Rick K. Wilson


Like a common pasture, the Earth’s climate is a shared resource. Increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere is equivalent to over-grazing — it degrades the climate by increasing temperatures and altering weather patterns. While everyone should forego adding to climate woes, this means sacrificing current comforts. Moreover, any individual’s carbon footprint is minuscule. It is the aggregate that matters. Getting people to cooperate when it is not in their interest is a difficult problem. A Leviathan could simply dictate that everyone reduce their carbon footprint and be granted coercive powers to ensure this happens. Aside from being an unpalatable solution there is no worldwide governing entity. The scale of the climate commons requires nations to work together, yet again few nations have incentives to adopt policies that reduce their citizens’ carbon footprint. This double dilemma requires creative political and individual solutions.


Rick K. Wilson is interested in human behavior. In the past, his work focused on political history and the design of political institutions — especially the U.S. Congress in the pre-federal and early-federal period. His current work focuses on human cooperation and conflict. Of special interest are the evolutionary, biological, and neurological foundations of human behavior. He has designed experiments that explore the development of cooperation in numerous bargaining games. This research has a strong cross-disciplinary cast and is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and is facilitated by the Rice University Behavioral Research Laboratory. He is the co-author of “Congressional Dynamics: Structure, Coordination and Choice in the First American Congress, 1774–1789” (Stanford University Press, 1994), and has published articles in a wide range of scholarly journals. Wilson is past editor of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently the president of the Midwest Political Science Association.

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