BIO 105 Home
Questions | Answers

1. Any situation where what looks like a good choice to me right now turns out to be the wrong choice for society (usually including me) in the long run.

2. Social Traps

  • Collective (Tragedy of the Commons): A person is thinking that their small effect won't matter, but it all adds up to a big problem when many people's small effects add together.
    • Example: any one person driving to work doesn't contribute much pollution to the air, but when everyone in Tucson drives to work, it adds up to a lot of air pollution.
  • Externality: A person is thinking that their action will have negative effects, but because the effects don't happen to them but happen to others (including other generations), they decide to do it anyway.
    • Example: Using up fossil fuels today will leave little for future generations
  • Time Delay: A person is thinking that their action today will result in a negative effect to themselves and/or society in the future, but they decide to do it anyway.
    • Example: We create nuclear waste today; in the future we have to dispose of the material properly.
  • Sliding Reinforcer: A person is thinking that the first time they did the action, they benefited so they repeat the action. But each time they repeat the action, they get less and less benefit until the costs outweigh the benefit and the costs get steadily worse.
    • Example: Everytime a pesticide is used, its effect becomes less.

3. Time delay: the action only has to happen once to initiate the long term negative effect
Sliding reinforcer: the first time the action occurs may result in positive effect. This causes the person to repeat the action, but each time the action is repeated the effects become less positive until they become increasingly negative.

4. Ways to avoid

  • Education: Inform everyone of the social trap.
    • Pro: people are more likely to do what you ask them to do if they understand the why you are asking them to do it.
    • Con: education people may be difficult, and the information can easily be ignored.
  • Rules and Regulations: Make laws.
    • Pro: people often follow laws.
    • Con: difficult to enforce.
  • Pay Up Front : Take the long term effects and put them up front so that a person making their decision on the here and now will make the right decision in the long term for society.
    • Pro: you don't have to change people's tendency to think me-here-now to get them to do the right thing.
    • Con: difficult to assess long term effects, and convert them into up front effects (e.g., how much is someone's future loss of health worth to add to the price of the product today).

5. Attitudes

  • Rosy Optimism: Ignores problems.
    • Problem: if you are ignoring the environmental problem, then nothing gets done to avoid or solve the problem.
  • Frontier: Believes there is always more of everything.
    • Problem: many resources are finite or only slowly renewable. Result: Doesn't conserve or look for alternatives, thus we run out of certain resources.
  • Technological Fix: Believes there are technological solutions to all environmental problems.
    • Problem: not all environmental problems can be solved with technology.
  • Gloom-and-Doom: Believes that the worse is going to happen.
    • Problem: Doesn't do anything about the problem so that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
  • Sustainability: Uses resources only at a rate that can be sustained (maintained) forever.
    • Problem: Works well, but often hard to live with one's means