Climatic Change

, Volume 120, Issue 4, pp 815–830 | Cite as

Combined inequality in wealth and risk leads to disaster in the climate change game

  • Maxwell N. Burton-Chellew
  • Robert M. May
  • Stuart A. West
Article

Abstract

It is generally agreed that the risk of catastrophic climate change can only be reduced if agents cooperate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the 21st Century. Previous economic experiments have suggested that sufficient cooperation can often be achieved providing individuals are adequately and convincingly informed of the consequences of their actions and the stakes involved. However, this previous work, has not allowed for the fact that in the real world agents vary in both: (1) their resources to mitigate climate change, and (2) the consequences that they face from climate change. We develop and expand the protocol of previous economic experiments to investigate the introduction of such combined asymmetries. We find that when inequality in resources is combined with a greater relative risk for poorer members, cooperation collapses, with tragic consequences. This is because the rich invest proportionally less into preventing climate change when they are less at risk. We also find, through the use of a post-game questionnaire, that those individuals who were more skeptical about climate change in the real world cooperated less in our games. Insofar as such experiments can be trusted as a guide to either people’s everyday behaviour or the interactions of nation states, these results suggest that voluntary cooperation to avoid climate catastrophe in the real world is likely to be hard to achieve.

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank: L. Miller from the Nuffield Centre for Experimental Social Sciences for hosting our experiments and recruiting our participants; AS Griffin, CK Cornwallis & TC Scott-Phillips for comments; the European Research Council for funding.

Supplementary material

10584_2013_856_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.1 mb)
Online Resource 1(PDF 1165 kb)
10584_2013_856_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (1.7 mb)
Online Resource 2(PDF 1702 kb)

