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Climate Treaty Negotiators Are Taking the Wrong Approach, Say Game Theorists 227

An anonymous reader writes "Climate treaty negotiators would do well to have a little chat with some game theorists, according to this article. The fundamental approach they've been taking for the last several years is flawed, these researchers say, and they can prove it. From the article: 'The scientists gave members of a 10-member group their country’s “treasure”: a 20-euro national savings account, plus a fund for spending on emissions reductions that consisted of 10 black chips worth 10 cents apiece and 10 red chips worth one euro apiece. Each person could then contribute any number of these chips to a common pool. The contributed chips represented greenhouse gas reduction strategies that were relatively inexpensive (black) or expensive (red). Players could communicate freely about their plans for how many chips they intended to contribute.'"
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Climate Treaty Negotiators Are Taking the Wrong Approach, Say Game Theorists

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  • Enough Gaming (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:12AM (#41990589)

    I think there is already quite enough gaming in the Climate Treaty discussion.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Countries do and do not communicate their real and fake intentions, single points of influence in the system have excessively large of small effects, corporations lobby in multiple countries....the whole system is so chaotic (in a mathematical sense) that trying to simulate it with a small game-theory experiment can't have any bearing on real life, surely?
      • Then there's developing countries that say no, and China, who looks at their allocated 10 red and 10 black chips, and says, "Give us 275 more chips or g'bye", and negotiators give it to them.

      • Much simpler generalizations are pimped for all manner of ideology in philosophy, politics, economics, education, ...
        For important issues, apparently, we just have to choose the right mission statement and let the divine hand of providence guide us to safety.

    • Re:Enough Gaming (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:09AM (#41990997) Homepage

      Yep. The problem is that the game they play has nothing to do with fixing the climate.

      It's all about ass-covering and not appearing 'weak' in front of your peers. The same game that governs high schools, street gangs, prisons and, to a lesser extent, chimpanzee groups.

  • But who's going to "give" the treasure and what will be the source of the funding? Serious question.

    And to what end since China will *never* play the game. They have no reason to - they own everything.

    A good read: Death by China... (Also a movie narrated by Martin Sheen.)

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      The Chinese argument is that their CO2 emission per capita is still less than of most developed countries.

      • The Chinese argument is that their CO2 emission per capita is still less than of most developed countries.

        Largely irrelevant. If the Chinese won't play till their per capita CO2 emissions are comparable to EU/US levels, then CO2 emissions worldwide will continue to increase till then even if the EU and US reduce our emissions to ZERO.

    • by characterZer0 ( 138196 ) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:34AM (#41990737)

      The sooner we impose heavy tariffs on goods from countries that do not meet certain requirements for human rights and environmental policy, the better. We could do it now. It will hurt, but we could manage. If we wait a few decades, it will be too late.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:37AM (#41990745)

      Uhm, China has been quite willing over the past two decades. Especially in the period 1990 - 2005 China was open for serious reductions. It was the stubborn asshole-ness of Australia, USA and Canada that eventually made China turn around. If you want to play the blame game I suggest you start with Team USA.

      (posting as anonymous as I don't want my account linked to this comment, I work on this for the Canadian government)

      • Especially in the period 1990 - 2005 China was open for serious reductions. It was the stubborn asshole-ness of Australia, USA and Canada that eventually made China turn around.

        More cynical people might view this as an attempt to use emission regulations as a weapon to harm their competitors's economies, and stopping that when their own industry grew to the point where it would start seriously affecting them.

      • If you want to play the blame game I suggest you start with Team USA.

        Yes, always blame the USA. It is impossible to miss a target that big and it just seems so very right. There are no other forces in this world other than America.

    • by Stuarticus ( 1205322 ) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:16AM (#41991079)
      China is already playing the game and beating America at it.

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/jackperkowski/2012/07/27/china-leads-the-world-in-renewable-energy-investment/ [forbes.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:17AM (#41990625)

    The negotiations must fail, because they're all based on blame and negativity. Fingerpointing between the first world and the developing world is not at all useful. Every premise we've seen so far has been based on the lose-lose more strategy of negotiating.

