated by stopping the use of fossil fuels. You have a stake in maintaining the status quo because you think geo-engineering is too risky No, I have consistently argued for changing the status quo by mitigating climate change. You argue that stopping the use of carbon is too expensive, which it is not, but if you get your way then either climate change or the risky geo-engineering will affect us all economically and perhaps physically anyway. There is no escape in your logic. That is the dilemma. It leads to tragedy of the commons. The fittest fig wasps survived and cooperate because the tree uses reciprocity. (...) this is a benign example of reciprocity Tell that to the dying larvae and their mother... The non-cooperating wasps were punished with extinction because the fig tree used reciprocity" . translated to human terms it would mean to eradicate the non-cooperating states - surely less then a benign solution. Which is it: benign or eradicate? Pick a choice. I have certainly never suggested eradication or anything of the sort, because it seems to defy all reason, so I am not sure what you are talking about? a "comprehensive" agreement makes sense (...) in order to get that you need to make every major player cooperate - and that there is no benign way of achieving. You are mistaken. The examples of CFCs, asbestos, lead in gasoline etc. clearly disproves it. So, in the end you are arguing for a (trade)war against defectors. I will never and have never argued for real wars. If a trade war is the only way to coerce a state to cooperate, which it is not, it is of course relatively benign. By the way, nobody would go to war to defend burning coal. However, many may go that way to defend resources that have gone scarce due to unmitigated climate change. The Pentagon even acknowledges that it can "fan the flames of war". That is a real danger? you can call threatening and blackmail indirect reciprocity if you prefer (...) but it is still what it is. If you keep emission goals and you issue warning and subsequently restrict imports from someone who defect then it is fair punishment as agreed in the treaty. Calling it blackmail and threats is therefore clearly a mistake, as it is usually between criminal offenders. "The US may start already this year..." and this is for the present discussion almost totally irrelevant. When will China, India and Brazil start - this is the question. China is already leading in sustainable energy investments, and in your logic, they are sadly rendering their entire production apparatus uncompetitive. And yet the US is scrambling to get ahead as they too are blind to the obvious? Brazil has had some problems, but they have had the intention to get off oil since the 70s in spite of the tragedy of the decision to grow sugar canes in deforested lands. They will get it right now because China and the US will lead the way. Once the US, China, Brazil is on track, the democratic India will follow suit. I have extremely smart collaborators in the US, China and India so these countries know what is the right thing to do. Maybe you`ll care to explain just how the US will use "indirect reciprocity" to get them on board without causing a global catastrophe? The US would cause a global catastrophe to avoid a global catastrophe? Seems futile doesn't it? (..) WTO-consistent border adjustment mechanism(...)" Care to explain how this is going to be managed? No, because I have explained that numerous times already. Look it up.
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  23. Jacob Let us focus the discussion a bit. There is one simple question for me. According to the bill: "We also set up a tough, WTO-consistent border adjustment mechanism so that there won't be any "carbon leakage" of companies manufacturing things overseas in countries that don't manage their emissions. Imports from those countries will have to pay a fee at the border." Translated to practical terms this means that any country not having carbon tax will be punished by a hefty "fee at the border" or to put it another way by a high customs duty. What will the impact of this be on the economy of these states? On the smugglers? On the US economy? "The funny thing is that economists had nothing to do with it. It was originally thought out by a physicist. How about that?" I can completely understand this. :))
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  24. embb Obviously the measure to punish a defector should hurt the economy of the particular state in proportion to the violation. On the other hand, there is no point in causing major disruption, since the example of Greece shows that the neighbors will have to bail them out anyway. The example of CFCs is also helpful. Not only did the EU start by banning CFCs on their own, but in addition to the Montreal protocol there was a monetary fund set up to help developing economies. I think that makes tremendous sense, which is also why it was decided at COP15. Make the weak economies robust to destabilizing fluctuations during the transition. The developing countries are also not the biggest carbon polluters, while they will feel the biggest impact from global warming. Going to zero CO2-emissions need not cost domestic businesses anything: tax/dividends makes consumers demand less while keeping profits, cap and trade will enable monitoring and force a certain amount of emissions reductions, energy efficiency will increase from labeling appliances, insulating houses and regulating transportation and finally sustainable sources are established on different timescales. We have plenty of examples to back it all up in the real world. I also recommend Peter Sinclair's latest videos, where he mentions that Denmark being the most advanced country in renewable energy is also voted by Forbes to be the best country for business:
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  25. Jacob, you do not answer my question sohere it is again: How is this going to look like in real life: WTO-consistent border adjustment mechanism so that there won't be any "carbon leakage" of companies manufacturing things overseas in countries that don't manage their emissions. Imports from those countries will have to pay a fee at the border. Starting next year, say, the US will raise customs tax equivalent to the carbon tax on every product coming from a country that does not have an equivalent tax? Yes/no? Any thoughts you have on the impact of such a tax on the world economy?