References

  1. Allison ST, Messick DM (1990) Social decision heuristics in the use of shared resources. J Behav Decis Mak 3:195–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allison ST, Mcqueen LR, Schaerfl LM (1992) Social decision-making processes and the equal partitionment of shared resources. J Exp Soc Psychol 28:23–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Archetti M (2009) Cooperation as a volunteer’s dilemma and the strategy of conflict in public goods games. J Evol Biol 22:2192–2200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bergmuller R, Johnstone RA, Russell AF, Bshary R (2007) Integrating cooperative breeding into theoretical concepts of cooperation. Behav Process 76:61–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Buchan NR, Grimalda G, Wilson R, Brewer M, Fatas E, Foddy M (2009) Globalization and human cooperation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 106:4138–4142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Charness G, Sutter M (2012) Groups make better self-interested decisions. J Econ Perspect 26:157–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Croson R, Marks M (2000) Step returns in threshold public goods: a meta- and experimental analysis. Exp Econ 2:239–259Google Scholar
  8. Diekmann A (1985) Volunteers dilemma. J Confl Resolut 29:605–610CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Diekmann A (1993) Cooperation in an asymmetric volunteers dilemma game—theory and experimental-evidence. Int J Game Theory 22:75–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dutta PK, Radner R (2004) Self-enforcing climate-change treaties. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 101:5174–5179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dutta PK, Radner R (2009) A strategic analysis of global warming: theory and some numbers. J Econ Behav Organ 71:187–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eek D, Biel A, Garling T (2001) Cooperation in asymmetric social dilemmas when equality is perceived as unfair. J Appl Soc Psychol 31:649–666CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Eyckmans J, Tulkens H (2003) Simulating coalitionally stable burden sharing agreements for the climate change problem. Resour Energy Econ 25:299–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Frank SA (2003) Repression of competition and the evolution of cooperation. Evolution 57:693–705Google Scholar
  15. Hardin G (1968) The tragedy of the commons. Science 162:1243–1248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hofmeyr A, Burns J, Visser M (2007) Income inequality, reciprocity and public good provision: an experimental analysis. S Afr J Econ 75:508–520CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hurlbert SH (1984) Pseudoreplication and the design of ecological field experiments. Ecol Monogr 54:187–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kimmerle J, Cress U (2008) Endowment heterogeneity and identifiability in the information-exchange dilemma. Comput Hum Behav 24:862–874CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. King DA (2004) Environment - climate change science: adapt, mitigate, or ignore? Science 303:176–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Maynard Smith J, Harper D (2003) Animal signals. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  21. Mendelsohn R, Morrison W, Schlesinger ME, Andronova NG (2000) Country-specific market impacts of climate change. Clim Chang 45:553–569CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Metz B, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Working Group III (2007) Climate change 2007: mitigation of climate change. Published for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  23. Milinski M, Semmann D, Krambeck HJ, Marotzke J (2006) Stabilizing the Earth’s climate is not a losing game: supporting evidence from public goods experiments. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 103:3994–3998CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Milinski M, Sommerfeld RD, Krambeck HJ, Reed FA, Marotzke J (2008) The collective-risk social dilemma and the prevention of simulated dangerous climate change. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105:2291–2294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Milinski M, Rohl T, Marotzke J (2011) Cooperative interaction of rich and poor can be catalyzed by intermediate climate targets A letter. Clim Chang 109:807–814CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nash JF (1950) Equilibrium points in N-person games. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 36:48–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nordhaus WD, Yang ZL (1996) A regional dynamic general-equilibrium model of alternative climate-change strategies. Am Econ Rev 86:741–765Google Scholar
  28. Nowak MA, Dreber A (2008) Gambling for global goods. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105:2261–2262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Olson M (1965) The logic of collective action: public goods and the theory of groups. Harvard Univ. Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  30. Parry ML, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Working Group II (2007) Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Published for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  31. Raihani N, Aitken D (2011) Uncertainty, rationality and cooperation in the context of climate change. Clim Chang 108:47–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ratnieks FLW, Foster KR, Wenseleers T (2006) Conflict resolution in insect societies. Annu Rev Entomol 51:581–608CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sachs JL, Mueller UG, Wilcox TP, Bull JJ (2004) The evolution of cooperation. Q Rev Biol 79:135–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Schelling TC (1960) The strategy of conflict. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  35. Solomon S, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Working Group I (2007) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Published for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK; New YorkGoogle Scholar
  36. Stern NH (2007) The economics of climate change: the Stern review. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  37. Stott PA, Gillett NP, Hegerl GC, Karoly DJ, Stone DA, Zhang X, Zwiers F (2010) Detection and attribution of climate change: a regional perspective. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang 1:192–211Google Scholar
  38. Tavoni A, Dannenberg A, Kallis G, Loschel A (2011) Inequality, communication, and the avoidance of disastrous climate change in a public goods game. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108:11825–11829CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Thompson L, Loewenstein G (1992) Egocentric interpretations of fairness and interpersonal conflict. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 51:176–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tol RSJ (2002a) Estimates of the damage costs of climate change—Part II. Dynamic estimates. Environ Resour Econ 21:135–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tol RSJ (2002b) Estimates of the damage costs of climate change. Part 1: benchmark estimates. Environ Resour Econ 21:47–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Turner A, Kennedy D, Fankhauser S, Grubb M, Hoskins B, King J, Krebs J, May R, Skea J (2010) UK climate change committee. The fourth carbon budget: reducing emissions through the 2020s. www.theccc.org.uk
  43. Van Dijk E, Wilke H (1995) Coordination rules in asymmetric social dilemmas—a comparison between public good dilemmas and resource dilemmas. J Exp Soc Psychol 31:1–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wade-Benzoni KA, Tenbrunsel AE, Bazerman MH (1996) Egocentric interpretations of fairness in asymmetric, environmental social dilemmas: explaining harvesting behavior and the role of communication. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 67:111–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. West SA, Griffin AS, Gardner A (2007) Evolutionary explanations for cooperation. Curr Biol 17:R661–R672CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maxwell N. Burton-Chellew
    • 1
    • 2
  • Robert M. May
    • 1
  • Stuart A. West
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Nuffield CollegeOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations