2014 a team of behavioral scientists from Harvard and Yale tried to save the future – with a little game theory.
Here’s part of the game: Researchers broke up a large group of volunteers into five teams they called “generations.” They gave the players assigned to the first generation 100 points, or “units”, and told them to take a little for themselves, up to 20 units, and then hand over the rest to the next generation. If the total fund had 50 or more units at the end of the round, the next generation would get a reset – 100 units to start over, a sustainability model. If the pool had less than 50 units, the next generation got what they got.
Do you want good or bad news? Good: Two-thirds of the players were “subcontractors,” taking 10 units or less and ensuring the survival of the species. The bad: The minority “defectors” have always inflated the game. In the 18 rounds of this Intergenerational Goods game, only four had the first generation sufficiently absent to give Generation 2 a full reset at 100 units. Of these, only two reset for generation 3. No one reached generation 4.
In a game designed to test how people can plan a sustainable world in advance, all it took to reliably accomplish the apocalypse was a few selfish nonsense – which actually sounds pretty familiar, but looks like a sadly ironic outcome for a work called “Cooperation with the future. ”
That was not the end of the story for the Intergenerational Game of Goods. (I’ll get back to that.) But this past week has highlighted a miserable human inability to avoid bad outcomes in the possible future. You can see this in the terrifying collapse of the condominium tower in Surfside, north of Miami Beach, which killed at least 16 people and left dozens more without a trace. An warned the engineer residents of the building in 2018 due to serious damage to the concrete and reinforcement that holds the building. As early as last April, the apartment was telling residents that the damage was getting worse. But a multimillion-dollar project to repair it – in works for more than two years – had not yet begun. Residents of Champlain Towers two years ago reasonably worried about the impact of the repairs and how much they would cost. The game of intergenerational goods has shown how bad people are in protecting future generations; in Miami people couldn’t even protect themselves.
The game of intergenerational goods did not concern buildings. It was, obviously, a crazy analysis of climate change. Until 2014, a lot of people worked on the theory of collaborative games, the authors wrote, but that canon usually neglects the fourth dimension – time. Here, the Champlain Towers overlap with the game and the climate catastrophe that is taking place around the world today. Dangers are the risks of bad things happening – an earthquake, a fire, a Hurricane, a heat event; disasters are what happen when the risk materializes and overcomes all the preparations that people have made in advance. It turned out that people prepare very poorly in advance. The danger in Champlain Towers was clear – at least for some residents. As with climate change, the danger appeared long before the catastrophe that made it almost inevitable. On the nose, it might seem almost impossible for a deadly metaphor of how people think (or don’t think) about the broken climate on Earth to show up in tons,, floods Miami– a city that is in itself a tragic metaphor of how people do not think about the broken climate on Earth. But here we are.