How idealism, expressed in concrete steps, can help

Categories: How To
Published on: March 29, 2015

New York Times / Robert J Shiller / 27 March 2015

Copenhagen cyclistsWhen the problem is an externality, it is, for the most part, futile to ask people to volunteer to fix it — by taking actions like car-pooling or riding a bike to work to cut back on emissions or, in the case of governments, by enacting laws and regulations.

Yes, some individuals with a strong moral compass will take action, and some nations will do so occasionally, but most people and countries will not do so consistently. That’s what the theory says, anyway.

But in a new book, Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet (Princeton 2015), Gernot Wagner of the Environmental Defense Fund and Martin L. Weitzman, a Harvard economist, question that assumption. In a proposal that they call the Copenhagen Theory of Change, they say that we should be asking people to volunteer to save our climate by taking many small, individual actions.

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