Monday, March 5, 2012

William Nordhaus on climate change: the wisdom of economics

The Stern Review (2006) is a good example of the attitude of economists towards climate change. Economists may not be familiar with climate modeling, but they can notice a trend when they see one and they didn't miss that the ongoing rapid rise in the world's temperature is leading us to no good.

"Economist bashing" is rather fashionable nowadays (for a particularly scathing example, see here). I must confess that, occasionally, I have indulged in this habit, too. However, on the whole I agree with Lou that it is not a good idea.

True, economics as a science has a lot of problems and it is rarely able to come up with good models that take into account resource depletion. But there is a redeeming grace in the approach of economists to science: it is their nearly religious respect for the data.  Economists may not be familiar with climate models, but their respect for data makes them able to understand that the temperature record shows a robust warming trend. They also understand that global warming is leading us to no good. The consequence is that several economists are actively supporting real science in the debate on climate change. One needs only to mention the role of Nicholas Stern, with his "Stern Report."

Now, William Nordhaus, professor of economics at Yale University, comes up strongly in defense of science after having been misquoted in an article published on the Wall Street journal. Nordhaus does very well in highlighting the contradictions and the falsities of the global warming "skeptics" in this article. There is wisdom in economic sciences!


Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong

March 22, 2012

William D. Nordhaus

The threat of climate change is an increasingly important environmental issue for the globe. Because the economic questions involved have received relatively little attention, I have been writing a nontechnical book for people who would like to see how market-based approaches could be used to formulate policy on climate change. When I showed an early draft to colleagues, their response was that I had left out the arguments of skeptics about climate change, and I accordingly addressed this at length.

But one of the difficulties I found in examining the views of climate skeptics is that they are scattered widely in blogs, talks, and pamphlets. Then, I saw an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal of January 27, 2012, by a group of sixteen scientists, entitled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” This is useful because it contains many of the standard criticisms in a succinct statement. The basic message of the article is that the globe is not warming, that dissident voices are being suppressed, and that delaying policies to slow climate change for fifty years will have no serious economic or environment consequences.

My response is primarily designed to correct their misleading description of my own research; but it also is directed more broadly at their attempt to discredit scientists and scientific research on climate change.1 I have identified six key issues that are raised in the article, and I provide commentary about their substance and accuracy. They are:

    • Is the planet in fact warming?

    • Are human influences an important contributor to warming?

    • Is carbon dioxide a pollutant?

    • Are we seeing a regime of fear for skeptical climate scientists?

    • Are the views of mainstream climate scientists driven primarily by the desire for financial gain?

    • Is it true that more carbon dioxide and additional warming will be beneficial?

As I will indicate below, on each of these questions, the sixteen scientists provide incorrect or misleading answers. At a time when we need to clarify public confusions about the science and economics of climate change, they have muddied the waters. I will describe their mistakes and explain the findings of current climate science and economics.

Read the rest of this article on "The New York Times"


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)