NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

THE ETHICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

June 16, 2008

Weighing our own prosperity against the chances that climate change will diminish the well-being of our grandchildren calls on economists to make difficult ethical judgments, says John Broome is White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College.

Consider:

  • Future generations will suffer most of the harmful effects of global climate change.
  • However, if the world economy grows, they will be richer than we are.
  • Economists cannot avoid making ethical choices in formulating their advice.

Two controversial reports about the costs of climate change reached dramatically different conclusions:

  • A recent report by economist Nicholas Stern and his colleagues at the U.K. Treasury concluded that the benefit that would be gained by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases would be far greater than the cost of reducing them.
  • Stern's discount rate of 1.4 percent found that $1 trillion in today's dollars would be worth $247 billion in 100 years; he concluded the world needs to begin investing 1 percent of total production, or $500 billion, on efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

However:

  • A contradictory report by economist William Nordhouse of Yale University (which reached its conclusion by using a different discount rate that placed less value on the well-being of future generations) did not find sufficient evidence to justify the costs of greatly reducing greenhouse gases.
  • Nordhouse's discount rate of 6 percent found that $1 trillion in today's dollars would be worth $2.5 billion in 100 years, which is not enough to justify the costs of reducing greenhouse gases.

Weighing our own prosperity against the chances that climate change will diminish the well-being of our grandchildren calls on economists to make hard ethical judgments, says Broome.

Source: John Broome, "The Ethics of Climate Change," Scientific American, June 2008.

For text:

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-ethics-of-climate-change 

 

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