October 26th, 2013
03:52 PM ET

Why world can't agree over climate change

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

China has brought us a new English word: "Airpocalypse."

The northeastern city of Harbin was paralyzed last week by terrible smog and air pollution. Visibility was down to just a few meters. Highways and schools were closed, the airport was shut down. Pedestrians could barely get around.  The images are a vivid reminder of the impacts of industrial growth, especially when powered by dirty fuels like coal, which accelerates not only pollution but also climate change.

The latest report from the United Nation’s scientific panel says it is “extremely likely” – more than a 95 percent probability – that human activity was the dominant cause of the temperature increases of the last few decades. Another study, published in Nature, showed that we are on track to reach unprecedented highs of temperature by 2047. Findings showed the coldest year in the future would be warmer than the hottest year of the past.

So, if the science is not really in dispute, why is it so difficult for us to actually do something about it? There’s a clever explanation. To understand it, we need to tell you about one more study. This one is a game –but one played with real money.

Six participants get 40 euros each to invest in a “climate account.” Every round, these players get to pick one of three options – either they put 4 euros, 2 euros, or zero money, into the account. The investments are anonymous, but the participants can see the total amount going into the pot.

Here's the objective. If, at the end of ten rounds, the pot of money grows to 120 euros – which is about 20 euros a person – then the team has successfully averted "dangerous climate change" – in other words, it wins the game. Each participant gets a 45 euro prize in addition to the money they each have leftover. But if the pot does NOT grow big enough, the team loses the game, and they don't get the prize – and remember, this is real money, so the players have a real incentive to win.

More from GPS: Time to act over climate alarm bells

The game was played with three different sets of rules. In the first scenario, the 45 euro award would be handed to the participants the next day. Seven out of 10 groups won the game.  In Scenario 2, the cash would be paid out seven weeks later. This time, only four of the 11 groups succeeded.  In the third, the prize money would go toward planting oak trees, which would sequester carbon, and thus provide the greatest benefit to future generations.

What happened? Zero of 11 groups reached the target.

The study was published in Nature Climate Change this week. The report's lead author, Jennifer Jacquet of New York University, expanded on the findings when we spoke with her.

First, people instinctively seek instant benefits. They don't want them later and certainly not when the rewards would be reaped by future generations. Second, it was important that the participants were anonymous. If their contributions were known, they'd likely be shamed into contributing more.

It's a simple idea, but it highlights why dealing with climate change is hard, and also why many economic reforms are hard. People are very reluctant to accept short term pain for long term gain. To apply that to climate change: what immediate incentive do nations have to say, tax carbon or invest in infrastructure that would make cities more resilient to storms and floods?

No matter what the strategy – adaptation, clean energy, carbon taxes – someone has problems with them and few actually get done. Similarly, look at entitlement or pension reform. These involve specific costs today for broad benefits in the out years. And they’re all very hard.

It wasn't always thus. The great sociologist Daniel Bell once wrote that the best way to describe the Protestant ethic that produced capitalism and the industrial revolution and the Rise of the West was one phrase, two words – delayed gratification. But there are few Calvinists left today, and the spirit of our age might be better described with one word change – instant gratification.

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Topics: China • Climate • Environment • What in the World?

soundoff (72 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    Because of vested interest. There is BIG money to be made in regulations and monopoly .
    The cattle in North Dakota recently were dying from COLD because they did not get a chance to develop a winter coat-saw it reported on CBS or NBC but only once and sh............ contradicts the Warming ????
    No one mentions that the ice at the South Pole has been growing. The climate in the US has been getting COLDER according to my own personal observations and others who sent me e-mails.

    October 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • ✠RZ✠


      October 26, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
      • ✠RZ✠

        Word test for automated moderator, Einstein's theory, losing mass equilibrium, "Chasing Ice" Inter-glacial periods. Sea Surface Temperature anomalies. Asteroids

        October 26, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
      • ✠RZ✠

        Access allowed, keywords valid, but comment not permitted. I don't get it! Why?

        October 26, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
      • rightospeak

        CNN paid thrall.

        October 27, 2013 at 11:08 am |
      • rightospeak

        CNN paid thrall did not like your comment , RZ, and he removed it . They are owned by the BIg Money Trust and have monopoly on the media-they control what people are allowed to know. Take the fact that IMF got kicked out of Hungary- important event, big news , but never made it at CNN , at least I do not recall it.

