Economists

Economist William Nordhaus , among the best of the breed, is giving a talk entitled Measuring the Economic Effects of Global Warming. It will be presented to the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies (US) in Washington DC on May 10, 3 PM Eastern time. It will be webcast.

Here is a related Policy Forum letter in Science from 2004.

Though I find economists interesting, and I am gratified to see the cost/benefit approach I advocated in the 90s get some traction, I think they are approaching long time scales in a way that is fundamentally wrong.

I have made some progress in identifying and explaining my discomfort with their approach. Here’s a contributing event to my new understanding.

Now that I am living a car-based existence in a sprawly and ugly (albeit strangely lovable) town, I get to listen to NPR again. (By the way NPR has a plethora of climate stories on their website.)

Anyway, All Things Considered had some climate stories a couple of evenings ago. One economist stated “in order to deal with the greenhouse problem, we would have to change the entire economic structure of the world!”

Well, duh. The implication that this means we are doomed escapes me altogether. Economics are software, the control system of our society, not its infrastructure.

Maybe a couple of analogies will give you the idea of what I am thinking.

In order to keep our boiler from exploding we’re going to have to replace the entire thermostat!

In order for our car to get back on the road we’re going to have to replace the entire alternator!

Yeah, and…?

In short, economics should be a branch of engineering, not of science. The pretensions to pure science are confused and counterproductive.

I’ll have more to say on this, so stay tuned.

Update – I just had a look at the WGIII SPM,as I ought to do if I’m going to talk about this stuff. It is much better than I expected.

(The WGII muddle didn’t leave me expecting much, frankly, but I’m pleasantly surprised with WGIII.)