Tuesday, 27 November 2007

The Powerlessness of One

My dad, a Liberal voter, claims that he would vote for the Liberal Party because he thinks that John Howard's decision to not ratify the Kyoto Protocol along with the U.S. was the right move. He claims that because China and India pollute so much, any reduction in emissions by Australia would have negligible effect.

He is right. Australia ratifying Kyoto will have negligible effect. In fact, there are six billion people on this earth and if any one of us considers cutting carbon emissions, it will have negligible effect. You are just one individual out of billions.

This then is a prisoners' dilemma problem. If everyone cooperates, we can win, but if everyone expects no one else to cooperate, they don't have an incentive to cooperate and as a whole everyone is worse off.

Although China is the world's biggest polluter in aggregate terms, that is simply because of their massive size. China's population of 1 billion people dwarfs Australia's 20 million. However, in per capita terms, Australians are the biggest polluters in the world. A reduction in Australian pollution would mean the average person would forego luxuries like SUVs. For the Chinese, however, a reduction in pollution may be difficult because the average Chinese is still poor.

Liberal voters claim that each person's greenhouse emission is insignificant compared to the greenhouse emissions of everyone else, and so nobody should bother trying. However, the same argument can be made about voting. Each individual vote from a Liberal at an election makes negligible difference compared to the votes of everyone else, so if the Liberals truly believe ratifying Kyoto is pointless then they should also believe voting is pointless.

What a pity voting in Australia is compulsory. If it weren't, Liberals wouldn't vote.

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