Climate Change Economics
| Glenn MacDonald |
Some thoughts about how carbon emissions will evolve. Assume carbon emissions cause climate change. (Obviously this is controversial. But I have nothing new to add to this and so am willing to grant this assumption.) There are two fundamental economic forces at work. One is that emissions are a classical prisoners’ dilemma. That is, reducing emissions is costly, and the benefits to any one country are mainly enjoyed by others. Thus, in equilibrium, there will not be a lot of effort devoted to reducing emissions. Getting around this would require either some sort of external enforcement, e.g., the United Nations (pause for laughter!), or some approach based on repeated interaction; unfortunately the latter requires more patience and information than is realistic in this situation. Thus, consistent with the data, emissions will grow, and, per my assumption, climate change will ensue. Second, tastes for amenities such as clean air appear to be normal goods, maybe even luxuries. Individuals in China, eastern Europe, . . . appear to have little interest in these amenities, given what they might have to forego to have them, whereas many in the US, Canada, western Europe, . . . seem more inclined to pay a little more for green goods and services. Thus, efforts to reduce emissions will grow as more and more countries prosper sufficiently that their inhabitants are willing to forgo consumption for cleaner air, etc. So, from an economic perspective, the most realistic way to fewer carbon emissions and (per my assumption) less climate effects is through the aggressive promotion of activities that promote growth: free trade, democracy, economic freedom, reduced taxes, regulations and tariffs, protection of property rights. . . . Interestingly, freeing individuals to pursue their interests is likely the best practical/realitic approach to what, at first blush, seems like a classical case for collective action.