Green: a color known in society as signifying go, to move forward and to proceed without hesitation.
Yet, why is it that so many global economies are hitting the brakes on prioritizing green energy and sustainable agriculture?
The problem of global warming presents itself in the form of the prisoner’s dilemma in today’s economy. Should a country alter their infrastructure and find new sources of clean energy to reduce the global carbon footprint? Or should they simply continue to drill oil and clear forests to grow crops in order to increase their GDP?
What motivation exists for countries to not free ride off those who are willing to move forward with sustainable practices?
In a society based on consumption, our economies must meet this demand. Countries that chose to meet this demand by accessing our natural resources may have an advantage for now. But, it is those countries that spend this pivotal time finding and refining sustainable consumption practices and providing them as a public good that will have the advantage in coming decades when our natural resources become scarce and their fixed costs high.
Today global economies have two options: use the natural resources provided by the planet (i.e. oil, trees, etc.) or invest in developing sustainable resources (i.e. solar, wind and water).
If we narrow the global economy down to two countries, for example the United States and Brazil, then both would benefit from switching to sustainable practices.
While perhaps initially seeing a drop in profit and an increase in costs (as a result of high fixed costs), in the long run sustainable energy would become cheaper, more widely accessible and reduce the carbon footprint.
If neither country switches their ways, then both will continue to generate economic power at high rates and remain in the top 10 most powerful economies in the world; however when the resources run out, their economies will take a large hit.
If one country switches and one does not then for the time being, the country practicing sustainable resource use will lose capital to the country who is not.
Unfortunately, a significant decrease in the carbon footprint will also not be achieved as one country is acting solo.
It would seem the most logical solution would be for both countries to agree to switch to sustainable resource use.
Yet, like in all prisoner’s dilemmas, the temptation to cheat is too great. If our society is concerned with increasing consumption today, then each country has an incentive to keep abusing their natural resources while trying to free ride off other countries’ work in research and development.
Yet there are long-term negative effects to electing to cheat in this scenario.
Imagine Brazil chooses to keep cutting down its rainforest for the next 100 years and turning it into agricultural land. As time goes on, their carbon footprint will increase monumentally, and their soil fertility will decrease drastically from overuse.
There will come a point where the average variable costs of producing their crops will outweigh the profit they can make. Their economy will suffer great loses.
In the meantime, the U.S. government has spent their time and energy in developing sustainable farming practices and transitioning from the use of oil and coal to sun and wind. The U.S. could at this point start working to change its infrastructure, making asphalt roads into solar roads generating colossal amount of energy.
As well as developing huge compost plants producing nutrient rich, eco-friendly fertilizer help maintain their crops. The strides they can make in 100 years towards a cradle to cradle economy will result in long term benefits.
While Brazil hypothetically chooses to free ride off the United States dedication to research and development, now Brazil will still be in a situation where they are struggling to compete in this new green economy. It is inevitable that this is where our world is heading.
In a world based on consumption, we will run out of natural land resources to power this consumption.
It is the countries who are willing to risk economic loss right now in order to make strides in these green practices that will earn long term economic benefits.
These countries will be the ones prepared with affordable green practices, when the rest of the world is just starting to try and mimic these practices which will take a large financial investment.
So is green energy truly a prisoner’s dilemma for the world economy or simply a chance to make a profit?
Like any new product there will be the need for research and prototypes before it can sell at market price, but when natural resources aren’t an option anymore, the countries who have invested research ahead of time will be able to produce at the lowest costs and sell at the most competitive price monopolizing the system.