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  26. embb, I have read all your references and answered all of your questions above. The trivial pretext of preventing 'carbon leakage' versus your question of taxing all products of defectors are two different issues. In general, taxes do not hurt the economy. They change the fluctuations from extreme values (catastrophic climate change, financial crashes) to something more benign, say, steady growth with finite moments. This is what everybody wants, and that is not even counting the benefit of investing the revenue in sustainability. The anti-'carbon leakage' customs tax is trivial because it would not hurt anyone undeservedly. The companies would still benefit from other advantages of unregulated locations, the temptation to move would just be smaller and the poor nations would have an excuse to start regulation. The US will not put a carbon tax on every product coming from countries that do not have a carbon tax by next year. The most urgent question would be which international treaty sets the standards? The US defected on Kyoto and they are not the cleanest producers per capita themselves, so which entire countries would they actually punish? In fact, with China and the EU leading the race they might face large reciprocal punishments. That is were the next treaty comes in. And never forget: everybody will benefit from preventing climate change in spite of the transient pain of moving to a sustainable economy - because it is cheaper in the long run.
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  27. A lot of comments discussing alternative energy sources got deleted recently. As there is no appropriate thread at this site with such a topic, I give it a try here. I believe in the short term neither atmospheric carbon dioxide nor fossil fuel depletion are among the twenty most important problems of the world, but on longer timescales (from several centuries up to a billion years) they certainly are. Others believe it is an immediate problem requiring drastic measures as soon as practicable. Anyway, it is a problem begging for a solution (sooner or later). If we don't want to go entirely stupid, we should cooperate. However, cooperation needs trust. Unfortunately the very same people promoting fast decarbonization tend to reject the only technologically mature solution, fast breeder reactors. As it is actually a smart attitude not to trust people promoting a non-solution to a problem raised by them while a perfectly reasonable one is available, no wonder cooperation is somewhat hampered. You don't need fancy game theory to explain this, simple common sense suffices. Re: Is there a scientific consensus on global warming? #241 Roger A. Wehage at 01:40 AM on 22 October, 2010 Uranium is not sustainable when consumed. That is why handling radioactive wastes is such a world problem. And Uranium is finite, which means that it also past peak and becoming more difficult and expensive to obtain. Have you read the paper I've provided a link to? Has the physics changed that much during the past 27 years? American Journal of Physics, Jan. 1983 Vol. 51, Issue 1, pp. 75 Breeder reactors: A renewable energy source Bernard L. Cohen Cost of fuel with fast breeder reactors is a non-issue, as you need very small amounts of the stuff. Even at an inflated price exceeding that of gold it would contribute less than 0.1% to cost of power generation. Therefore as the leanest ores are getting economic, the resource can't be exhausted in the projected lifetime of Earth. You may also be interested in this paper: EIC Climate Change Technology, 2006 IEEE 10-12 May 2006, pp. 1. doi: 10.1109/EICCCC.2006.277268 Nuclear Fission Fuel is Inexhaustible Lightfoot, H.D.; Manheimer, W.; Meneley, D.A.; Pendergast, D. & Stanford, G.S. Present day radioactive wastes are a problem because current technology was developed with military applications in mind, that is, to produce as much plutonium as possible. It resulted in a meager fuel efficiency, barely 1% of what is already achieved by proven technology in experimental fast breeder reactors. With the proper technology waste deposits are more like a resource than a problem. If we started to burn the stuff now, we could go on for decades with no further mining whatsoever. An additional benefit is the volume of radioactive spent fuel left over at the end of the cycle is two orders of magnitude smaller, what is more, it would not contain radionuclides with long halflives, so it would not need reliable sequestration for hundreds of thousand years, just centuries.