  • Summary: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by perrin ( 891 ) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:22AM (#41990661)

    We're fucked.

    • Re:Summary: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by VortexCortex ( 1117377 ) <.moc.edargorter- ... . .xetroCxetroV.> on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:26AM (#41990683)

      We're fucked.

      Indeed. The ultimate answer to the Fermi Paradox is too obvious to ignore: Greed.

      • You've got to wonder where all the money is actually going. If the wealth is being concentrated in the top few percent you'd at least expect to see lots of jobs being created on golf courses and luxury yacht manufacturing, but we're not, we're seeing an accumulation of wealth that isn't being spent on anything obvious - I'm seriously starting to wonder if the old sci-fi staple of the mega-rich building some kind of ark to avoid the giant mutant space goat...
        • There is a bit of that happening. Luxury companies offering the wealthy protection against extreme weather events already exist (for example a company that promises hurricane evacuation on first class travel systems).
          Other companies are investing heavily in tools to profit from climate disasters - particularly where those are expected to hit poor regions/countries, there is a fortune to be made out of the suffering of those people who are displaced, killed etc.

          Make no mistake - when you're rich, there is no

    • We're fucked.

      #define SARCASM
      You must be either from outside the USA or a blatant commie!

      The PC correct way to comment is: "When we're fucked we'll at least have a huge stash of cash hidden away for bad times. And we'll be needing it dearly to pay our way out of the disaster." PC but not really smart reasoning.
      #undef SARCASM

      Forget the "bad" things the USA gave us. These things would have come around regardless. Instead consider that Nash gave us game theory which holds keys to solving many problems where egoism i

    • Yes, yes, the sky is falling, it always has been, and it always will be.

      We coped with far wilder climate change when we had nothing better than smelly furs, sharpened sticks and "Fire bad, tree pretty" to work with. I'm pretty sure that many of us will muddle through somehow.

    • by lorinc ( 2470890 )

      We're fucked because we are too stupid to choose the right decision, however evident it is.

      Some say humans are the smartest animals out there, but the reality (and soon history) is humans are as dumbfuck as every other species of the little muddy rock, they grow until they overshoot and then disappear.

  • ...take Game Theory to heart? How did that work out?
    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      They did and it worked as predicted. There is nothing wrong with game theory when applied accordingly. Game theorists pointed out that by present and past regulations short time gains can be increased by the risk of losses later. And they predicted that those who are able to stay ahead would not suffer losses. And that is exactly what happened. They played hot potato with a lot of hot potato. And someone burned their fingers. It is a pyramid-like game. They always fail in the end. But while normally the las

  • by tirefire ( 724526 ) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:44AM (#41990797)
    Think about it... there can only be two kinds of people who behave according to "game theory":

    I'm planning on watching this BBC Documentary [wikipedia.org] this weekend; it looks like the first segment discusses game theory.
    • In my experience the difference between psychopaths and the rest of us is not in how we behave, but in how we feel afterwards.

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      Don't blame math for the people misusing it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You've phrased that incorrectly, because all people can "behave according" to game theory, but they may not be aware or else each be playing at a different game. In their example, they demonstrate incetive based reasoning with clear short term and long term benefits. They found that most people chose the short term benefit because they couldn't justify the value of their contribution to the more intangible long term benefit. So they took their chances on being able to weather what they considered a lesser l

      • This assumes perfect intergenerational altruism, which is not observed in practice. The experiment shows that an unknown threshold removes on Nash equilibrium. Multi round games would eventually reduce to a one round game at termination. Only if there is no known endpoint does threat against the future look credible.
    • by cffrost ( 885375 )

      I'm planning on watching this BBC Documentary [wikipedia.org] this weekend; it looks like the first segment discusses game theory.

