Friday, April 9, 2010

A fraction of infinity is still infinity: everything you need to know about climate change in seven sentences

I just finished reading Paul Krugman's 8,000 word masterpiece on climate economics, "Building a Green Economy." If you read one thing on climate change this year, read this.

It's true, Krugman essentially replicates an argument I made in a previous post, which interestingly enough was cited in the New York Times blog "Dot Earth" (maybe THAT'S where Krugman stole my argument from!). It's okay though - he does the job so much more thoroughly and precisely than I ever could. After all, he is a Nobel laureate.

I highly suggest reading the whole piece, but I know you may not have time for 8,000 words. So I'll summarize the four main points of Krugman's argument:

1. Nearly all economists agree that the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be negligible, and likely cheaper than expected.

2. Nearly all scientists agree that the risk of catastrophic climate change is non-negligible, and likely worse than expected.

3. When absolute catastrophe is among the possible risks, decisions should be made on the basis of that worst-case risk, NOT the most likely scenario.

4. Therefore, the prudent, conservative, personally responsible choice is to invest in an insurance policy to mitigate against the threat of climate change.

You don't have to believe your house is going to burn down to know you should buy home insurance. In the same way, you can be skeptical about global warming and still think it's a good idea to insure against the risk that you're wrong. In the words of writer Jonathan Schell (words which became a popular piece of evidence in my high school debate days), "though the risk... may be fractional, the stakes are infinite, and a fraction of infinity is still infinity."


Climate craps: Global warming and uncertainty (or what to say when you hear "the science is not settled!")

Don't believe global warming scientists? Ask an economist

Keep your carbon off my property: Paul Krugman explains externalities

Don't believe in global warming? Ask an insurance company

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