Wednesday, August 8, 2007

What economists don't understand about climate change

There's a very interesting conversation happening on the Economists View blog about the projections some economists have made concerning the impact of global warming and what the economic conditions are likely to be at the end of this century.

The article, titled "Why Economists Don't Know All the Answers about Climate Change" cites this essay by Paul Klemperer on the Vox cite, which publishes analysis by European economists. Klemperer states the following (and much more, of course) and the comments on the Economists View blog go on from there:

Disagreement is usually more instructive than consensus, and economists’ current debate about climate change is no exception. It reveals three important questions that have gone largely unanswered in popular discussions. But though economists have exposed the questions, we need the scientists, the sociologists and the philosophers to answer them.

The root of the problems is that the costs of preventing climate change start now, while many of the benefits come in a hundred years or more. If growth continues at its recent historical rate, world GDP per capita will be at least five times higher in 100 years. So we should not feel too obliged to make sacrifices that make future generations even richer, any more than our grandparents should have given up their only television so that we can have yet one more set in the house. But it doesn’t mean that because most likely climate-change scenarios leave economic growth broadly unchanged, we can stop worrying: it simply means that the outcomes that really matter in cost-benefit calculations about climate change are those that are so disastrous that they wipe out the benefits of economic growth.

Of course (says my internal voice) much of the commentary begins by challenging the assumption that growth will continue "at its recent historical rate" or that economic growth will over the next 90 years will be "broadly unchanged." Yes, it's a question of sacrificing now to save lives and societies in the future, but no one can rest on the assurance that economic life will go on as usual in the midst of complex adaptation to changing climate.

As the blog author Bruce Wilder posts in his own Comments,
Economists could be -- and should be -- contributing to the framing of the climate change crisis in a critical way by tying together the various threads of the problems facing humanity. Climate change is not something happening in isolation -- it is tied to the crisis of "peak oil" and to overpopulation and to a variety of environmental catastrophes, species extinctions and the like.


snowbird said...

The Great Climate Change Swindle

Cliff said...

Snowbird, are you pointing me to this video because you support it's message (same as Limbaugh's - "Global warming is a hoax.")?

For some reason - what I've learned in 59 years, maybe - I trust the vast majority of climatologists who say the world IS heating up and humans are largely responsible for the sudden changes in climate. Besides, I'm reporting on what is actually happening. Is that a swindle, too?