Calculating the incalculable

July 9, 2015

To help to inform discussions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year, Mark Freeman and Ben Groom surveyed 200 international experts and “asked them how much governments should be prepared to invest today if this spending would ensure that society avoids £1 million of climate change damages a century from now” (“Too many academics spoil the policy?”, 30 June).

It is the wrong question, very poorly thought out. Studies of past climates suggest that, once change has started, if left unchecked, it is likely that entire sections of the world will become inhospitable to humans (whether because of permanent drought or rise in sea levels). Thus, one cannot put a single cost on such a catastrophic event – the expense of accommodating thousands of millions of refugees alone is incalculable. Then there is the cost of chronic regional conflicts, which cannot be estimated simply like the office budget.

As so often, the problem with the question is that the economists who framed it have not fully grasped the nature and scale of the challenge.

Cormac O’Raifeartaigh
Via timeshighereducation.co.uk

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