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  28. BP #127: "Unfortunately the very same people promoting fast decarbonization tend to reject the only technologically mature solution, fast breeder reactors." In my experience 'radiation fear' and NIMBYism are widespread, rather than being limited to people in favor of decarbonization. There is some dispute whether nuclear fission could provide us with electrical power for "the projected lifetime of Earth" or 'merely' several thousand years, but either way I agree it is a viable technology. However, it is NOT as you claim the ONLY viable technology... nor indeed the best. While problems with radioactive waste disposal (which would still be an issue with fast breeder reactors, just reduced) and possible 'meltdown' scenarios can be managed to remove most of the risk... there is also the issue of nuclear proliferation. If the whole world ran on fast breeder reactors then the whole world would have nuclear detonation capability. To me that's a rather daunting proposition... to the point that I'd actually prefer the use of 'once through' reactors to burn up uranium supplies quickly. That would make a great 'interim solution' while decarbonizing. You had previously dismissed renewables because of 'land use' issues, which is fairly obviously nonsense. Even setting aside possible future developments like space based solar and high altitude wind, more than enough power can be generated by 'dual purposing' land. The difference in food yield between a large cornfield and a large cornfield with wind turbines in it is minimal. The difference in parking capacity between a parking lot and a parking lot with solar panels shading all the parking spaces is zero. If we took full advantage of that kind of dual purposing in every viable location we'd have far more electrical power than we need. There are also of course off-shore wind farms, tidal power, geothermal (do alot of people live on top of active volcanoes?), ocean heat flux, traditional hydropower, et cetera. More than enough fully developed modern renewable power options. One 'future technology' that would be a real game changer is the 'solar road' concept. Basically, instead of driving on standard asphalt you drive on a solar power generating surface. The surface area of the world's roadways and other 'blacktop' surfaces is many many times greater than would be needed to cover world power needs even at low efficiencies which might be needed for a viable driving surface. Nifty things about this would be that it takes the whole battery problem out of electric cars... you could get a continual charge directly from the road itself via induction charging. The roads would also serve as a super grid providing electrical power everywhere there are roads AND localized generation worldwide - reducing transmission losses. Potentially heating elements could be incorporated to clear snow and ice in winter. Et cetera. Isn't production ready, but people are working on it and nothing about the concept seems at all implausible. Possibly just that we wouldn't bother building out EVERY road that way when a fraction of them would provide sufficient power.
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  29. #128 CBDunkerson at 21:35 PM on 22 October, 2010 it is NOT as you claim the ONLY viable technology... nor indeed the best Hydro power is great when suitable sites are available, but in that respect we are close to saturation. All the other alternative energy sources one by one or all together do not even come close to replace carbon based fuels, just do the math. Solar may be an exception as it is already proven as long term supplier of the biosphere, but in its present form it can't be anything but marginal. To change that one would need advanced molecular nanotechnology, the very type of gadgets life is built on (but a bit more durable, perhaps). This technology is not ready yet, it's even difficult to put a definite timeframe on its development. With solar you need storage, preferably a distributed one, with high energy density, reasonable efficiency and low environmental impact. It can hardly be anything else but an energy rich, non-toxic and not flammable chemical (like sugar). With molecular precision (also applied in chlorplasts and mithocondria for some time) self replicating desktop manufacturing systems can build micron sized solar units to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen using light, storage units of the same size and fuel cells using sugar and producing electricity on demand along with CO2 and water. A dense 2D matrix of these gadgets can supply roughly 109 J/m2 each year, either as electricity or a chemical fuel to be taken away. Present consumption could be covered using just about half a million km2 (0.3% of land surface). However, we can't go much above this level before this kind of energy supply starts to compete with plants for sunlight. There is one caveat. The technology needed to implement such a system is far more dangerous than nukes, if abused. Other than that and the fact we do not have it yet, it's marvelous.
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  30. @BP: All the more reasons to invest heavily into renewable energy, as China is doing. "All the other alternative energy sources one by one or all together do not even come close to replace carbon based fuels, just do the math." Really? On what numbers do you base yourself to make this conclusion? Are you taking into account new PV cell technology, which have dramatically reduced cost, leading to a sharp increase in consumer-producers? What about tidal power? Ethanol (perhaps soon to be produced by cyanobacteriae)? I think that all other alternative energy sources combined would greatly reduce our use of precious hydrocarbons (which we need to make plastic, anyway). You seem to claim it's too hard to achieve this, but that is a defeatist attitude. It was once considered too hard - nay, impossible - to go to the moon, but we did. This is just another challenge for humanity, and if you're not ready to lend a hand, at least have the decency to get out of the way.
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  31. PS Molten Salt is a good way to store energy...as for your "Grey Goo" doomsday scenario, that's just science-fiction. If we are going to delve in that are, orbital solar power would a much cheaper way to generate round-the-clock electricity, and nuclear fusion seems a lot more likely than out-of-control nanites...
