The castaway’s dilemma

Regarding the slow but inevitable transformation of national economies from ‘dirty’ to ‘clean’ productive systems, the level of dissemblance and denial among political leaders today is painful to watch. It is no longer possible for respectable politicians to try to deny the role of industrial societies in causing climate change. Yet neither (apparently) can responsible economic mangers (and what is a political leader today but the de facto CEO of a giant business corporation?) throw caution to the wind and restructure the economy along carbon neutral lines – at least not until it is clear that everyone else is doing the same thing (incurring the same costs and gambling on the same benefits). In the evolution of the global political debate over how to address the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, the question is not yet: ‘How are we going to change?’ It remains: ‘Who is going to change first?’

Our situation is analogous to that of a group of castaways huddled aboard a sinking raft, which has washed against a reef surrounding a tiny atoll. A shark patrols the lagoon between the reef and the shore. The castaways know that the first of them to dive into the water and swim for shore will get eaten by the shark. The raft is sinking, and sooner or later all of them will end up in the drink, but no one wants to go first. The best strategy would be to swim for it together. But who could trust the others to dive into the water at the crucial time? Perhaps all they can do is sit tight on the sinking raft and wait for it to go down. Then they will be forced to swim for their lives.

Is this not a fair depiction of our current situation? If so, we should start a conversation about how we are going to deal with it.

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