I have been publishing posts on the environment here lately and, most recently, about Cli Fi (climate fiction, rhymes with sci fi). Yesterday I read this post on Medium by Ted Howell, which informed me that this past spring semester he taught a class on this very topic at my university. You can see the class blog here. So now I have vague dreams of coming up with a class to teach in spring 2016 (too late for fall 2015) that would combine the basics of environmental economics with cli fi. Call me crazy if you must.
I was reading papers by economists today, in a symposium issue of a journal about international climate negotiations. I have mentioned these papers here before. Since I am an economist, I have no difficulty following these papers, but they are far from eloquent for the average person. The average person is the one who needs to push her government to act to limit climate change, though. The average person is the one to cut his energy consumption, despite feeling the pinch. Do we need a Homer to write an Odyssey for our trek through a perilous future of climate instability with its concomitant famine, pestilence, and war?
My inbox then received an email from Matter, a magazine / collection of essays on Medium, that speaks directly to this need I perceived. It contained links to several essays that point to the recent emergence of Cli-Fi, Climate Fiction, that could be the Homeric effort our times need. It may not be sufficient, but I am glad it has developed.
Among these essays, I enjoyed most the call to action by the indomitable Margaret Atwood (whose MaddAddam trilogy is sitting in our den, 1/3 read by yours truly — I really need to get better at finishing what I start reading!). I also enjoyed an essay by Dan Bloom on Cli-Fi and one by Ed Finn. If you are on Medium, you can follow Matter at the link I gave above, repeated here, and you can also follow the tag Cli Fi. If you are not on Medium, you are missing out on some good writing; why not join? It costs no money.
This is the title of Professor Stern’s recently published book. Following up on my previous post from today, I just got this book and Hirofumi Uzawa’s Economic Theory and Global Warming. So I am happily ensconced reading up on this topic, which I consider the most important topic for anyone, especially any economist, to learn about and contribute what s/he can to saving the future of humanity from catastrophe. Don’t just read the recently ubiquitous dystopias out there. Read also the suggestions of the people who have thought long and hard about how to navigate to eutopias instead. (No, it’s not a typo: eutopia is quite the opposite of dystopia in Greek, and different from utopia, as eutopia is attainable.)
Do you need a reason to be even more depressed than when reading the news from Greece? No? I am sorry to disappoint you, but I have just such a thing. I have such news and I will start here a sequence of posts that will describe the situation from my point of view and look very hard for a policy that we puny humans can follow to avoid destroying the future of our children.
It has been pretty obvious to climate scientists that human activity is changing the Earth’s climate at a scary rate. Even the Pope recently said that recently, but ruled out the one solution that has a chance of success: carbon pricing.
I understand why people are suspicious of the proposals of economists, especially since economists in the past often understated the instability of markets, especially financial ones, that bit our behinds starting in 2007 and still threatens major catastrophe to the world’s economies, rich and poor alike. It would be nice to think that voluntary actions, undertaken worldwide, will be enough to mitigate the coming climate disaster. It also would be dangerous daydreaming.
The reason is the old bugaboo of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. I wrote about that not too long ago, in a post about capturing birds (here) where I also connected the environment more generally to the bleak implications of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. (If you think the works of Ostrom mentioned in that post can help, consider that the climate change problem is world-wide, while the examples of communities handling tragedies of the commons that she found were small in scale. Getting the whole planet to agree and act is the problem I am focusing on here.)
Today I want to point you in the direction of two lucid contributions by thoughtful economists, who point out that the voluntary actions never come at the needed level, and pricing carbon worldwide is the one policy that, obvious as it is to economists, has not been tried. Everything that has been tried, such as the Kyoto protocol, has failed.
The first contribution is in this PBS post by Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman. They argue that we are foolish not to insure against ecological catastrophe of gigantic proportions, and the way to insure is by means of pricing carbon.
The second is a collective effort with a well-named website. There you can find links to papers written for a special journal issue coming out in September. The papers are free to download. While they are written by economists (including Nobel prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Jean Tirole) and thus are not literary masterpieces, they are clear enough about what humanity needs to do and have practical suggestions on how to get to it by international negotiations.
I will return to this topic soon. Meanwhile, read on, my friends.