The tragedy of the commons and the tragedy of the horizon prevent proper action for the public good

Tragedy of the commons

I can calculate the movement of stars, but not the madness of men ― Isaac Newton

The greeNsort® project suffers a “tragedy of the commons1 problem: free availability of the algorithms is a precondition for realizing the 30 MtCO2e annual savings, however recovering the greeNsort® investments requires patenting, but patenting prevents broad use and hence the savings: there is no business model for worldwide savings in sorting algorithms. Regarding energy-efficiency, software is a failing market: strong monopolistic tendencies prevent market optimizations, software producers don’t pay the hardware and electricity bill, those who pay - companies and consumers - are much too fragmented to care about a couple of percent improvements in software energy consumption. The failure of the hardware-software ecosystem regarding energy-efficiency is “gradual, cumulative, and often distributed”, like global warming.2

Tragedy of the horizon

if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death ― fable3

The climate-crisis gradually unfolds over a horizon of many years, much longer than the decision time frame of CEOs (a quarter to few years) of politicians (time to next election) or other decision-makers. This carries the risk that the necessary decisions are not taken timely. This “tragedy of the horizon4 is best visualized by the “boiled frog” metaphor: If you throw a frog in boiling water, he’ll just hop out. But if you put him in warm water and slowly amp up the temperature, he won’t notice and end up boiled. The greeNsort® algorithms Frogsort and Jumpsort prove that it is possible to jump out of the water before it boils, but there is a huge risk that potential sponsors hope for others to jump in and that nobody jumps and that the 30 MtCO2e annual savings are lost.

The march towards such strong property rights will have tragic consequences ― Michael Perelman

  1. “The tragedy of the commons is a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action”, see Wikipedia↩︎

  2. cf. Addressing climate change in a post-pandemic world↩︎

  3. see About frogs↩︎

  4. see Breaking the Tragedy of the Horizon ― climate change and financial stability↩︎

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