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You are one of seven billion people on Earth. Whatever you or I do personally?eat tofu in a Hummer or hamburgers in a Prius?the planet doesn?t notice. In our confrontation with climate change, species preservation, and a planet going off the cliff, it is what several billion people do that makes a difference. The solution? It isn't science, politics, or activism. It's smarter economics.
The hope of mankind, and indeed of every living ...
You are one of seven billion people on Earth. Whatever you or I do personally—eat tofu in a Hummer or hamburgers in a Prius—the planet doesn’t notice. In our confrontation with climate change, species preservation, and a planet going off the cliff, it is what several billion people do that makes a difference. The solution? It isn't science, politics, or activism. It's smarter economics.
The hope of mankind, and indeed of every living thing on the planet, is now in the hands of the dismal science. Fortunately, we’ve been there before. Economists helped crack the acid rain problem in the 1990's (admittedly with a strong assist from a phalanx of lawyers and activists). Economists have helped get lead out of our gas, and they can explain why lobsters haven’t disappeared off the coast of New England but tuna is on the verge of extinction. More disquietingly, they can take the lessons of the financial crisis and model with greater accuracy than anyone else the likelihood of environmental catastrophe, and they can help save us from global warming, if only we let them.
“Wagner’s wry, witty prose brings rationality to an emotionally charged subject and urges us to take personal responsibility for the planet by demanding an economically sound solution to guiding market forces in the right direction, making it in our best interests to do the right thing.” —Publishers Weekly
“If you want to understand how an economist thinks about the biggest challenge our planet has ever stumbled up against, this book is an awfully good place to start!” —Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
“Idealism will not shift the choices of billions of people as effectively as self-interest. Gernot Wagner has written a lucid and enjoyable exposition of the underlying economics. We must remove the incentives to treat scarce resources as if they were free. He respects the moral principles of the idealists who want to change behavior by precept alone. But, as an economist, he knows that if we want less of anything, including pollution, we must raise its price.” —Martin Wolf, Financial Times
“This splendid book showcases why environmental economics is such an exciting field today. Who knew that an economist not named Krugman could write so well? I will buy my mom a copy.” —Matthew E. Kahn, author of Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in Our Hotter Future
“As the earth approaches runaway global warming, Gernot Wagner lays out clearly the moral and economic reasoning we will need to make the tough choices ahead. His intellect is powerful, his style is engaging and humorous. But he is also rigorous and persistent, and he will stay with you until you “get it.” And that’s what we need. He takes the most relevant insights of classical economics, behavioral economics, moral philosophy and even libertarian doctrine and fuses them into a consistent and brilliant analytic construct for thinking about the global environmental threats that face us.” —Peter J. Goldmark, Jr., former chairman and CEO, International Herald Tribune
“Gernot Wagner underscores the ‘eco’ in economics, showing how markets that have lifted millions out of poverty could lift our planet out of peril.” —Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund and author of Earth: The Sequel
“For more than thirty years, I’ve been waiting for a book that would accurately embody an economic perspective on environmental policy and clearly present it to a truly broad readership. At last, Gernot Wagner has done it, and done it with style! His explanations and commentaries are true to the underlying science and economics, and his prose makes this not just a very interesting read, but an immensely enjoyable one. Whether you are on the right or the left of the political spectrum—or stuck in the middle like me—this is a book that you should read, and will be glad you did!” —Robert N. Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School
Let economists rule and the earth be spared.
Environmental economist and debut author Wagner points out that no degree of personal environmental awareness will avert the global-warming chaos humanity now faces. With perhaps as little as a decade left for planet-saving action, it's going to take the combined cool-down actions of several billion people to make a difference. He argues that at this late date only an immediate, economist-driven redirection of market forces will make that happen. Call it cap and trade, new taxes, emission-reducing regulatory policies or outright bans on the worst contaminants, but the goal will only be achieved by putting a true cost on dumping in the atmosphere. The price of further atmospheric insult has to be high enough so that individuals by the billions, corporations and governments will do whatever it takes to avoid paying. Therein lies possible salvation, writes the author, whose light, quasi-witty touch belies the apocalyptic message, one that is hardly his alone. But he doesn't sound like he'll be storming the barricades, and even admits that we still could get lucky due to unforeseen vicissitudes. The population bomb of the 1970s, for example, turned out to be something of a dud, at least in wealthier countries. Wagner also cautions against sweeping environmental actions that turn out to be flawed. Phasing out incandescent light bulbs to save electricity and cut down on power-plant emissions doesn't look so smart, he writes, when we consider that the replacement bulbs, those energy-efficient compact fluorescents, contain environmentally troublesome mercury.
Great plans, but do the economists have an army?
Doing Good 3
1 Cue the Economists 15
2 Doing Nothing 46
3 All-Or-Nothing Conservation 59
4 Fewer Fish, More Dough 79
5 Curious Company Kept 102
6 Mind Versus Matter 125
7 Cars (And Planes) 151
8 Bright Idea 174
9 A Billion Polluters 184
10 Market Morals 205
Fine Print 217
Thank You 243
Posted June 20, 2011
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