Ethics of Cooperation

With my colleague Phil Robichaud, PhD students Tessa Supèr and Dominik Boll, and postdoc Annalisa Costella, I run the “Ethics of Cooperation” project.

The climate crisis can only be solved if enough people on the planet cooperate and reduce their carbon emissions. Yet it doesn’t depend on whether any individual does her part. This raises the question: why reduce one’s emissions when doing so seems to be a waste of one’s efforts?

(1) Holding onto a carbon-intensive lifestyle doesn’t seem “universalizable”. You want others to reduce their emissions and shouldn’t make an unfair exception of yourself. Yet these reasons are controversial, and I’m trying to make sense of them.

(2) A second idea is that, even when cooperating fails to make any difference, it may still have symbolic value. For example, a vegan lifestyle may express that you care about the climate and stand up for future generations. With Tessa, I’m investigating whether such symbolic conduct can be valuable.

(3) These social dilemmas look an awful lot like personal dilemmas we’re all familiar with. For example, why exercise at a particular time if your goal of getting healthy by the end of the year doesn’t depend on it? Tessa is investigating whether solutions to such personal dilemmas might also work in the collective case.

(4) Some parties take responsibility to reduce their emissions, where others slack. Even if all countries implement their climate mitigation pledges, more is needed to prevent climate harms. Dominik works on the question: who should step in, and fill such responsibility gaps?

(5) Precommitment strategies help to overcome the temptation to defect. By precommitting, you make it harder for your future self to defect. If you want to eat less meat, for example, you can tell your friends that you are doing a “30-day meat-free challenge”. Annalisa asks: should we employ such precommitment strategies more often?