      I'm planning on watching it, too. For anyone else who wants to make plans to watch BBC's The Trap:

      https://torrents.thepiratebay.se/3795702/The_Trap__What_Happened_To_Our_Dream_Of_Freedom__(Adam_Curtis.3795702.TPB.torrent [thepiratebay.se]

  • by DaemonDan ( 2773445 ) <dan@demonarchives.com> on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:45AM (#41990807) Homepage
    It was a geography class and we were supposed to be countries working together. If everyone in the group chose A, everyone got 1 point, but if anyone chose B, they got several points while everyone else lost points. If everyone chose B, everyone lost points. In only took a couple of rounds before we lost all trust for each other and always picked B, so at least you only lost the same as everyone else. Kind of sad that international politics is often so similar.
    • It was a geography class and we were supposed to be countries working together. ... Kind of sad that international politics is often so similar.

      I did a model UN in high school once (no experience necessary, just sign up) and a friend and I represented Qatar (pre-US involvement) because we only got to pick from the smallest countries. Most of the delegates were highly-studied polisci geeks and they represented the Security Council nations and others of global import.

      Our strategy was we only cared about oi

    • This demonstrates the prisoners dilemma.
  • You can't just take a paragraph at random from the article and throw it up onto the screen. I mean, you can, but it's not useful. Having read the article it's an interesting experiment, but the summary gives me no information about the other important piece: when the number of chips to avert disaster is set at 150 and known, the players cooperate; while when that number is unknown except for "between 100 and 200" everybody skimps on contributions and loses 15 euros plus whatever they contributed.

    On the ot

  • Poor Summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by Elbereth ( 58257 ) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:54AM (#41990871) Journal

    In frustration, I read the linked article, because I couldn't tell what the actual was about, from the Slashdot summary. Here's a better summary:

    Researchers gave each person a national treasury of €20. In order to avert catastrophe, a minimum of €150 in the main pool had to be collected total. If catastrophe is not averted, each player's account is depleted by €15. Players got to keep any remaining money in their national treasury. In almost every game, people contributed enough money to avert catastrophe. It was only when the catastrophe was made more unpredictable that the game collapsed. Instead of requiring €150 to completely avert disaster, the catastrophe had a chance of happening based on how much money was allocated. In the second scenario, people promised enough money to minimize the risk, yet they did not allocate it, thinking that the odds would not be significantly increased if they underfunded the mitigation. Because so many people "embezzled", the odds were significantly affected and the catastrophe invariably occurred.

    Basically, the players should have studied their Kant [wikipedia.org].

    • So much taxation would avert "dangerous climate change" and how long would we have to wait in order to be sure that the fix worked?
      • Significant changes in climate we observe since roughly 1985.
        If CO 2 output would be stopped right now, then on the first glance nothing would be changed. It would take centuries to get rid of the current CO 2 level back to a niveau from - lets say 1980.
        However a fix will of course only work if we can stop a runnaway climate catastrophe. Greenlands Ice should not melt e.g. Alaska and Sibirian perma frost is not allowed to melt e.g.
        Looking at the current rate of acceleration in increased CO2 output I guess w

      • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

        Well, that was the whole point of the game. Since nobody can be certain if a particular fix will or won't work, negotiations are hampered as risk is a continual slide and spending too much is a "waste." If you think that there is no climate change risk then any amount is too much, and if you think it is likely then no amount is too much, and then you have every position in-between. Any which way you benefit from anything others spend, so you have incentive to try to get others to fix the problem for you.

    • Good resummarization. However, your Kant reference ...that dude smoked some heavy stuff. Actually that's too nice. Way too abstract to be of any consequence. If categorical imperatives were so categorically imperative, you'd be able to read that Wiki article without eyes rolling back in your head. Guy was blowing a lot of hot air to say simple things in order to sound smart.
    • by gdr ( 107158 )
      " ... a minimum of €150 in the main pool had to be collected ..."

      Actually 150 chips not 150 euros (otherwise why bother to contribute at all, the cost will be the same either way).

    • In frustration, I read the linked article, because I couldn't tell what the actual was about, from the Slashdot summary.

      The question I would ask is whether or not the players in these games are drawn from the same culture, political system, and so on.

