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Theory Roulette: Choosing that Climate Change is not a Tragedy of the Commons

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Climate change mitigation has become a paradigm case both for externalities in general and for the game-theoretic model of the Tragedy of the Commons (ToC) in particular. This situation is worrying, as we have reasons to suspect that some models in the social sciences are apt to be performative to the extent that they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Framing climate change mitigation as a hardly solvable coordination problem may force us into a worse situation, by changing real-world behaviour to fit our model, rather than the other way around. But while this problem of the performativity of the ToC has been noted in a recent paper in this journal by Matthew Kopec, his proposed strategies for dealing with their self-fulfilling nature fall short of providing an adequate solution. Instead of relying on the idea that modelling assumptions are always strictly speaking false, this paper shows that the problem may be better framed as a problem of underdetermination between competing explanations. Our goal here is to provide a framework for choosing between this set of competing models that allows us to avoid a 'Russian Roulette'-like situation in which we gamble with existential risk.

Keywords: climate change; ethics of economics; game theory; philosophy of science; tragedy of the Commons

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2023

This article was made available online on March 7, 2022 as a Fast Track article with title: "Theory Roulette: Choosing that Climate Change is not a Tragedy of the Commons".

More about this publication?
  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has a Journal Impact Factor (2021) of 1.831. 5 Year Impact Factor: 2.192.
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