        October 27, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • datman

      Are you serious? It's called global, which they are taking into account the entire earth, not just one small state! You are scientist? The climate in the US has not been getting colder do your research. 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record. This is he problem everyone thinks they are a scientist and acts like they know everything, when in fact the are ignorant and know nothing!!!

      October 28, 2013 at 8:55 am |
      • The Decline

        The overall temp of the Earth has only gone up .2 degrees in the last 100 years. This is all nonsense and fear-mongering

        October 28, 2013 at 11:16 am |
      • Kalli Rudolph

        Thank you, Datman, for setting these gents straight. Unfortunately, too many people confusing their limited understanding of global climate change with their own, greedy interests. That's why the situation is hopeless.

        October 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
      • ruducky2

        "The temperature has only gone up 2 degrees in 100 years...."

        Which temperature? The temperature in your back yard? The average temperature in your back yard? Or the average annual global temperature.

        You can't judge the significance of a 2 degree temperature change without knowing what's normal and what the effects of a degree or two signify.

        October 28, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • AMG

      Global warming is better termed "climate disruption", because some areas will become drier, some wetter, some warmer, some colder. Antarctic ice photo in the British tabloid refers to sea ice which is different than land ice. Thick sea ice has become very thin sea ice due to climate changes. For a one year period in Antarctica the sea ice has spread out to cover a visually larger area...but remember, it is thinner. It helps to read past headlines, read a whole article and consider the source. Your denial comments put you on thin ice.

      October 28, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • JAM

      You are contradicting yourself and you haven't kept pace with what climatologist's have been predicting would happen. It's in your statement but apparently you've missed it!

      October 28, 2013 at 10:27 am |
      • rightospeak

        You are not well read, Jam, are you ? Try Christopher C. Horner's book " Red Hot LIes" and you shall see the light !

        October 29, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • David Polewka

      We need to increase the death rate, by stopping the prevention of
      measles, mumps, chicken pox, influenza, malaria, & tuberculosis,

      October 28, 2013 at 10:51 am |
      • rightospeak

        Dark Polewka , David, bled from a duck ?

        October 29, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • Dropkicks

      Just because there is one cold day in a series of warmer days does not mean its getting colder, but go ahead take your personal observations and emails you have received over 100 years of climate monitoring worldwide and the research of 99% of climate scientist's around the world. If you stand on the tracks for long enough a train will hit you even if one hasn't come by in an hour

      October 29, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
      • rightospeak

        I am a scientist, Dropsticks so spin your thing, but do not tell me how to think.

        October 29, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • what1ever

      "According to my own personal observations." Anyone that says this should lose all "right to speak" in regards to climate change forever.

      October 29, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
      • rightospeak

        We should just think what others tell us , whatever!

        October 29, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
  2. rightospeak

    The Global Warming is just like Endless Wars-someone is making money on it. So I see articles peddling Atomic Plants for generating electricity in the US while everybody else knows that unless subsidized by a government , Atomic Plants are not economic – so my comments kept vanishing , not in line with official propaganda .Germany is done with them. The Chinese are certainly smart for becoming our bankers and have the technology to build atomic plants BUT THEY ARE NOT DOING IT. Why ? Instead ,they burn coal which could be used to produce oil based products. The Chinese are not buying the Warming Hoax.

    October 26, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • ✠ RZ ✠

      Like I've said rightospeak, humanity has much to be ashamed of and seems incapable of learning from it's own lessons. It's so amazing how we come up with new programming versions for our technology almost ever freakin month. But the brain dead moronic prehistoric imbeciles who actually have the power, influence, and authority over real change just continually refuse to update the programming for the world. All we can do is hope that the generations of leaders to come might realize it might not be a bad idea to actually take a good look around instead of keeping their heads buried way up their own keesters, or the next guy's.

      October 27, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • SteveInMN

      How did you manage to fill you entire pool with Koolaid?!?!?!

      October 28, 2013 at 10:41 am |
      • rightospeak

        I didn't, I was afraid that you will drink it all and still have nothing good to say about anything, Steve.

