Climate Change: A Prisoner’s Dilemma

Rise | Creating Climate Action Event Recap

Two prisoners are separated into cells after their crime, both offered a deal if they confess. Rationally, they both confess, only to each receive a maximum sentence. Had neither confessed, they would both have served minimal time. This is the Prisoner’s Dilemma, where we cheat because it appears to be a valid option, and everyone ends up with a raw deal.

At last Friday night’s Rise | Creating Climate Action event, Dr. Jonathan Buonocore, of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Climate, Energy and Health team, introduced this story to explain our behavior concerning climate change. His research sets out to counteract this behavior, examining every aspect of the problem, rather than holding assumptions. Using real data on cost, deaths, toxins, emissions, and health effects of any given technology or policy, he is able to give concrete answers for which solution is better. Examining every aspect, Buonocore pointed out, ensures that you don’t end up contributing to the problem you set out to solve.

Lost in these numbers, we’re left wondering if anything we do this late in the game will even help. Travis Estes, of Next Step Living framed his answer with the question “How bad of a planet are you willing to accept?” His seemingly-cynical answer points out the reality of where we are. The statistical improvements we can make may be negligible, but Estes and his team are committed to making sure we don’t make the problem any worse. Trekking their way through centuries of our built environment, they analyze the changes each of us can make to our homes so that at least we can continue through this century in a more sustainable way.

Martin Zogran of Sasaki shared similar sentiments of “what’s done is done,” his team also taking the approach of accepting the situation and working with it, instead of against it. In the rising sea level the team found a way to connect tourism and resident life with wildlife, by rethinking the classic beach boardwalk as a structure that repairs the fractured landscape and welcomes the new ecosystem that will emerge. The magic of Zogran’s projects is that they seamlessly integrate themselves into the current landscape, climate, and culture in a way that hides all of the perplexities, fear, analysis, and planning surrounding any given job. The elegance of their solutions make this approach the most attractive.

It’s still clear, however, that our society has constructed an invisible architecture of denial, confusion and bias that inhibits people from easily adopting these edits. Chiranit Prateepasen, formerly of Continuum, offered design thinking practice as a way to work your way through these walls, by connecting with your audience to find out what resonates with them. This method is crucial when interacting with people whose views may differ significantly from your own, and when the core issue is so wrapped in controversy, science, emotion, and misguided information. The audience is lost and unsure who to trust, so finding a solution that addresses their needs as well as the needs of the climate, is the only way we can hope to get both prisoners working together.

Thank you to Simple Fare Catering for providing us with a delicious start to the night!

By Emily Hamre
Published November 14, 2014