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Climate change economics and discounted utilitarianism

  • Hampicke, Ulrich
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    In the recent debate on climate change economics triggered by the Stern Review and his opponents, fundamental methodological issues emerge. It becomes obvious that different choices for some variables in the models applied lead to vastly different conclusions. Specifically, the choice of the pure time discount rate δ decides on whether immediate strong action (in the Stern Review) or a more moderate response (as in Nordhaus' writings) is the right strategy facing the climate change challenge. This contribution critically comments the use of both δ and η, the elasticity of marginal utility with respect to income, as “adjustment screws” in models of climate economics. Often, the models remain ambiguous as to whether they apply empirical or normative variables; facts and value judgments are not sufficiently distinguished. Furthermore, Discounted Utilitarianism appears to be a questionable fundament for climate change economics. From a non-utilitarian, specifically a Rawlsian point of view, it is pointless to maximize the utility an abstract, eternally-long lived phantasm “humanity” where no human individuals are distinguished. The more persuading position in climate economics is to postulate a duty to do everything in order to avoid serious evil for future generations.

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    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800911003612
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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Ecological Economics.

    Volume (Year): 72 (2011)
    Issue (Month): C ()
    Pages: 45-52

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:72:y:2011:i:c:p:45-52
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/ecolecon

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    1. Richard B. Howarth, 1995. "Sustainability under Uncertainty: A Deontological Approach," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 71(4), pages 417-427.
    2. Ulrich Hampicke, 2003. "The capacity to solve problems as a rationale for intertemporal discounting," International Journal of Sustainable Development, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 6(1), pages 98-116.
    3. Heal, G., 1998. "Valuing the Future: Economic Theory and Sustainability," Papers 98-10, Columbia - Graduate School of Business.
    4. Robert Mendelsohn, 2008. "Is the Stern Review an Economic Analysis?," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 2(1), pages 45-60, Winter.
    5. Howarth, Richard B, 1998. " An Overlapping Generations Model of Climate-Economy Interactions," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 100(3), pages 575-91, September.
    6. Richard B. Howarth, 1997. "Sustainability as Opportunity," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 73(4), pages 569-579.
    7. Dasgupta, Partha, 2005. "What Do Economists Analyze And Why: Values Or Facts?," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 21(02), pages 221-278, October.
    8. Richard B. Howarth, 2003. "Discounting and sustainability: towards reconciliation," International Journal of Sustainable Development, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 6(1), pages 87-97.
    9. Schelling, Thomas C, 1995. "Intergenerational discounting," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(4-5), pages 395-401.
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