Climate change: Economists agree it’s time for a plan to stop warming

Air pollution enveloped the campus at Anyang Normal University, Henan Province, China. (Credit: V.T. Polywoda/Flickr)

A survey of 365 climate economics experts shows that there is consensus around the need slow climate change because of its long-term negative effects. And they agreed that some sort of carbon-pricing plan is needed to create incentives to reduce emissions and investments in low- or no-carbon energy alternatives.

The Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University surveyed economists who have published peer-reviewed articles in highly ranked journals on climate change. The respondents estimate that climate change will have a negative impact on the global economy starting in 2025. And more than 75 percent see the global economy’s growth slowing over the long term because of climate change.

With consensus around the economic impact, it would stand to reason that climate change would be a major issue during the U.S. presidential election.

But during the primaries, Republicans don’t seem interested. During the Republican debate in New Hampshire over the weekend, candidates were asked to make Super Bowl predictions, but were asked nothing about global warming. Some suggest it may have to do with the fact that the American Petroleum Institute sponsored the debate, but it could boil down to the fact that the most of the remaining candidate deny climate change.

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The candidates who acknowledge climate change have been dropping from the race.

“It’s … not appropriate to think that human activity, putting CO2 into the atmosphere, doesn’t make the Earth warmer,” said former New York Gov. George Pataki during an undercard debate last fall. “It does. It’s uncontroverted.”

Both Pataki and Sen. Lindsey Graham made statements during public debates about the problem of climate change. Neither candidate remains in the race. The only candidate remaining who has acknowledged that there is a problem is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

A recent study showed that 13°C is the ideal average temperature for countries to perform economically well. It happens to be right where countries like the U.S., Japan, France and China are right now. But if that gets warmer, it could pose a problem, according to scientists at Stanford and University of California-Berkeley. At the current rate, 77 percent of the world’s countries would be poorer in 2100 than they would if steps were taken to slow global warming. The countries that would be affected the most also happen to be the poorest.

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There is a way forward. Implementing a market-based system to curb carbon emissions, like a carbon tax or cap and trade system, is an efficient way to solve the problem, according to 81 percent of the climate economists. Given the fact that the U.S. is a major carbon emitter and a global leader, the economists agreed that there is a unique opportunity for the country to enact policies that will not only cut its own emissions but get other countries to follow suit.

Climate scientists and economists are clear, climate change is happening. Despite the overwhelming evidence that climate change is real and will have a negative impact on the world, many Americans still do not think it is a problem. A survey of Americans by Yale and George Mason University found that only 63 percent of Americans think climate change is happening. Barely more than half think it is the result of human activity.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.