        October 29, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
    • John

      Actually, China is closing its Coal Plants and has been rapidly developing it solar and wind farms in Western China. Also, has the largest Hydropower plant in the world. It has more capacity in these three areas then the US.

      October 28, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
      • rightospeak

        China is building more coal plants in addition to solar and wind technologies., John.

        October 29, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
    • what1ever

      We need to all get together and FORCE action on this issue. We need to start implementing carbon laws with serious penalties to limit the size of cars and the number of miles that people can drive in a year. This is what happens when the government doesn't take a more active role in our day to day lives, things start falling apart.

      October 29, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  3. mememine69

    What do you call 30 years of science NEVER agreeing a crisis WILL happen; just “could happen” and NEVER saying; “inevitable” or “eventual”?
    It’s called Good News for real planet lovers as thankfully, a crisis was unquestionably just a tragic exaggeration. Nobody can say a crisis will happen since science has never said or agreed a crisis will happen, only could and it’s been 30 years of a nothing consensus so be happy. Or are you so determined to believe in this misery for some sick reason that you choose to let “could be” serve as a good enough reason to condemn your own children to an exaggerated crisis……………….

    October 26, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • Syd Baumel

      Right. You should also be happy if 19 out of 20 structural engineers periodically inspect your house and tell you, with increasing concern, that if you don't repair the serious structural problems they've found, it's extremely likely (but not "certain") your home could collapse into rubble any day now. You say: "but why aren't you clowns certain?" They say, "we're scientists, not psychics."

      October 27, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
      • Doug Lynn

        There is a huge difference between the structural engineers you reference and the climate researchers. The engineers are paid by me and the climate researchers are paid those that stand to make billions if they can convince governments to impose carbon taxes and create carbon trading schemes. Have the structural engineers paid by Al Gore's national foundation repair business and we have the same problem. There is little chance for integrity when there is so much money involved.

        October 28, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • SteveInMN

      Atmospheric CO2 is acidifying the oceans, which is rapidly killing the reefs.

      Once they collapse, the ocean food chain follows.

      Your belief is not essential to this being a catastrophic global. crisis

      October 28, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  4. chrissy

    Lol @ RZ, its the mood of the moment. Kinda like pms.

    October 26, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • ✠ RZ ✠

      Chrissy, this one has really got me going because there is absolutely no reason why the automated moderator should be blocking my comments on climate issues. But it does. And it's not the first time. Pretty sure I could get through the nastiest comments anyone could imagine, not that I would though. So this is really intriguing. I'm stumped.

      October 27, 2013 at 8:26 am |
      • rightospeak

        It is a paid CNN jerk that reads your comments before they are posted – it is not automated. He decides what goes in and what goes out, RZ. CNN is not the only one . Reuters and others do it all the time. Some will flash across your screen that you are banned-at least they are honest. It is our "democracy " or 1984 – you decide.

        October 27, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  5. Bill Henderson

    We greatly benefit from the production and use of fossil fuels but the consequences will fall on future generations. There is a strong case to be made that this is a crime occurring and gov't and our rule of law must investigate and decide using an evidence-based process and then enforce.

    Present the case as responsibility for ones actions and the necessity therefor of gov'ts ensuring responsibility. You can't pollute your neighbours property with no consequence. Gov't can't stand by when someone today is doing something with potentially serious injury to others in the future.

    October 27, 2013 at 1:53 am |
    • ✠RZ✠

      Johns Manville/US Gypsum really learned that the hard way. I think there still paying out on the class action lawsuit from ages ago.

      October 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  6. Muin

    China should fix this pretty easily. They treat their people whatever the way they like since they are a communist country. Communists should restrain their greed and make a transition from coal to other sources of energy since they can't breathe their own air. This should be all the leverage they need. Or maybe they could stop buying less of U.S bond and use that money to get clean power so that they can at least breathe their air.

    October 27, 2013 at 2:29 am |
    • ✠ RZ ✠

      At least the Chinese are not discriminating and using the same gas as the Nazis did. (ouch).

      October 27, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • rightospeak

      If the Chinese stopped buying our bonds where would they dump their OVERPRODUCTION products ? Our government would run out of money and fold -CNN will not tell you that. The US is their dumping ground to keep employment up in China.

