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On Modeling and Interpreting the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change

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  • Martin L. Weitzman

    (Department of Economics, Harvard University)

Abstract

With climate change as prototype example, this paper analyzes the implications of structural uncertainty for the economics of low-probability, high-impact catastrophes. Even when updated by Bayesian learning, uncertain structural parameters induce a critical "tail fattening" of posterior-predictive distributions. Such fattened tails have strong implications for situations, like climate change, where a catastrophe is theoretically possible because prior knowledge cannot place sufficiently narrow bounds on overall damages. This paper shows that the economic consequences of fat-tailed structural uncertainty (along with unsureness about high-temperature damages) can readily outweigh the effects of discounting in climate-change policy analysis. Copyright by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin L. Weitzman, 2009. "On Modeling and Interpreting the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 1-19, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:restat:v:91:y:2009:i:1:p:1-19
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    1. Robert E. Hall & Charles I. Jones, 2007. "The Value of Life and the Rise in Health Spending," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(1), pages 39-72.
    2. Bellavance, Franois & Dionne, Georges & Lebeau, Martin, 2009. "The value of a statistical life: A meta-analysis with a mixed effects regression model," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(2), pages 444-464, March.
    3. Richard S.J. Tol, 2000. "Is the Uncertainty about Climate Change Too Large for Expected Cost-Benefit Analysis?," Working Papers FNU-3, Research unit Sustainability and Global Change, Hamburg University, revised Sep 2000.
    4. Scott Barrett, 2008. "The Incredible Economics of Geoengineering," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 39(1), pages 45-54, January.
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