Shock tactics

by Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman is an impressive (and concise) book. It recognises that it’s a minority view that governments need to take significant steps now to reduce GHG emissions, as even people who are not climate change denialists would rather not have to bother with doing all that much about it. So the book aims to do two things: explain clearly the risks of the economic (and social) impacts if climate change is as bad as all the scientists expect; and persuade people that insurance against those risks is quite a good idea.

[amazon_image id=”0691159475″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet[/amazon_image]

It’s actually a very sobering read. A one in ten chance of “catastrophic” sea level rise, anyone. And as the authors point out, “What we know is bad, what we don’t know is worse.” Having said that, the book tries to end on an upbeat note. We can make personal changes such as cycling more or recycling more. Better still, we have power as consumers and citizens to get businesses to do an environmental audit of their supply chains and start to de-carbonise them, and to get governments to take bolder decisions: yes, the price of energy will have to rise, to incentivise “green” technological innovation. Those of us who live in democracies will get what we deserve, so if you care, campaign and debate, the book says. It sums up the advised actions as : scream, cope and profit. Make sure businesses you buy from and politicians you might vote for know your views. Don’t build your house on a flood plain or by the ocean. And invest in businesses and innovations tackling the problem because it will prove financially beneficial.

Chapters in the book look at economic aspects of the problem of reducing emissions, including free riding, and co-ordination issues. It discuses financial aspects of changing energy technologies, and prospects of innovations such as geoengineering. Above all, the book explains the risks and the range of potential impacts associated with them. It gives very clear explanations of the economic issues – very useful for students as well as general readers.

The sense of urgency is palpable in the writing: “The debate around whether to act should be over. To some extent even the debate around how to act is over. … The ultimate goal is clear: for governments to set a mandatory price on carbon pollution. … Dare we say that anyone who pretends otherwise is wilfully blind?” There are those wilfully blind people around, of course. And hence the book goes on to what the clearer-minded people can do about insuring against the consequences of the risks posed by climate change. So now you know.