We have no choice but to press on, but without the cooperation of countries such as the US and China, the rate of global warming won’t slow down fast enough to make a difference
Economists call it the “tragedy of the commons” – the tendency for human beings to trash their common resources. It can be witnessed anywhere from the vandalism and neglect of the “common parts” of blocks of flats, to the destruction of cod stocks in the Atlantic through overfishing.
It is appropriate that, on the day the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a further urgent warning on global warming, the Nobel Prize in Economics has been awarded to Paul Romer and William Nordhaus, whose work tries to deal with this very problem on a planetary scale. Economic insight, technology and political will are the best weapons at our disposal.
The ultimate tragedy of the ultimate commons is, of course, the despoliation of planet earth by its inhabitants. All, or at least many, individually, of the earth’s inhabitants may accept the case for controlling emissions and limiting pollution, but this broad consensus, such as it is, seems insufficient to change either individual behaviour or national policies decisively.
The risks are too remote in time for many to comprehend; the citizens of richer nations seem complacent, indeed misguided, about their immunity from the effects of climate change and, closely related to that, are ignorant of the economic, social and political changes that such dramatic trends will give rise to. Some “just about managing” family in Bolton or Bologna may not immediately be alarmed that the Maldives are about to go under water.