Subject: [Global Change: 1059] economics and anthropogenic
climate change: an analogy

Imagine that you are an economist who enjoys playing Tetris on your computer, so while your bathtub is filling you decide to play a round in the living room upstairs.

The round of Tetris is going fabulously well. You are in the zone. You are placing piece after piece where it goes; you have long since passed your all time high score; you are having a whale of a time. Your bathtub is meanwhile filling up.

A tiny corner of your mind suggests that you ought to get up and check your bathtub. Fortunately, you are an economist. The tiny corner of your mind that is concerned with the structural integrity of your house and not the joy of Tetris is sufficient to reason as follows.

Probably the tub is not full yet, so the utility to me to keep playing this next piece exceeds the utility of running downstairs to turn off the water.

Maybe the tub is already flooding. Well, then, that is too bad, but the additional flood cost of playing this next piece will be small compared to the total flood cost, while the pleasure I am getting from this game going so well would be terminated.

Perhaps the tub is right at the point of starting a flood; a "tipping point". Well in that case you suppose you would have to run right downstairs and turn it off, but what are the odds of that? Certainly there is no way to prove this highly unlikely circumstance to you, especially given that you are upstairs playing Tetris and paying very little attention.

And why should you pay attention? After all, you have just proven that the matter does not deserve much attention for the duration of placing this next Tetris block. Perhaps you will revisit this problem later when you are placing another block.

So you keep playing, secure in the knowledge that you have maximized utility.


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