I was listening to a podcast interview with Steve Keen, whose work I’ve written about before. It was about his paper the appallingly bad neoclassical economics of climate change. I have a lot of sympathy with what he’s presenting. Some of the assumptions being made by economists in this context seem rather odd, and I’ve been critical of Integrated Assessment models (IAMs) myself.
I also make an appearance in the podcast, as an example of a scientist who is too deferential towards neoclassical economists. I don’t know if deferential is quite the right word (some of you may recall interactions I’ve had with a prominent climate economist), but I see what they mean and they do have a point. The point being made in the podcast is that some of the assumptions made in the neoclassical economics of climate change are so obviously nonsensical that they really should be being called out by scientists.
I agree that many of the assumptions seem odd. Economic growth is often assumed to be baked in. The damage estimates for high levels of warming seem ridiculously low. However, I’m also aware that it’s easy to look at some problem outside your area of expertise, think you’ve seen some obvious glaring error, and be wrong. Retired engineers are sometimes noted for this when it comes to climate change.
Also if you think it’s important to listen to experts, then you’d need to then have pretty strong reasons for arguing that we should ignore some of them. So, I am indeed reluctant to vocally call out neoclassical economists who work on climate change, mostly because there may well be (certainly are) aspects that I don’t understand, but partly because I do think expertise matters.
The suggestion was also not just that some scientists were too deferential, but that they should really be pushing back strongly against what is being presented by neoclassical economists.
I don’t really see why this should be the responsibility of scientists. I certainly think that it’s utterly bonkers that we could end up warming the climate (this century) by an amount comparable to the difference between a glacial and an inter-glacial, but I don’t have a good way to quantify the societal, and ecological, impact. It just seems obviously a silly thing to do.
I think scientists have done a great job of highlighting the risks. If others are still buying low-ball estimates from neoclassical economists, I don’t think this is the fault of scientists. I’m not suggesting scientists shouldn’t continue to highlight, and stress, these risks, but I don’t think they should be expected to sort out failings in another discipline. Feel free to disagree in the comments, though 🙂