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The Paralysis Paradox and the Untapped Role of Science in Solving Big Environmental Problems

Jan G. Laitos

This is an Article about big problems, particularly big environmental problems. Policymakers have difficulty addressing, and correcting, big, complex environmental problems. Sometimes, the problems appear so complex that the policymaker seeking to solve it simply gives up. An odd paralysis then sets in among policymakers when the problems’ scope appear so overwhelming and complicated that they seem unsolvable. The result is that the problems continue, despite near-universal acceptance of the reality of the problems and the need to remediate them. The paralysis prevents the development and implementation of effective policy. Each problem continues and perhaps even grows. This Article offers a methodology aimed at addressing these big, seemingly unsolvable, environmental problems. It is a methodology based not on traditional command-and-control regulatory solutions, nor neo-classical welfare economics typically embraced by academics. Instead, it is based on science—or rather, science and math interwoven with law. The Article suggests that policy paralysis can be avoided, and big environmental problems addressed, by applying principles that scientists routinely use to understand and respond to extremely complex issues. These include probability theory, systems methodology, game theory, chaos theory, and finally, Occam’s Razor.