The Economics of Uncertainty in Climate Science Essay

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In 1990 Yale economist William Nordhaus wrote an article entitled “Count Before You Leap” in which he warned of the consequences of doing too much to prevent climate change given the uncertainties regarding both the effects of climate change and the likelihood that these effects would actually occur. Nordhaus advocated careful cost-benefit analysis based on more certain information regarding climate change rather than a knee-jerk reaction to gloomy prophecies about the end of the world as we know it. He argued that very little economic activity in industrialized societies is dependent on the climate and that significant losses to GNP were likely to be incurred in an effort to mitigate climate change at all. In his words, “A vague …show more content…
Current scientific knowledge on climate change already demands that policymakers act now to prevent climate change from progressing beyond what is already “in the pipeline,” and recent studies show we must act now in order have a chance at eventually bringing greenhouse gas levels down below current levels if we want to avoid irreversible catastrophic changes to the Earth’s climate.

According to James Hansen, 1 degree F of warming has already taken place in the past century due to anthropogenic causes, 1 degree F of warming is in the pipeline due to gases in the air from past and present emissions, and 1 degree F of warming is in the pipeline because the existing energy infrastructure will continue to emit CO2 through the extent of its natural lifetime (Why We Can’t Wait, 1). In addition, “Paleoclimate evidence and ongoing global changes imply that today’s CO2, about 385 ppm, is already too high to maintain the climate to which humanity, wildlife, and the rest of the biosphere are adapted” (Hansen, Target Atmospheric CO2, 13). This means that even if emissions were curtailed such that current atmospheric CO2 concentration were maintained, further sea level rise, the extinction of corals and other species, the loss of snowpacks and other freshwater runoff sources, and a pole-ward shift of warming climate would all occur to some extent over time as the
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