Pay Now to Save the World Later?

Planet Money recently interviewed Elinor Ostrom, this year’s Nobel prize winner and an expert in the tragedy of the commons about global warming. Ostrom believes the solution to climate change will come not from government initiatives but from people in communities around the world. “I think we are stupid to sit around and wait and wait and wait,” she says. To test her idea, the Planet Money crew played a game designed by German zoologist Manfred Milinski to determine whether people will spend money now to save the planet later. The good news: in gameplay, the NPR employees saved the planet. The bad news: only 50% of the six-person test groups that Milinski tested managed the same feat. Milinski doesn’t hold out much hope that the world’s six-plus billion people will come through on their own. [%comments]

Ian Kemmish

Hasn't this experiment already been run "in the wild"?

It has been possible for ages to spend effort and sometimes money now to reduce one's environmental impact. I've been using CFLs for fifteen years (if not more, I forget when they first became available), have never owned a private car and have lived pretty frugally, basically for as long as I can remember.

It's not a question of whether people will vote with their feet while governments dither. People _have already_ voted with their feet. That's why the scientists turned to the governments in the first place, isn't it?

Perhaps it's time to emulate Dr Strangelove, stop worrying, and learn to love what's coming.


Many people are simply not convinced the planet needs saving. Climate-gate exposed just how smarmy the perpetrators of the Global Warming scam are. Smart people have stated over and over we do not have a computer model competent enough to say with any degree of accuracy that Global Warming advocates dire predictions will ever come true. Yet people are being backed into a corner by junk science and scolded for not making fundamental changes in their lives. There's nothing selfish or wrong with wanting more and better proof before jumping to conclusions and being expected to make sacrifices.

Seth Gitter

In the Milinski climate change game each one of 6 player starts with $40 and can contribute $0, $2, $4 in any one of ten rounds. At the end of each round the contribution is announced from the previous round. If the contribution reaches $120 total, then the 6 players keep their money. If less than $120 is raised players get nothing.

This means that if each of the 6 player contributes $4 in the final 5 rounds, $120 will be raised and each player earns $16 from the game. As an economist my strategy would be to declare at the begining of the game I will not donate in any of the first 5 rounds, but will put in $4 in every one of the final 5 rounds, unless someone else does not put in money in one of the those final five rounds. If one player does not contribute I will no longer contribute. It would be in the best interest of all players to donate $4 in every one of the final five rounds, since if they did not they would get nothing. One player not donating in any of the final five rounds means everyone gets nothing.

I wonder why this solution was not reached, and realized its probably because it was played with college students and not economists (like me). I also wonder what my fellow players reaction would be to my proposal.



yeah, Ostrom sounds relatively naive- government leverage is the only hope communities have in reigning in industry pollution- this is precisely why corporations lobby for 'free trade'- by gutting government regulations, they are free to pollute without paying for the cleanup

Guillermo C. Jimenez

THE COPENHAGEN CON: The world's politicians don't know what to do about global warming, so they cover their tracks by promising to reverse carbon emissions growth. The way you can tell that they are all lying (aside from the fact that their lips are moving) is by noting that they don't mention carbon prices or carbon taxes.

The ONLY way to reduce carbon emissions is through taxation. The ONLY important policy issue in global warming is to set the right price for carbon, which means setting the carbon tax at the right level. Everything else, including Ostrom's nostrums, is pure nonsense.

If you are really interested in global warming and are not yet an expert, please start by reading Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson's article in the NY Review of Books:


Does anyone have a study tallying the benefits of global warming against costs? I'd like to see evidence that it actually will make our planet worse off.


frankenduf - do not utility executives have families? Do they not need clean air and water? You impute motives that are not in line with any reality, but your own fevered imaginations.

Ayn Rand

People, people, people...

Why is so much effort being put into something that is not a problem?

The climate will change whether or not people drive cars, eat meat, burn coal, cut down trees, or not.

The climate has changed many times in the past (including recorded history) when the population of man was mcu smaller, and had no coal-fired electric plants, gas guzzling SUVs, or huge cattle farms.

