This video illustrates the discussion that should be going on about climate change. Please watch the video first so you know what I am talking about.

The rows are the scientific discussion, if you do not understand science, leave that discussion to the scientists.

The columns are the political discussion. Since we, the people, choose politics (okay, okay, I know, but bear with me), this is the discussion that we, the people, should be having.

Whether to act or not to act. The scientists can give us their best odds. This may influence the decision if and only if you can put a price on disaster. For instance, you can put a price on the 3000 people that died due to hurricane Katrina. That is, you can pretend it’s cold-hearted to so, but when you are given unknown odds and weighing known disasters against known costs, this is the calculation you will be doing.

Similar game theoretical constructs were used to determine whether nuclear wars (conventional wars too) were worth fighting. It turns out that mutually assured destruction games are not worth playing (this is why it is in the best interest of any country that wants to be a geopolitical player or does not want to be geopolitically played to acquire nuclear weapons and also in the best interest if any country that is a geopolitical player to ensure that other countries don’t get them if they don’t have them already, simple math, really, no high-falluting ideals).

In this situation, the game we play is called the “commons dilemma” or the commons game. It is also known as the tragedy of the commons because that is the typical outcome. The conflict in the commons game is between short term self-interest and long term group interest.

One solution to this sociological problem has been privatization. In this case the self-interested person never impacts the group, only himself, that is, he can not transfer the cost of his bad decisions onto the group, nor can he profit from the group.

Naturally, this is difficult when the commons is the entire planet and the commons expand our generation as well as our children and their children and so on (and who is representing the polar bears?). We can not privatize the air. Unfortunately, CO2 emissions do not stay over the country they were emitted but spread to the whole planet. Therefore, one country can easily profit from others, kinda like letting your dog take a crap in your neighbors yard as well so you do not have to clean up nearly as much. The present can easily profit from the people future as they have not been born yet. I don’t think I need to do a doggy example for this one.

If we are to consider this we must have fairly developed morals. We must be able to empathize with people that do not have our advantages e.g. people that live 10 feet above sea level, people living close to encroaching deserts, or people that can not afford to buy food which they must because they can no longer grow it where they live. And we must emphasize with people who are lowering the ground water table to maintain their golf courses and pumping up oil to support their way of life; they are people too. Not only must we consider all these interests. We must also consider the interests of future people. Our children—their children too—who are being born now, who will see all this unfold according to the choice we make now (not making a choice is also a choice).

We can however also say, well, we don’t care about universal principles and human rights. After all, we have weapons, and we can decide unilaterally. We spend so much on our military that nobody can touch us, least of all the polar bears, and definitely not our unborn children. Hence, since we can not suffer any consequences, we can do what we want. We even have a recent history of doing so (very many wars in the 20th century were fought over oil). We will do this to protect our (national) interests because our interests are more important than your interests, at least to us. We also know the consequence of this (although some are in denial and naively call the predictable response evil). People fighting back with whatever means they have. We call this terrorism. Eco-terrorism can involve releasing sulfur aerosols in the stratosphere with thousands of balloons. Most countries can do this; a sufficiently funded private organization could even do this. This will white out the sky—you will not see the sun again, but at least it will be a bit colder which could benefit some countries and hurt others. (Many wars in the 21st and 22nd century will be fought over climate.)

This is the discussion we should be having. If you know the science, you can have the scientific part of the discussion as well. If you don’t know the science, please don’t hide your having to make this moral choice behind scientific uncertainty.

You will be judged on your moral choices.

Yes, it sucks being alive now and having to make this choice. It probably sucked having to make the choice in Nazi-Germany in 1935 as well, but we each do what we must do. Everybody alive today is responsible.

Originally posted 2009-12-17 00:29:12.