Global Warming: More Common Than Tragic [Abstract]

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 18.1 (Winter 2004)

February 3, 2004

Ethics & International Affairs

Global warming is indeed a difficult international environmental problem to address: it has tragedy of the commons characteristics, and problems of time horizons and uncertainty. But previous efforts at international cooperation on other environmental issues such as ozone depletion suggest that international cooperation should be possible—though difficult—on climate change. Cooperation on issues that involve long time horizons suggests that the present generation is not calculating utility quite so narrowly as game theorists posit. Experience also suggests that successful cooperation on climate change will start with measures so small as to seem inconsequential, but will set in place an institutional and scientific process that will ultimately result in much more significant cooperative efforts. Rather than representing a tragedy, the Kyoto Protocol (or something much like it) could represent the beginnings of a process in which current generations take the first steps at collective action that dramatically improve the lives of future generations. Those who are concerned about the weakness of the Kyoto Protocol should first focus on persuading the United States to join—since this is the best way to let the process work and avoid a tragedy of the commons.


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