Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Thomas Schelling on Climate Change

. Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Conor Clarke interviews the old master of game theory and Nobel Prize winner. Part one here. Part two here. Some excerpts:

I think they ought to drop the idea that there are going to be enforceable commitments. There have never been enforceable commitments on anything of that magnitude. And I think they should try to negotiate not what emissions level they will seek in 20 or 50 years, but what they will actually DO. And when they've arrive at what looks like an understanding they hold a big conference and publicize it. If they can't quite reach an agreement among themselves, then they might see they if they can get the heads of state to come together. But I don't think this kind of work is being done right now. ...

I don't worry much about enforcement. I think that if the major countries reach an agreement they'll do their best to do what they said they would do. But if you say what you're going to do is get emissions down by 15% in 20 years, none of them knows what that means. That's not a commitment to something they're going to do; that's a commitment to some vague aspirational goal or something. ...

So if we can double our GDP in the next 70 or 80 years, even if we lose some of our GDP from climate change -- even if we lose 10% of our GDP from climate change -- we're still ahead so much that the effect of climate change wouldn't be noticed. But it would be pretty disastrous in a lot of the less developed parts of the world. And that's why I think it's crucially important not to demand anything of China, India and so forth that will significantly impede their economic progress. ...

[T]he developed countries -- the OECD or something like that, plus Japan -- if they are really serious, they'll tell India and China and Brazil, "we're going to provide enormous assistance to help reduce your dependence on fossil fuels. And we don't expect you to pay for it yourselves. We will pay for it because we're rich and you're not."


The whole thing is worth reading, of course. At different points Schelling advocates scaring the bejeezus out of citizens of the rich world (using "exaggerations" if necessary), more pollution in the developing world, and considers the irrational morality of helping future generations in China and India at the expense of present generations of Americans.

UPDATE: Wilkinson comments.

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Thomas Schelling on Climate Change
 
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