Changing Climate, Changing Economy

Changing Climate, Changing Economy

The Cournot Centre series

Edited by Jean-Philippe Touffut

How did climate change become an economic issue? Why is economic discourse so influential on the public policy of climate change? How can it best contribute to the scientific and public debates? Nine eminent scholars explain in this book both how economics has changed environmental understanding and how the study of climate change has modified the economy.

Chapter 1: Climate Change: A Bundle of Uncertainties

Thomas Schelling

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, environmental economics


Thomas Schelling This chapter is concerned with uncertainty, but let me begin with some of the certainties. If this were an American audience, I would have to explain that the concept of greenhouse gases may be, as my President used to say, ‘merely a theory’, but then so is gravity merely a theory. Nobody understands gravity, but it is pretty well established that things are attracted to Earth if you let go of them. If you shine some infrared light through a glass chamber full of carbon dioxide, less light comes out than went in, because certain wavelengths in the infrared part of the spectrum are intercepted by carbon dioxide molecules. If you compare the difference between the light going in on one side and the light coming out on the other, it correlates with the rise in temperature of the gas that has intercepted the infrared radiation. That has been known for 100 years – the basic idea that so-called ‘greenhouse gases’ – carbon dioxide in particular – will absorb or intercept infrared radiation. The Earth gets bathed in sunlight during the daytime, and it must get rid of that energy to avoid global warming. It gets rid of it in the form of infrared radiation. Therefore, what keeps the temperature of the atmosphere in balance is the ability of the Earth to get rid of the excess energy that comes in during the daytime. It has been understood for decades that the planet Mars, lacking any greenhouse gases, is too cold...

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