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International bullying, unfair “targeted” punishment suggested by The Royal Society over climate change

How low is too low? Do we want to live in a world where groups of countries gang up on non-compliant countries by randomly picking a target nation, and punishing it until it gives in?  Perhaps you’d prefer a world where voters or evidence matter and where our leaders persuade each other with rational argument? Me too.

“Divide and conquer” is as old as witchdoctors

Warwick University and the Royal Society published game theory “research” which argues that it might be useful to (unethically) single out a few countries randomly that are not performing “up to climate expectations”. The researchers admit that the whole approach depends on the players being irrational.

“In the mathematical model,” said Dr Johnson, “the mechanism works best if the players are somewhat irrational. It seems a reasonable assumption that this might apply to the international community.”

No matter how they dress it up, it’s just bullying by one bunch of countries to pick on one single other one until it acquiesces. Then the next wave begins with different targets, gradually picking off one state at a time. It fails if the non-compliant states get coordinated and treat any unfair attack on one member as as attack on them all. But it could succeed if the non-compliant states don’t get networked and all keep their heads low and hope the bullies pick on someone else.

That’s why right now, before Paris, skeptics need to be getting networked internationally, and this tactic needs to be exposed for the dangerous profoundly anti-democratic  game that it is.

Why should voters in one country be forced to act against their wishes because of decisions made by a bunch of bureaucrats in the EU? Let the activists speak and persuade the voters. We all know that those who can’t explain their case with reason resort to bullying instead.

Skeptics need to get the message out to their ministers who are going to Paris.

The Paris-ites will stop at nothing. They are networking and preparing right now.

Targeted punishments could provide a path to international climate change cooperation, new research in game theory has found.

Conducted at the University of Warwick, the research suggests that in situations such as climate change, where everyone would be better off if everyone cooperated but it may not be individually advantageous to do so, the use of a strategy called ‘targeted punishment’ could help shift society towards global cooperation.

Despite the name, the ‘targeted punishment’ mechanism can apply to positive or negative incentives. The research argues that the key factor is that these incentives are not necessarily applied to everyone who may seem to deserve them. Rather, rules should be devised according to which only a small number of players are considered responsible at any one time.

The study’s author Dr Samuel Johnson, from the University of Warwick’s Mathematics Institute, explains: “It is well known that some form of punishment, or positive incentives, can help maintain cooperation in situations where almost everyone is already cooperating, such as in a country with very little crime. But when there are only a few people cooperating and many more not doing so punishment can be too dilute to have any effect. In this regard, the international community is a bit like a failed state.”

The paper, published in Royal Society Open Science, shows that in situations of entrenched defection (non-cooperation), there exist strategies of ‘targeted punishment’ available to would-be punishers which can allow them to move a community towards global cooperation.

“The idea,” said Dr Johnson, “is not to punish everyone who is defecting, but rather to devise a rule whereby only a small number of defectors are considered at fault at any one time. For example, if you want to get a group of people to cooperate on something, you might arrange them on an imaginary line and declare that a person is liable to be punished if and only if the person to their left is cooperating while they are not. This way, those people considered at fault will find themselves under a lot more pressure than if responsibility were distributed, and cooperation can build up gradually as each person decides to fall in line when the spotlight reaches them.”

For the case of climate change, the paper suggests that countries should be divided into groups, and these groups placed in some order — ideally, according roughly to their natural tendencies to cooperate. Governments would make commitments (to reduce emissions or leave fossil fuels in the ground, for instance) conditional on the performance of the group before them. This way, any combination of sanctions and positive incentives that other countries might be willing to impose would have a much greater effect.

“In the mathematical model,” said Dr Johnson, “the mechanism works best if the players are somewhat irrational. It seems a reasonable assumption that this might apply to the international community.”

 Press Release   University of Warwick.


  1. Samuel Johnson. Escaping the Tragedy of the Commons through Targeted Punishment. Royal Society Open Science, 2015 [link]
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