Here’s a sentence I never thought possible: There’s an interesting book out about the relationship between climate change, economics and policy. It’s But Will the Planet Notice? How Smart Economics Can Save the World by Gurnot Wagner and it looks at what it’s really going to take to make the planet notice our efforts to save it according to an economist. Wagner discovers that, even though he uses a canvas tote (“smugly,” he admits), doesn’t drive, and has no AC in his one bedroom NYC apartment, the impact of his choices is negligible in the face of 7 billion people’s carbon emissions. Likewise, even though I’m going to keep on recycling and I’ll walk when I don’t have to drive, doing this isn’t going to save the world.
What will it take to make the planet notice? Wagner asked that question, and then he answered it. Nope, the planet won’t notice your your personal efforts to save it. And how can Economics save the world? Short answer: we need international agreement and cap and trade policies, and we need to really pay for the resources we use. Wagner explains the need for policy shifts, and how policy works and doesn’t work. It takes a lot to make complex ideas simple, and that’s what he did. He explains how economics has to be a part of a global solution to climate change, giving examples ranging from lobsters to lightbulbs. Wagner explores the critical nature of climate change, and he’s even funny while he does this.
But Will the Planet Notice? is a book that made me understand more about why we each may want to save the planet by using canvas totes and recycling, and what might just work. We all need to be good citizens of our planet, but this problem is much bigger than any single one of us. He clearly lays out the need for organized international agreements, and for the role of economics in making these policy shifts. There are hidden costs to cheap gasoline and goods; we all pay in the form of added smog and loading to our planet’s climate change burden.
We asked the author a few more questions for On Pasture readers:
On Pasture: What drove you to write But Will the Planet Notice?
Gernot Wagner: The simple search for what moves the needle. Nothing, of course, is ever simple. Climate change is more complex than most every other policy problem. But economics — which is largely what I would call organized common sense — has a lot to say.
OP: Did writing it change your perspective on what you do to help the planet?
GW: People are smart. They know what to do to make the most of what is given to them, provide for their kids, lead a productive life. And even something as seemingly complex as solving climate change has a rather simple solution: set the right incentives, and get out of the way. It’s perhaps the most libertarian of all solutions. It’s also the most economically sensible one. Win-win all around.
OP: Have you had any new thoughts on potential avenues (personal and international) to protect Earth since publishing the book?
GW: Economics has some terrific tools at our disposal. We ought to use them. Yet it’s clearly not everything. Ultimately, the solution comes down to ethics. We need to stop dumping carbon into the atmosphere as if it were a free sewer — not just because it can no longer be free, but because it’s the right thing to do.
OP: Do you have any message you’d like to share with On Pasture readers?
GW: Farmers and ranchers are at the front lines. Everyone who spends his or her days outside knows that things are hitting home. And I’m not talking about the slow but steady rise of global average temperatures that everyone keeps talking about when they talk about global warming. It’s the earlier growing season, the increased droughts, floods, and temperature extremes that are most noticeable. We can do this. But we do, in fact, need to actually take the problem seriously. Washington can’t just sit there and watch. Neither can we as individuals. That means, first and foremost, make sure that politicians take the problem seriously. Without action soon, we’ll be facing ever more extreme weather for decades to come. “Call your Congressman or women” often seems like a trite call to action. But it’s anything but. Those of us with the most at stake from a changing climate ought to scream the hardest.