Solving the coffee and climate problems

I was asked to make an opening statement for a panel I will be on at the Fall 2016 American Geophysical Union in a session titled Planetary Intelligence: Managing Earth’s Future. An edited version is here.  This is just the stuff I cut but couldn’t bring myself to throw away at the time.



In Britain, people queue for the bus, whereas in most other place, people crowd around as the bus arrives, rewarding the most aggressive among us. Clearly, it is better for the society as a whole to queue, so why doesn’t everyone queue? Why isn’t everyone willing to sacrifice a bit of their short-term self-interest for the greater good of the broader community? Are the Brits really more community spirited than the rest of us? I think not. If someone tried to jump the queue in the Great Britain, I believe that people would do something that would make that person feel bad. This could be a bit of tut-tut-ing or perhaps something more forceful. But I imagine the queue jumper would feel a bit embarrassed by the end of the exchange.

(Another path would be to buy a fancy new super-automatic plumbed-in coffee machine. Should the resources for that coffee machine come from the budget for scientific equipment, postdoc salaries, or where? Who and how will we make that decision?)

(Another path would be to institute a carbon dioxide removal program at massive scale. But where would the vast amount of resources needed for that carbon dioxide removal program come from? What valuable thing that we have today would we be willing to give up? And who and how would we make that decision?)


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