Publication Date


Document Type


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Sturm College of Law


Abandoned mine lands, Game theory, Systems theory, Chaos theory


Part I considers the daunting scope and extent of the environmental problem addressed by the article. The “problem” consists of an enormous number of abandoned mines and AMLs in the West, affecting numerous rivers and watersheds, where the cost of mine cleanup seems astronomical, and the source of the money to pay for the cleanup elusive. In Part I, probability theory is used to assess the true scope of the AML problem, by estimating the impacts and risks to people and their environment. Part II addresses the state of current law as it applies to abandoned hardrock mines. A review of this law reveals that (1) it does not serve to correct or even deter the continuation of the problem, and (2) it in fact makes it far more difficult for good Samaritans or government entities to begin cleanup operations. Part III explains the “paralysis paradox,” which to date has prevented effective responses to the problem. Part IV offers alternative methodologies for policymakers to embrace as more realistic—science-and-math-based solutions to the problem. In Part IV, the AML problem is made more manageable through use of systems methodology, game theory, and chaos theory. Part V concludes by recommending a much simpler science-based approach, consistent with the Occam’s Razor principle, which steers clear of the paralysis paradox. Counterintuitively, this simpler approach of doing less has a more realistic chance of eventually doing more to correct the complex problem of abandoned mines.

Publication Statement

Originally published as Jan G. Laitos & Christopher Ainscough, The Paralysis Paradox and the Untapped Role of Science in Solving Big Environmental Problems, 30 GEO. ENVTL. L. REV. 409 (2018). Copyright is held by the authors. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Jan G. Laitos, Christopher Ainscough


Received from author

File Format



English (eng)


46 pgs

File Size

762 KB

Publication Title

Georgetown Environmental Law Review



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