Weitzman on Geoengineering

Martin L. Weitzman gave a lecture at the MCC on climate economics.

Weitzman am MCC Foto: Außerhofer


Harvard economics professor Martin L. Weitzman gave a lecture at MCC’s Elinor Ostrom Hall on May 28 entitled “Why is the Economics of Climate Change so Difficult and Controversial?” Weitzman stressed that the seriousness of climate change has yet to be acknowledged by the population on a grassroots level. Indeed, he was partially skeptical that significant progress could be made. “With climate change, the tendency is to defer action until there’s an emergency.”

The main factors contributing to this delay were, according to Weitzman, the extensive period of time which climate change spans, the presence of uncertainties, and intergenerational issues. In addition, he maintained that climate change was difficult to communicate to the general public. “The public hates uncertainty and people want short answers,” said Weitzman. “I sometimes call climate change a ‘problem from hell.’”

In the lecture held before an audience of some 100 people from Germany and abroad, Weitzman urged caution with regard to geoengineering and instead emphasized the advantages of carbon pricing. He acknowledged that the cost of geoengineering was incredibly low, and that this could facilitate the reduction of the Earth’s temperature. However, he warned that the consequences of this new technology are hardly understood and bear great risks.

Weitzman, who is a Senior Fellow at the MCC during his stay in Germany, warned of the human hubris implied by irreversibly changing the planet with yet another technology. “To me, geoengineering is such a scary idea it would make me turn towards another path in regards to climate change,” he said.

Geoengineering is a deliberate and targeted intervention into the Earth’s climate system with the purpose of stabilizing the Earth’s energy balance in order to mitigate global warming. For example, in solar radiation management, one type of geoengineering, sunlight hitting the Earth is diverted back into space, thereby cooling the planet.

Weitzman instead urged pursuing carbon pricing, arguing that economically it makes more sense to tax a bad than a good, like labor. “It’s too good of a solution. We should keep this option on the table,” he said. “If only the rest of the world would agree with us economists...”   

Weitzman is Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Previously, was on the faculties of MIT and Yale. He is a Fellow of the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has published in many leading economics journals, has written two books and has served as a consultant for several prominent organizations. His current research focuses on environmental economics, including climate change, the economics of catastrophes, cost-benefit analysis, long-term discounting, green accounting and the comparison of alternative instruments for controlling pollution.


You may watch the footage of his presentation in the Images/Videos/Audio domain.