      In other worlds, whether they share the same values.

      The same understanding of the issues.

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      The difference between this model and reality is basically the difference between the prisoner's dilemma and its iterated version. IRL it's possible to react to parties not keeping their promises.

      • The iterated version reduces to the single play near the endpoint of iterations. It is only if there is no known endpoint, or more exactly if there is no nash disequilibria of expected reward, that the game doesn't reduce to a single play at some point.
  • Simpler than that (Score:4, Informative)

    by srussia ( 884021 ) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:10AM (#41991011)
    What describes the situation best is the Principal-Agent problem [wikipedia.org]

    Example from the Wiki: "Consider a dental patient (the principal) wondering whether his dentist (the agent) is recommending expensive treatment because it is truly necessary for the patient's dental health, or because it will generate income for the dentist."
  • by prefec2 ( 875483 ) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:18AM (#41991085)

    The given scenario states, that we are all doomed, because there is no fixed point of disaster. However, they missed one thing. If if we had a fixed point. The point is outside of our lifespan. The effect of our doing will hit our children children. Therefore, the game has to be changed. You get the money and can spend it on green stuff. And when enough of the others do the same, the next group of people who plays the game gets the money.

    • I'm about to become 46 this year.
      Neither the point where the oil is gone nor the point where certain areas of earth suffer harshly from climate chane is beyond my expected rest live span.
      Sure, regarding oil you will always find another tar or oil sand pit somewhere ... but I guess in 50 years oil production will be at 5% or less what we produce / use today.

    • by Phrogman ( 80473 ) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @10:49AM (#41991373) Homepage

      Make it a bit more realistic :P
      A few nations are wealthier than the majority, the people playing those nations get booze and a blowjob every night.
      Those who are poorest have to give the blowjobs to the wealthiest. Now commit the money. You have to convince the wealthiest to give up their margin of comfort and all its rewards so that the poorest nations can get enough wealth to join the wealthy ones. The only way to do this is for everyone to commit to sharing their wealth equally.
      The end result is no one gets booze and blowjobs, but also no one is forced to give head. Good luck convincing the rich to give up their advantage, and good luck convincing the poor that they don't need all the wealth of the richest ones so they can get the same lifestyle.

      Lastly, whether you win or lose, your children and your grandchildren will be playing the same game when they grow up.

      Ok, its very tasteless as an example, but I can't foresee any circumstances in which the rich and powerful will be willing to part with their riches and power (obtained at the expense of the poor people they walked all over to obtain it), or which will convince those who live in poverty that they don't deserve better treatment and a better level of living - which they can't get if they are required to spend too much of their money and effort on being ecologically responsible, particularly if the rich nations are trying to buy their way out of being equally responsible - in proportion to their contribution to the problem.

      Our problem boils down to human selfishness and greed. Those will kill millions in the end if we don't do something. No politician wants to be the one that tells their electorate "Sorry but you have to reduce your quality of life", because they won't be reelected. Few wealthy and powerful people are going to give up what they have for the sake of making others more rich and more in control of their own destinies etc. Some humans are altruistic but not enough of us.

  • A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

  • Sounds like a multiplayer version of this. Cooperate and receive a payoff, don't and you all lose.

    One problem is: he current models don't make useful predictions and so the contribution necessary to avert future 'disaster' or how that contribution is to be spent isn't certain. Or even if the results of that spending might make things worse rather than better.

    The other problem: The outcome is in the future and is uncertain. Prisoner's dilemma only really works if the game is trusted. That is; if it is know

  • by viperidaenz ( 2515578 ) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @03:56PM (#41994995)
    They're working towards a different desired outcome. The climate treaty negotiators are politicians, their goal has nothing to do with climate change. It's a combination of ego, kickbacks and self promotion. The sooner they finish arguing and come up with a solution, the sooner they stop getting paid.
  • Game Theory is wrong. Has always been wrong and that is not going to change. It is best ignored and avoided in all cases.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_theory [wikipedia.org]

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"