      October 27, 2013 at 11:34 am |
      • marc

        that's right, we're not at fault for selling them *sarcasm*, always blame someone else, esp poor people

        October 28, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
      • John

        China in 2000 had 26% of our bonds. as of 2010 they were down to 19%

        October 28, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • Old_Hippie

      Chinese cannot breath their own air...as far as I know, there is no border between their air and our air. What the burning of carbon based fuels does to the air happens to everyone.

      October 28, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  7. jaysy

    People dont preach prohibition anymore and to preach inhibition is plain off the charts and to stick it in this entirty of global environment and the way we can produce things like alternatives to fossil fuels is just due to lobbying because people still make cars that run of vegetable oil more or less corn oil. So whats wring with these alternative renuewable resources-ibviosly its the fact that the entire globe will have to change and that it can be an issue of money whether the money that is already being made or that the overhead is too high like that of the issue with fuel cell technology

    October 27, 2013 at 6:37 am |
  8. chrissy

    @ RZ, its because the moderator ISN'T automated. Tis human, and some have also said its also the troll.

    October 27, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • ✠RZ✠

      It would not rule out the possibility of it being all 3. And then some. Let's just leave it at that for now.

      October 27, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • ✠RZ✠

      Won't let me use Latin either, Yes I know it's a dead language. But it always gets automatically rejected perhaps due to the detection of too many apparent errors; spelling, grammar, syntax, etc. who knows.

      October 27, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  9. Ed

    Governments cannot agree because they are trying to figure out how control and make money from any "solution". People of all stripes want others far away to make changes economically and personally and if they do feel good about it without any change in their own lifestyle. For example the rich and famous flying great distances to protest a power plant or a hunting event, but going home to live and pollute in one of their mega-mansions.
    The quickest solution is for all classes to live more simply, consume much less. Share the excess with the poor.

    October 28, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  10. julnor

    When they say "act" what they mean is transfer hundreds of billions of dollars from the people to the govt. Since this doesn't solve climate change, the people are reluctant to buy into it.

    October 28, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  11. Al J Cat

    The reason "we" don't act now, with all the information "we" have is the same reason that "I" don't quit smoking now, with all the information "I" have.
    To say "human nature" is flippant, but without writing an essay, that is essentially what is boils down to.

    October 28, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  12. SteveInMN

    Stunning, the deniers.

    The Earth's coral reefs are dead and dying. Why? The excess, record levels of CO2 have acidified the water to the point that the coral cannot survive. The change happened so rapidly, there was no chance for adaptation.

    Just because you can't see the IMMENSE problems as you drive to the mall does not mean they don't exist.

    October 28, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • Mark

      And just because you can regurgitate what some environmentalist eco-freak says, doesn't mean you know what you're talking about. Spare me.

      The reason we don't DO something about "climate change" is because no matter what propaganda the "chicken littles" put out there, the fact remains that there is STILL no hard evidence that there's a connection between human activity and changes in the weather. Everything cycles. It's a fact of life. Get over it.

      October 28, 2013 at 11:42 am |
      • what1ever

        So 95% of the scientific community are just plain wrong?

        October 29, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • Anthony Westover

      "Stunning, the deniers."

      *LOL* I love it. You guys sound like you're talking about the rapture. You really are some of the craziest religious zealots out there, it's quite amusing.

      October 28, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  13. HeyHey

    The only solution's to Climate Change is Socialism and consumption control;. Go figure....

    October 28, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • what1ever

      You say that like either of those things would be bad.

      October 29, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  14. ellid

    Very simple: because oil and gas companies in the United States have been waging a decades-long propaganda war against the sort of tough emissions regulations that would give us a chance at staving off disaster until we developed solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro power to the point that it would make a significant difference.

    Shame on them, for destroying the climate of the entire planet for greed.

    October 28, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  15. TW

    Pay attention, they ARE doing something about climate change, as in possibly making it worse. Via geo-engineering they are pumping millions of tons of sulfuric acid, dry ice, nitrogen and inorganic materials such as alumina and barium into your skies. Wake up an demand answering to THAT. All of you are seeing it, most of you just don't know what it is. Internet search atmospheric geo-engineering. Those are NOT persistent contrails.

    October 28, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  16. RinosRwinos

    We don't act because it is human nature. Humans typically don't react until it is a crisis they can see and understand. The next problem is agreeing on what needs to be done. And Finally, even if we can agree on what needs to be done the cost and timeframe to make the necessary changes may be insurmountable. China is like the Canary in the coal mine that somthing needs to be done.

