If you had a 10 percent chance of having a fatal car accident, you'd take necessary precautions. If your finances had a 10 percent chance of suffering a severe loss, you'd reevaluate your assets. So if we know the world is warming and there's a 10 percent chance this might eventually lead to a catastrophe beyond anything we could imagine, why aren't we doing more about climate change right now? We insure our lives against an uncertain future – why not our planet?
In Climate Shock, Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman explore in lively, clear terms the likely repercussions of a hotter planet, drawing on and expanding from work previously unavailable to general audiences. They show that the longer we wait to act, the more likely an extreme event will happen. A city might go underwater. A rogue nation might shoot particles into the Earth's atmosphere, geoengineering cooler temperatures. Zeroing in on the unknown extreme risks that may yet dwarf all else, the authors look at how economic forces that make sensible climate policies difficult to enact, make radical would-be fixes like geoengineering all the more probable. What we know about climate change is alarming enough. What we don't know about the extreme risks could be far more dangerous.
Wagner and Weitzman help readers understand that we need to think about climate change in the same way that we think about insurance – as a risk management problem, only here on a global scale. Demonstrating that climate change can and should be dealt with – and what could happen if we don't do so – Climate Shock tackles the defining environmental and public policy issue of our time.
Preface: Pop Quiz ix
Chapter 1. 911 1
Chapter 2. 411 30
Chapter 3. Fat Tails 48
Chapter 4. Willful Blindness 80
Chapter 5. Bailing Out the Planet 92
Chapter 6. 007 116
Chapter 7. What You Can Do 128
Epilogue: A Different Kind of Optimism 148
Gernot Wagner is lead senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund. He is the author of But Will the Planet Notice? (Hill & Wang).
Martin L. Weitzman is professor of economics at Harvard University. His books include Income, Wealth, and the Maximum Principle.
"A remarkable book on climate change, Climate Shock is deeply insightful, challenging, eye-opening, thought-provoking, and sheer fun to read. It will help you to think clearly and incisively about one of the most important issues of our generation."
– Jeffrey Sachs, author of The Price of Civilization
"Climate Shock is a brilliant, clear, rigorous, and to-the-point account of the problem of climate change and what we can and should do about it. The book's approach to risk – which factors in deep uncertainties – is vastly more sophisticated than the standard methods. An outstanding book."
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Antifragile
"The recent financial crisis was largely the result of an economy set up to privatize benefits and socialize costs. The same holds true for the climate crisis. Let's avoid doing to the planet what we did to the economy, and let's begin by taking the economics of climate change seriously. Climate Shock shows conclusively how bad the problem truly is and how we can fix it."
– Van Jones, founder and president of Green for All and author of The Green Collar Economy
"Think climate change is a low-priority problem? Something to put off while we deal with more immediate threats? Then Climate Shock will open your eyes. Leading economists Wagner and Weitzman explain, in simple, understandable terms, why we face an existential threat in human-caused climate change. The authors lay out the case for taking out a planetary insurance policy, without delay, in the form of market mechanisms aimed at keeping carbon emissions below dangerous levels."
– Michael E. Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars
"Cutting through the fog of excuses, obfuscation, and misguided solutions, Climate Shock takes a clear look at the risks and dangers of inaction on climate change. Wagner and Weitzman show the urgent need for fact-based, rational analysis of big environmental challenges so that we can move forward in the quickest and most practical way possible."
– Mark R. Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and author of Nature's Fortune
"Wagner and Weitzman's Climate Shock explores two of the most alarming risks from climate change: unpredictable catastrophes and the all-too-foreseeable human tampering with the environment. They explain how the same political barriers to addressing the problem will leave nations racing to deflect the damage through geoengineering. For anyone interested in the new risk landscape of our changing climate, Climate Shock is a compelling and highly recommended read."
– Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group
"In this clear and engaging exegesis on the risks from global warming, Wagner and Weitzman show that our options for avoiding calamity rapidly narrow toward a few unappetizing possibilities if we don't slash carbon emissions comprehensively and fast."
– Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton University
"Climate Shock fascinates, infuriates, motivates. It's an illuminating guidebook to how the climate debate will unfold over the coming decade. But first and foremost, it's a call to action. Now."
– Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund
"Climate Shock is a clear, well-argued introduction to the economics of climate policy."
– David Keith, author of A Case for Climate Engineering
"Do you want to be challenged and stretched? Climate Shock gives broad perspectives and logical tools that will let you think through the threat of climate change on the level of the best minds on this planet."
– Peter C. Goldmark Jr., former president of the Rockefeller Foundation and former CEO of the International Herald Tribune
"What happens when one of the world's leading economists who thinks seriously about global climate change gets together with one of the world's top writers about matters environmental and economic? Climate Shock. From the first page to the last, this important, new book is both exceptionally interesting and surprisingly fun. Now, that's shocking!"
– Robert N. Stavins, Harvard University
"Climate Shock demolishes the argument made by climate change skeptics for business as usual."
– Ted Steinberg, author of Gotham Unbound
"I cannot think of a better team than Wagner and Weitzman to communicate the risks of inaction on climate change. Their unbiased and informative book Climate Shock dives right into the complexities of the issues and explains them clearly. It provides new and invigorating context for readers."
– Juan Moreno-Cruz, Georgia Institute of Technology
"Climate Shock looks at the key issues in climate change and climate change policy and recommends what actions readers can take to help prevent devastating outcomes. Wagner and Weitzman don't hold back from explaining complicated topics and their arguments are backed by references from the latest scientific and economic literature. This is by far the most engaging presentation of this topic that I have read."
– Kenneth Gillingham, Yale University