Paper: Caring for the future can turn tragedy into comedy for long-term collective action under risk of collapse

 
Paper: Caring for the future can turn tragedy into comedy for long-term collective action under risk of collapse
Learning dynamics in collective action under risk of collapse.

Significance

One of the greatest challenges in addressing global environmental and social problems is achieving cooperation, in which social and environmental processes are increasingly interlinked. Yet, most theoretical studies investigate cooperation within social dilemma settings, using normal form games with effectively only one environmental state. This paper extends the concept of a purely social to a coupled social–ecological dilemma by studying cooperation within stochastic games with multiple environmental states. The particular stochastic game we investigate enables us to study how time preferences influence long-term collective action under risk of collapse. We find that under certain conditions, caring for the future alone can transform this collective action challenge from a tragedy up to a comedy of the commons where cooperation dominates.

Abstract

We will need collective action to avoid catastrophic climate change, and this will require valuing the long term as well as the short term. Shortsightedness and uncertainty have hindered progress in resolving this collective action problem and have been recognized as important barriers to cooperation among humans. Here, we propose a coupled social–ecological dilemma to investigate the interdependence of three well-identified components of this cooperation problem: 1) timescales of collapse and recovery in relation to time preferences regarding future outcomes, 2) the magnitude of the impact of collapse, and 3) the number of actors in the collective. We find that, under a sufficiently severe and time-distant collapse, how much the actors care for the future can transform the game from a tragedy of the commons into one of coordination, and even into a comedy of the commons in which cooperation dominates. Conversely, we also find conditions under which even strong concern for the future still does not transform the problem from tragedy to comedy. For a large number of participating actors, we find that the critical collapse impact, at which these game regime changes happen, converges to a fixed value of collapse impact per actor that is independent of the enhancement factor of the public good, which is usually regarded as the driver of the dilemma. Our results not only call for experimental testing but also help explain why polarization in beliefs about human-caused climate change can threaten global cooperation agreements.

Reference

W. Barfuss, J.F. Donges, V.V. Vasconcelos, J. Kurths, S.A. Levin,
Caring for the future can turn tragedy into comedy for long-term collective action under risk of collapse,
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 117 (2020),
DOI: ,
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