    October 28, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  17. Steve

    This is why little is being done on climate change. I will present two different topics that have nothing to do with it to remove the emotial component. The first has to do with "String Theory". String Theory is a model that attempts to describe how the universe works. It has been around for decades. There is not a single reproducable facet that has been observed in a laboratory. Yet it dominates theoretical physics and is treated as fact. When a prediction of string theory is proven not to be the case, the theory is revised or it is argued the test was flawed.

    Another example is the statement that high fat animal based diets high in salt are bad for you. A few squeaky wheels pushed this in the 50ties. Yet now health care costs are exploding despite people chronically dieting and consuming grains and seed oils.

    Another case is the statement that chemotheropy is beneficial for treating cancer. Chemotheropy worked well for a few corner cases. Thus it was accepted that it should work for all cancers. A vast arrary of cancers do not respond well or not at all to chemotheropy. Yet for decades it was claimed that advances in chemo were extending lives when in reality studies were just being manipulated. Now that we understand that that cancer is a failure of immune function and of chronic imflamation were finally making progress instead of people being tortured for their last years.

    In both cases a statement was made as fact and treated as fact without any factual basis. Numbers and studies were skewed by the interested party because it was in there interest. If modern science can fail so badly for such significant topics, especially if no can design a real model explaining how CO2 impacts the climate, why not be skeptical again?

    October 28, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Old_Hippie

      There = a place. Put the box over there.
      They're = a conjunction of they are. They're very passionate about global warming.
      Their = possessive. Their faces were all badly sunburned.

      October 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  18. Anthony Westover

    I love how when global warming alarmists can't get their way, they resort to these whiny studies that are really nothing but self-gratification for global warming alarmists. "Oh, well humanity just isn't as enlightened as we are, so we're doomed! ... Even though we've been making these outrageous claims for decades and we keep revising when the point of no return will be."

    Want to know why no teams "won" the stupid game where the "prize" was planting some trees? Because the "prize" was planting some stupid trees. That's nothing but a mastubatorial aid for the people conducting the study.

    October 28, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  19. dave55

    Thoughtful contribution as always from Fareed. But I'm missing some concrete proposals for what should be done to get the best outcomes. Given that people are people, and we behave the way we do, what will best incentivise us to do the right things, given that the benefits will be future (and may not be seen as benefits at all, we just don't make things as bad as they otherwise would be)?

    October 28, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  20. what1ever

    If you don't believe in climate change you're just a stupid person. There is literally no nice way to put it.

    October 29, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
  21. Richard Right

    This year Hurricane forecasts have greatly missed the mark, and that is only a 6 month forecast. If science and computer modeling can't nail a 5 month forecast why should there be much faith in forecasts for 10,20,50 or 100 years. And I didn't even mention data falsification or bogus hockey stick forecasts.

    October 29, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
  22. talksense

    It always wonders me why the lands where some early civilizations developed became so barren today. Maybe human activities have always been an important factor in environment change. As the efficiency was far lower, the historical impact may have been comparable to contemporary human society, e.g., an ancient person may have to burn down quite a part of a forest to keep warm. Reduced plant coverage and manipulation of earth is dramatically changing the "texture" of earth which otherwise could have been bonded by organic materials and created much less particles in the air. It is not just about the over-use of energy, but also about human's obsession with its power over the Earth. Do not forget this: as we talk about carbon reduction, we are hydrocarbons ourselves and the recycling of hydrocarbons for our very existence disrupts the environment.

    October 30, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  23. omer alhadi

    from my point of view leaders of our countries must all work together seriously to find solutions to this problem either find clean energy sources and reduce dirty ones for the entire humanity and the subsequent generations

    October 30, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  24. Rick McDaniel

    We don't act, because the actions required would slow the world economies. In other words, most countries don't have the courage to act.........they simply continue on the path of eventual self destruction.

    October 30, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  25. Bacchus

    Embrace the zeitgeist . Blow in, blow through, blow past. Live your way through envisioning, visualizing, imagining , rehearsing , and then believing and then try do does make it happen...make it so..!!

    October 31, 2013 at 3:21 am |

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