Here is a short post on a topic that deserves, perhaps, a whole book to explain. Nations’ and individuals’ decisions to act sustainably for an uncertain longer term benefit, or else unsustainably for a certain gain in the short term, have been explained with the “prisoner’s dilemma“—an analogy used by game theorists to explain why makers of pacts usually defect.
Suppose you and your neighbours were to make a pact with each other, to grow your own food, not use your cars, and to only buy renewable energy. Though you may all be closer for the first few days of your pact, little defections would quickly bring on a landslide. The only motivation to honour the pact after everyone else has defected, would be to wear your sacrifice on your sleeve.
But suppose on the first day of your pact, you and neighbours all sold your cars and spent the proceeds on exquisite cycling equipment. You also dug up your street and spent a fortune planting an edible garden. And finally you all borrowed money to install wind turbines and solar panels. Economically, each of you will have committed. You will also have become enthusiasts for gardening, cycling, bicycle maintenance, and renewable power generation technology.
One day after selling our car, I find my Primrose shopping online for overpriced bicycling pants by Outlier. Next she’s adding marino base layers and socks to my Rapha shopping cart. Perhaps she needs her own Brompton? It is the duty of the bicycling industry to have all these things ready to sell to her on day one, to stitch her up good and proper. If only the building industry and property developers could be equally geared up to shift people into more sustainable housing the day they had the idea!