Risky Climate: Conservative climate science

Jay Owen Sustainability News, Earth Systems Science

Bloomberg Green

Conservative climate science

August 6th, 2021

Climate science and economics are inherently conservative, and that may be a factor in Monday’s highly-anticipated IPCC report.



Read the full Risky Climate column at Bloomberg Green.

Scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a global group backed by the United Nations, have spent the past two weeks in meetings to ready their latest assessment of the physical science underpinning past, present, and future  climate change. Expect the IPCC to paint a sobering picture of what is to come. The steep costs of such a world are all too apparent, but tallying them is harder still.

That latter bit is the bread and butter of climate economics: accounting for climate damages in dollars and cents. The Holy Grail is translating those numbers into how much each ton of CO? costs society and, thus, should cost those doing the polluting. It’s important but thankless—more like boring accounting than cutting-edge economics.

Seeing how it takes years to assess the latest science, with 234 authors from all over the world working through more than 14,000 studies, adding economics on top of that implies an even greater lag between the latest observed climatic changes and a full accounting of their impacts.

“I think it’s now clear that economists have underestimated the costs of climate change,” says Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard University. By now there are plenty of broadsides against climate economics: the discipline has “failed us,” the awarding of the first-ever Nobel in climate economics may have done “more harm than good,” and even calls for economics to undergo “a climate revolution.” The discipline does need change, and I should know: I’m a climate economist quoted in one of those broadsides and the co-author of another. Yes, many of these critiques are self-reflective, coming from within.

Criticizing, of course, is easy. Pinpointing the specific reasons for why economists have traditionally underestimated climate costs, and then improving on those shortcomings, is much harder.

Continue reading at Bloomberg Green.

Risky Climate