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  32. There are certainly multiple renewable and non-renewable options. Nuclear options would require fast breeder reactors and/or thorium reactors; both are technically possible, although politically 'hot' due to the radionuclide and fissionable materials availability. They do require cooling water, which is a different resource issue. Solar is entirely possible with current technology (doesn't require nano-machining); it's currently still a bit too pricey to be economic, but that's dropping fairly fast. The big requirements there are (a) reliable wide-area transmission lines, (b) scattered siting to minimize regional cloud issues, and (c) the needs some solar tech have for rare elements. Covering a portion of the Saudi peninsula with panels would power the planet if we could distribute it, without competing for any food. There's some excellent work going on in terms of energy storage, including molten salt, and simple approaches such as pressurized underground reservoirs - pump air into a mine shaft, run turbines off it when needed. Wind power is plentiful, although not as large a supply as solar - it would be a good adjunct to solar systems, sharing some of the same storage/distribution framework needed. Both do require considerable excess capacity to handle low wind/light conditions. Further down the line are orbital solar (gets around clouds and some distribution problems), some interesting approaches such as fusion (not tokamaks, I suspect those will never work), like the Polywell reactor or some of the other geometries. However - all of these require infrastructure development, time to be built, investment to drop the prices to economically feasible levels, and the political will to choose low CO2 technologies over "business as usual".
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  33. BP #129: "All the other alternative energy sources one by one or all together do not even come close to replace carbon based fuels, just do the math." Ok. Current world energy consumption: ~16 TW Estimated exploitable world renewable resources with current technology; Hydro: 2 TW (out of 7 total) Geothermal: 1 TW (out of 30 total) Wind: 70 TW (out of 850 total) Solar: Estimates vary widely, but 600 TW is the lowest I could find. (out of 120,000 total). Somehow I'm not seeing the problem in getting up to 16 TW. Must be 'new math'. "With solar you need storage" No, with solar you need storage, a backup power source to smooth out fluctuations, a large/efficient enough grid to always have power available somewhere from the network, OR some combination of the above. Viable options exist for all three solutions with current technology. "Present consumption could be covered using just about half a million km2 (0.3% of land surface). However, we can't go much above this level before this kind of energy supply starts to compete with plants for sunlight." What? If there are no plants where you put the solar collectors then they aren't competing with plants for sunlight. Deserts, rooftops, blacktop... each of these can provide a 'plant free' area of more than 0.3% of the planet's land surface. BTW, plant photosynthesis uses less than 0.1% of the solar energy which strikes the planet's surface each year.
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  34. There's a nice feasibility study of converting the US (and the world) to completely renewable energy sources, Jacobson et al 2009, also Jacobson 2009. Total world power needs est. for 2030: 17 TW. Solar power in likely-to-develop locations (high insolation): 340 TW for photovoltaic, ~240 for concentrating thermal solar. Wind power in likely-to-develop locations: 70-170 TW. Likely to develop locations for wind (high wind density) include the Great Plains of the U.S. and Canada, Northern Europe, the Gobi and Sahara Deserts, much of the Australian desert areas, and parts of South Africa and Southern South America. For the US alone the Great Plains and off the East Coast would be sufficient. Slide 18 of Jacobson 2009 is particularly interesting - demonstrating the relative area required to produce sufficient electricity for all US vehicles. Both wind turbine area and area with turbine spacings (which can be dual use) are shown. This looks quite feasible.
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  35. Crossposting with tongue firmly in cheek - We could always convert our automobiles to nuclear power, and avoid CO2 from transportation...
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  36. Two things about that car bother me (I mean, besides whether or not the reactor is given an airbag). First, the designers apparently decided they'd change the polarity of radio broadcasts along w/introducing reactors to the roadways. Second, it looks as though it would be necessary to climb on top of the reactor to retrieve the spare wheel. I mean I'm sure it's perfectly safe even without lead underwear but it looks extremely inconvenient.
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  37. Doug, your nuke car is only missing a flux capacitor. Add a small crane on the back and it would look like it was a Krell design out of Forbidden Planet.
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  38. #135 KR at 08:50 AM on 23 October, 2010 with tongue firmly in cheek - We could always convert our automobiles to nuclear power In the same vein, a wind powered car is even better. Just imagine the fun a storm could do on a highway in a morning rush.
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  39. Apologies are in order. I inadvertently deleted this comment by embb, which I re-post here in it's entirety: -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- embb at 01:56 AM on 14 December 2010 Hi Jacob, I thought the discussion pointless earlier, but now that the Cancun agreement is a such a nice illustration of what the game theory predicts (namely that nations will back out of the pointless Kyoto agreement) I am really curious how your negative reciprocities will kick in. After all, you said it all along, that defection will be punished by "negytive reciprocities" but you could not give any practical example. So, now, here is the test case - how will negative reciprocities work after Cancun?
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  40. Hi Embb, I just saw your question. I have answered it too many times already. Read the papers by Hardin, Axelrod and Milinski and become wiser, my friend. Happy New Year!
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