Friday, August 08, 2014

Outrageous solutions to Intractable problems: Part 1

By Gary Berg-Cross

We are gridlocked by what seems protracted, destructive problems that are deep rooted and elude solution. The problems escalate and become irreducible, high-stakes situation which have an I, win, you lose character.  Brad Spangler, drawing from bargaining situations discusses finding "zone of possible agreement" (ZOPA). Often one needs time to explore unpleasant alternatives to find this solution zone.  But of course if people don’t want compromise they make the problem dynamic and create barriers  or limit progress towards a solution zone. How can we find solutions when normal paths seem closed and routinized processes keep us out of the agreement area? 

Well perhaps we can take unusual paths and bypass some roadblocks.  Of course these may be unreasonable and outrageous, but perhaps they make a point. Let’s consider outrageous “solutions’ to 3 outsized, intractable problems starting with Climate Change.  This is part 1. Climate change.

What should we do about climate change?  In his book Climate Matters; Ethics in a warming world. John Broome (2012), discussed the seemingly intractable problem.  As you can tell from the book title it is a moral mess but it also comes with deep rooted eco-political problems. It is scientifically and psychologically challenged.  Many things are tangled up. Broome helps us think through the tangle but dynamic opposition with a  "I- win–you-lose psychology makes some thoughtful, theoretical-ethical approaches difficult. I’m going to suggest something simper.  Something with bottom line appeal.

The projected impacts of climate change are probabilistic.  Bad things may happen. It’s a gamble with people having implicit bets on either side.  OK, let’s go with that, but make it explicit. Let’s make it a bet or bets that matter.  Let get beyond the us-them argument and have a put up or shut up bet.

The idea is simple to start.  On the pro side scientists argue that damaging change is coming. The IPCC lays out some of this which Broome also covers:

hundreds of thousands of indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic are already finding their way of life threatened. Soon “innocent people all over the world” will be struggling (as Broome points out, in a cruel misalignment of responsibility and vulnerability the world’s poor – who have contributed far less to climate change are set to suffer much more harm than the rich). Hundreds of millions of people will be affected by floods and displacement, crop failures and famines, droughts and water scarcity, and mortality through heat waves and an increase in disease. (Review of Broome).

On the other side are more conservative, sci-skeptic voices funded by groups & one percenter-establishment-folks like the Kochs.  Their argument is that it is a waste of time and (their) money to do something about a natural process.  Or perhaps they are climate skeptics.
OK, if each side believes in its position let’s get together and make predictions of likely damage about the next 10 or 20 years. And then lets sets some bets.

 What phenomena to use? The situation is a bit like the Simon–Ehrlich population bomb wager decades earlier, but we can learn from those problems of having definable outcomes.

More ice melting on Greenland or the West Antarctic Ice sheet? Heading for a big freeze, number or record highs, water level, droughts? Higher ocean levels, more acidic oceans, die offs?  We'd need to agree on the measures and they have to be in time to help one side or the other.

How much to bet?  We need enough to make a difference.  Maybe a trillion or so.  Let’s start there and see who is interested. 

Who would get involved? The Koch brothers and their institutions. Bankers and conservative economists…The 1% might be well represented.  The 99% and people who may be damaged by floods along with climate scientists might be on the other side.  Sheer gamblers could take either side.  Las Vegas will be excited but the wager could be a form of climate insurance. The winning side, in say 10 years, gets some capital to work with.  Honestly I expect the climate side to win so we should spend some time thinking of which institutions will use the money to things like fund solar power.

Maybe the UN can hold the bets and use the interest to good effect.  We might even find that groups that talk the talk are not willing to put real money up against the issue. In that case we can get serious even before the bet comes due.

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