Until someone can offer compelling evidence that this is different than any other past change, I will not take part in speculation.

Jim Birch

It's just a crazy fantasy to think that individual actions based on individual preferences will somehow produced a (near) optimal collective result. There's no intelligible theory behind this supposition and it has been demonstrated to be empirically false numerous times.

If it didn't have narrative basis in some political philosophies (aka religions) based on veneration of the Generic Individual, the idea would get the response it deserves: "and pigs will fly".


Hahaha this has generated some of the dumbest comments I've ever seen, topped with 'Ayn Rand', people are saying they want to 'wait for more evidence' when really they just want to wait until someone tells them it's all ok and they don't have to do anything. Weak.


"Does anyone have a study tallying the benefits of global warming against costs? I'd like to see evidence that it actually will make our planet worse off."

More intense weather everywhere. This is one of the most basic weather systems known. More heat means that dry areas get even drier. More heat increases ocean evaporation and drives stronger winds, so areas that get storms get much stronger storms (ie the monsoon). And of course rise in sea levels, which is already apparent in first the Arctic and now, more alarmingly, the Antarctic. You tell me how beneficial that is. What, you think maybe global warming will happen to make Earth into paradise? It's equivalent to say that being exposed to radiation might be beneficial because there's a chance it will mutate your DNA into something better. Or saying something stupid like 'Oh but I don't mind warm weather/It's too cold'.

The problem is that swaths of people are forming opinions on this matter without doing any serious study into how weather actually works.


Fitty Stim

Umm, I hate to point out that there is no such thing as a "Nobel Prize in Economics".

There are five Nobel prizes:


No more, no less.

It doesn't matter that most people refer to the Swedish Treasury's prize (created in the late 60's) as a Nobel prize, it simply is not a Nobel prize.


"You tell me how beneficial that is. What, you think maybe global warming will happen to make Earth into paradise?"

Not making any sort of argument.

I'm saying that parts of the earth which are extremely cold will become more hospitable places, like Siberia.


I don't see how that would be positive at all. Even if it did become more hospitable (unlikely, it's geographic location prevents warm oceans currents getting close, it will probably always be freezing until it breaks apart or drifts south), you are implying massive relocation, which is not good. Society can't afford to shift cities around to suit the changing climate, we have to try an ensure the relative stable climate system we've enjoyed the last thousands of years isn't disrupted to a large extent. If Siberia becomes hospitable how does that help a country like the US if it's rainfall has disappeared or moved away from catchments? Moreover, what about inevitable sea level rise? It is not easy to just 'move' everyone living near the coast to higher ground, if it's even available. Considering the extreme complexities of the situation your opinion seems woefully over-simplistic.

Manuel Vasquez

Milinski's game would be more instructive if they'd used a the absolute certainty of an asteroid destroying earth rather than highly attenuated and speculative arguments that climate change is going to destroy our way of life. If polls are believed, most people will factor in the large likelihood that no catastrophic injury to our way of life occurs from climate change.

The result from Milinski's game indicates the skeptism of crowds when faced with an elite bossing them around. Going a little afield, I think you see the same principle animating Americans frequent switching of their leaders-- they're sick of the old crowd (although the new boss intreprets victory to mean an endorsement of their brand of bossing people around, which completes the circle at their defeat).

guillermo c. jimenez

Bravissimo Manuel Vasquez!


We must have full transparency. No more games, both hands on the table.

Brian T

I for one love the hoax of Climate Gate. Simply put, it states that:

Scientists mocking really stupid people constitutes hard evidence of Global Cooling.

or more elaborately:

The fact that scientists mocked really stupid people (who try to sabotage those scientists' work by asking the same stupid questions over and over again), because they got fed up with these questions, is to the MMGW denialists proof of some world wide conspiracy, by scientists, third World countries and the socalled "liberal elites". (What's always so curious, is that these "elites" are considerably poorer than more widespread conservative elites. Is the elitism in their intellect? Perhaps;) ;) ).