Wednesday, July 12

I.E. Block Community Lecture: Individual Choices, Cooperation and the Global Commons: Mathematical Challenges in Uniting Ecology and Socioeconomics for a Sustainable Environment

6:15 PM - 7:15 PM
Room: The Castle (off property)
Chair: Martin Golubitsky, University of Houston

We live in a Global Commons, in which the actions of individuals bear costs for society as a whole. The resources we extract for our own uses are no longer available to others, and the toxicants we discharge affect others. The result of this mismatch between individual actions and individual costs is evidenced in the depletion of common resources, the toxification of the environment, and even the frightening loss of effectiveness of the antibiotics that are so fundamental to public health. In the terminology of economists, conventional markets have failed to restrain our harmful activities, like overconsumption, because those markets do not adequately incorporate the social costs, the externalities.

How can we resolve this situation, and develop patterns of social behavior that hold out greater hope for a sustainable future? What can we learn from evolutionary theory, and how can mathematical approaches improve our ability to devise strategies? Ecological and socioeconomic systems alike are complex adaptive systems, in which patterns at the macroscopic level emerge from interactions and selection mechanisms mediated at many levels of organization, from individual agents to collectives to whole systems and even above. Not only individuals, but societies and nations also, act in their own selfish interest, leading to problems for the biosphere as a whole. This lecture will explore mathematical challenges in dealing with such problems. In particular, it will address our understanding of how, and under what conditions, cooperation and altruism have arisen in the process of evolution; why social norms, including punishment, have arisen to reinforce socially beneficial behavior; and how those social norms can lead to inter-group conflicts. Attention will be addressed to the socioeconomic systems in which environmental management is based, and ask what lessons can be learned from our examination of natural systems, and how we can modify social norms to achieve global cooperation in managing our common future.

Also see
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-06/potn-stp060806.php

Simon Levin
Princeton University

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