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Post (Climate) Game Analysis

How Mike Pesca almost (but not quite) wrecked planet earth. hide caption

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How Mike Pesca almost (but not quite) wrecked planet earth.

Yesterday on the podcast we got six NPR reporters and editors together to play a game designed to look at whether the people of the world can come together to make the sacrifices necessary to combat climate change.

As it turned out we did save the planet, but just barely and at the very last possible moment.

This article lays out the basic rules.

NPR sports reporter Mike Pesca was the most selfish (sorry, strategic) player, managing to contribute very little to the global fund while keeping the most money for himself.

Mike was heavily subsidized by our counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston who consistently put the planet's welfare before her own.

Here's a spreadsheet of how the game played out. You can see everyone's strategy, including Pesca's remarkable run of zero-contributions in four consecutive rounds.

Roughly what happened is that people donated money in the first round to try to prevent climate change, then tried to see if they could get by with less in the second round, which seemed to anger other participants, who then also lowered their contributions. But in the later rounds as doom approached people started to kick in more and more money. The largest contributions came in the final round.

Here's the original research paper laying out the experiment and a very readable commentary.

The game illustrtes how participants (countries or individuals) have an incentive to drag things out until the last minute, which perhaps helps explains the endless international climate treaty talks.

The research also shows that when there is perceived uncertainty about the consequences (how bad climate change will be) cooperation gets much more difficult.