Friday, November 02, 2007

Economists Writing on Climate Change

A colleague passed on to me the link to a special issue of The Economists' Voice, an e-journal from the Berkeley Electronic Press. The special issue is on climate change, and features some notable economists -- Kenneth Arrow, Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Schelling, among others (three Nobel winners there!). The link for the journal is here but I think you need to register to read the full article.

At least some of the articles refer to the Stern report, and the reviews of that report that I wrote about in my latest post. Arrow, for example, explicitly mentions critics of the Stern report, and their main critique (insufficient discounting of the future) but he does not mention them by name.

Unfortunately the articles in the BE Press do not live up to my expectations for the authors and they do not match the rigor and clarity of the Nordhaus and Weitzman articles in the Journal of Economic Literature. Go read the BE Press for yourself and compare it to Nordhaus' article, or Weitzman's, in the JEL. If you don't see the obvious differences, let me know.

Stiglitz does not address any of the economics of climate change but plows ahead with major policy recommendations anyway. Great economics!

Arrow mentions the discounting problem, and agrees with much of it, but at the end of his article he does some back of the envelope calculations and concludes that the benefits of stabilizing CO2 are worth the costs. I wish he had made his calculations more consistent with, for example, Nordhaus and Weitzman so that we could compare the assumptions and see where they are different. Arrow does some things for ease of calculation that strike me as questionable: he converts a loss of 20% of output beginning in the year 2200 with a lower growth rate of output between now and then. While the growth rate calculations work out, I am not sure that the utility/welfare of the different time paths are the same: the second scenario has output lower in all the years up to 2200.

Schelling, as usual, is rather good; I am a fan of his (read The Strategy of Conflict, his classic on game theory). Schelling is open about uncertainties, including those of water vapor and clouds, and he even mentions favorably the ideas of geoengineering. He also mentions that the "precautionary principle" has been likened to the principle of "never do anything for the first time." I like that! But the article is also marred with jabs at the Bush administration (come on, guys); he mentions extreme bad outcomes such as the sea level rising by 20 feet but does not mention extreme good outcomes such as little climate change, favorable effects on agriculture and low mitigation costs; and he ends with this oddity: "How should we respond to that kind of uncertainty? Wait until the uncertainty has been resolved completely before we do anything, or act as if it’s certain until we have assurance that there’s no such danger? Those two extremes are not the only alternatives!" (p. 5, Economists’ Voice July, 2007).

All in all, I remain very impressed with the Journal of Economic Literature articles and will look at the BE Electronic Press, at least this one journal of theirs, somewhat differently.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you going to write something on the new carbon dioxide cap-and-trade proposal in the Senate?

NY Times article:

I'm curious to read your thoughts.