Smarter Thinking on Climate Change

COPENHAGEN – Politicians and commentators are understandably pessimistic about the chances of an international deal on carbon cuts emerging from the United Nations summit in Mexico this December. Nothing has been resolved since the Copenhagen climate talks fell apart last year. Fortunately, recent research points to a smarter way to tackle climate change.

There is no longer any mainstream disagreement about the reality of global warming. The crucial questions concern the economics of our response. But this debate can be just as heated. Ever since I published The Skeptical Environmentalist in 2001, I have always acknowledged that man-made global warming is real. Yet activists have repeatedly labeled me a “climate-change denier.” This is not because I have ever suggested that the basic science of global warming is wrong. Rather, it reflects anger and frustration over my insistence on pointing out that drastic carbon cuts make no sense.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center – a think tank where I serve as director – recently asked a large group of top climate economists to explore the costs and benefits of different responses to global warming. At the same time, we convened a second, equally stellar group of economists, including three Nobel laureates, to examine all of the research and rank the proposals in order of desirability. Cambridge University Press is publishing their research and findings this month, under the title Smart Solutions to Climate Change.

The book includes a chapter by prominent climate economist Richard Tol, who has been a contributing, lead, principal, and convening author for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In his chapter, Tol shows why grand promises of drastic, immediate carbon cuts are such a flawed strategy.