The Climate Commons Dilemma: How Can Humanity Solve the Commons Dilemma for the Global Climate Commons?


In the era when human activities can fundamentally alter the planetary climate system, a stable climate is a global commons. However, the need to develop the economy to sustain the growing human population poses the Climate Commons Dilemma. Although citizens may need to support policies that forgo their country’s economic growth, they may instead be motivated to grow their economy while freeriding on others’ efforts to mitigate the ongoing climate change. To examine how to resolve the climate commons dilemma, we constructed a Climate Commons Game (CCG), an experimental analogue of the climate commons dilemma that embeds a simple model of the effects of economic activities on global temperature rise and its eventual adverse effects on the economy. The game includes multiple economic units, and each participant is tasked to manage one economic unit while keeping global temperature rise to a sustainable level. In two experiments, we show that people can manage the climate system and their economies better when they regarded the goal of environmentally sustainable economic growth as a singular global goal that all economic units collectively pursue rather than a goal to be achieved by each unit individually. In addition, beliefs that everyone shares the knowledge about the climate system help the group coordinate their economic activities better to mitigate global warming in the CCG. However, we also found that the resolution of the climate commons dilemma came at the cost of exacerbating inequality among the economic units in the current constrains of the CCG.


Psychological Science

Keywords and Phrases

Climate change mitigation; Common knowledge; Commons dilemma; Sustainable development

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

0165-0009; 1573-1480

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


File Type





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Publication Date

01 Jan 2021