China and the Stern Review on Climate

The New York Review of Books ran a review June 12 of two books on climate change. It contains the following assessment of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.

Not having read up on the Stern Review, the work of Lord Stern of Brentford for the U.K. government, I don’t know if this description is perfectly accurate, but it is interesting, at least.

The practical consequence of the Stern policy would be to slow down the economic growth of China now in order to reduce damage from climate change a hundred years later. Several generations of Chinese citizens would be impoverished to make their descendants only slightly richer. According to Nordhaus, the slowing-down of growth would in the end be far more costly to China than the climatic damage. About the much-discussed possibility of catastrophic effects before the end of the century from rising sea levels, he says only that “climate change is unlikely to be catastrophic in the near term, but it has the potential for serious damages in the long run.” The Chinese government firmly rejects the Stern philosophy, while the British government enthusiastically embraces it. The Stern Review, according to Nordhaus, “takes the lofty vantage point of the world social planner, perhaps stoking the dying embers of the British Empire.”

Read the full review if you have a chance. It takes on several interesting questions among the two books. It also throws in this insight:

This means that the average lifetime of a molecule of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, before it is captured by vegetation and afterward released, is about twelve years. This fact, that the exchange of carbon between atmosphere and vegetation is rapid, is of fundamental importance to the long-range future of global warming

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