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Pellikaan and Van der Veen: Environmental dilemmas and policy design

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Pellikaan and Van der Veen. Environmental dilemmas and policy design.

In Brief

Provides evidence that altruistic behavior does, in fact, exist.

Puzzle: Why do some efforts to solve environmental problems fail while others succeed? We might think in terms of collective action problems, but the authors claim that the Olsonian perspective isn't optimal in this case. First, Olson assumes a common objective; in reality, many environmental dilemmas have multiple goals (e.g. some alternatives to pollution might be worse than pollution, at least for some people). Second, not everybody suffers equally from the pollution.

Critique of Applying Olson's Model Political Behavior

Contrast "thick" and "thin" rationality. Thin rationality posits only that people have transitive preferences and act accordingly. Thick rationality adds an assumption about what people value (usually money). In the case of firms in a competitive market, we can derive "thick" rationality from "thin" rationality; in the case of human individuals, we cannot. A situation that looks like a prisoner's dilemma when firms play it might look like a conditional cooperation game when individuals play it.

Olson's model was devised to account for the behavior of firms in a competitive market. In a competitive market, there is a theory from which we derive that firms will seek perfect information and maximal profit--or else they cease to exist. But outside a competitive economic market, we have no reason to deduce that people behave analogously (i.e. seeking perfect information and maximizing profit). In fact, if we did behave that way, and we ignored relationships, friendship, fairness, and kindness, large aspects of our lives would suffer; humans are not firms. And without these assumptions about their incentives, the collective action model no longer follows. Even the prisoner's dilemma doesn't apply the same way; the payoffs in a PD are based on monetary payoffs (which might apply to firms), but there may be other payoffs that individual humans care about (i.e. relationships, friendship, fairness). Only firms can be assumed to maximize dollar payoffs (as in a PD); humans maximize things other than dollars.

Chapter 1: Environmental Pollution as a Problem of Collective Action

Main Argument

While some efforts have been made to reduce environmental degradation, much more can and should be done. Why hasn't it? P&V say that it is not that people don't believe that there is an environmental crises, but rather that their individual contribution, or that of their governments, would be insignificant to bother. In other words, we have a collective action problem. But national environmental policies do exist. Why? Because it is more than a collective action problem. The Olson/Hardin logic, then, seems to fall short.

The book seeks to assess viability of environmental policies that try to inform, educate, and persuade, rather than to regulate behavior by legal restrictions or monetary incentives.

Why collective action Logic Inappropriate for the Environmental Dilemma

  1. It assumes a common objective.
    • The collective action problem presumes that there is a collective goal that is preferable but unreachable. But it may be wrong to presume that NP is the preferable goal for everyone. For some, it may bring about worse consequences. Also, joint P outcome may not spell disaster, just loss of environment, but diversity, wildlife, etc valued differently by different people. Also, knowing that NP costs their own effort, but also includes the costs of maintaining NP, People will tend to disagree about whether NP is a common objective. [I think that NP means "not participating" and P means "participating."]
  2. Non-equivalent dilemmas
    • Results hold much more strongly for the toxic waste and energy saving issues. Much smaller relationship for holiday travel. BUT collective action logic is neutral to type of problem. If something is a collective action problem, same result--environment should get hurt. But fact that answered differently to different substantive issues shows they value different situations differently. Results show uni-dimensional scale among three issues for respondents (the obstacles to cooperation in one case higher than the next, and even higher in the last)

The Test

Will look to micro level of individual citizen behavior to explain environmental policy. Study Netherlands because:

  • Dutch policymakers have been pushing firms and citizens to take voluntary actions for the sake of national objectives.
  • Emphasis on curving consumption.
  • Campaign of self regulation through increasing information through media and curricula. All try to alter behavior without limiting options.
  • Objective to achieve internalization of environmental values.

Use a data set based on large-scale survey conducted in 1994. Studied the responses of a thousand individuals who responded to questions designed to bring out their attitude towards voluntary collective action. Confronted with three cases: bringing toxic waste to a neighborhood recycling point, economizing on energy at home, and forgoing holiday travel for the sake of reducing air pollution (since "everybody knows" that air travel causes pollution).

The results show that people value mutual cooperation highest of four, mutual defection lowest, and are mixed between their preferences for the mixed results. What does this show? The logic of collective action is not among the most plausible theories for predicting what rational actors want to do in situations of environmental collection action.

Potential objections

  1. Objection: survey results biased in a socially desirable way. Survey response doesn't match behavior.
    • Response: Authors agree this may complicate results. But it is hard to prove this happens in survey results, and the burden of proof is on those who say it does.
  2. Another objection: Confusing motives. Respondents may have these preferences but not because they value the environment, which would mean that their responses to other environmental questions would not be consistent, a requirement of rational actors.
    • Response: They ask two questions about motives behind preferences. 1. To what extent is the respondent concerned about a common objective (is cooperative action a good thing) and 2. To what extent is the respondent willing to contribute to a less polluted world in each of the environmental dilemmas (1-3 score on both). Find consistency between motives and preferences
  • The motives will be matched up to the content of the ads aired in the Netherlands to see if the message of the ads affect motives (internalization of environmentally responsible behavior). Will find that it does. This explains the difference in holiday travel since most respondents say that reduced holiday travel should not be considered a common objective among citizens.
  • Is cooperation conditional or unconditional? Do people decide not to cooperate if they know others will defect. Survey data shows that people tend to prefer the dominated strategy of always cooperate (even if they get defected on) to mixed. Why? Authors' theory is that it costs more to play the assurance game, to monitor others then to just fall into habit. But if the costs of cooperation too high, higher then monitoring, it falls apart.

Turns out there is ethical cooperation in the three cases with chemical waste being highest. Energy savings being second, and holiday travel last (60%, 50%, 10%).