Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from Climate Shock (2015) by Gernot Wagner, Lead Senior Economist, Environmental Defense Fund, and Martin L. Weitzman, Professor of Economics, Harvard University. Published here with permission from Princeton University Press.
Do you think climate change is an urgent problem?
Do you think getting the world off fossil fuels is difficult?
If you answered “Yes” to both of these questions, welcome. You’ll nod along, occasionally even cheer, while reading on. You’ll feel reaffirmed.
You are also in the minority. The vast majority of people answer “Yes” to one or the other question, but not both.
If you answered “Yes” only to the first question, you probably think of yourself as a committed environmentalist. You may think climate change is the issue facing society. It’s bad. It’s worse than most of us think. It’s hitting home already, and it will strike us with full force. We should be pulling out all the stops: solar panels, bike lanes, the whole lot.
You’re right, in part. Climate change is an urgent problem. But you’re fooling yourself if you think getting off fossil fuels will be simple. It will be one of the most difficult challenges modern civilization has ever faced, and it will require the most sustained, well-managed, globally cooperative effort the human species has ever mounted.
If you answered “Yes” only to the second question, chances are you don’t think climate change is the defining problem of our generation. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a “skeptic” or “denier” of the underlying scientific evidence; you may still think global warming is worthy of our attention. But realism dictates that we can’t stop life as we know it to mitigate a problem that’ll take decades or centuries to show its full force. Look, some people are suffering right now because of lack of energy. And whatever the United States, Europe or other high emitters do to rein in their energy consumption will be nullified by China, India and the rest catching up with the rich world’s standard of living. You know there are trade-offs. You also know that solar panels and bike lanes alone won’t do.
You, too, are right, but none of that makes climate change any less of a problem. The long lead time for solutions and the complex global web of players are precisely why we must act decisively, today. Read more