Arnold Kling

Solow on Environmentalism

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
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Nobel laureate Robert Solow talks about his disputes with environmentalist doomsayers.

The one thing that really annoys me is amateurs making absurd statements about economics...doing amateur dynamics without a license, without a proper qualification. And they were doing it badly, so I got steamed up about that.

On the policy issue posed by global warming, Solow says

how do we deal with the poorer parts of the world? ...How are we going to tell them we developed economically by burning fossil fuels at a tremendous rate, by partially depleting reserves and by polluting the atmosphere, but then tell them not to?

The obvious case is China, which sits on a vast pile of coal. If they burn it and get to be an economy of a billion people living at a modern standard of living, then we really are in for a problem.

What do we do instead? Technology has to be the main part of the solution...

we should try to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of our own technology and then be able to offer that technology to other people. Whether that can be done in time to make a big difference I don't know, but I see no reason to think it can't.

Discussion Question. Do you agree with Solow that better Western technology, transferred to poorer countries, represents the best solution for global warming?

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