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Should we sustain? And if so, sustain what? Consumption or the quality of life?

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  • Humberto Llavador
  • John E. Roemer
  • Joaquim Silvestre

    (Department of Economics, University of California Davis)

Abstract

Sustainability has been largely replaced by discounted utilitarianism in contemporary climate-change economics. Our approach rejuvenates sustainability by expanding the conception of the quality of life, along the lines of the UN Human Development Reports, to include not only consumption, but also education, leisure, the stock of knowledge and the quality of the biosphere. We report on our results showing that the quality of life can be sustained forever at levels higher than present levels, while reducing GHG emissions to converge to carbon concentrations of 450 ppm. Here we repeat our optimization but substituting consumption for the quality of life. Our sustainability results carry over. As it should be expected, optimal consumption is higher when the objective is consumption rather than the quality of life, but not by much (7% higher). On the other hand, the stock of knowledge is twice as large, and education is four times as large. So if the ?true? social welfare index were consumption, a planner who ?mistakenly? maximized the quality of life would be making a relatively small error. But the converse error would be large. If the quality of life provides an appropriate welfare index, but the public policy aims at maximizing consumption, the quality of life would be reduced by 60%. The expansion of the concept of welfare beyond consumption renders possible responding to the climate-change challenge by moving away from energy-intensive commodities and towards less intensive ones, like knowledge, education, and leisure.

Suggested Citation

  • Humberto Llavador & John E. Roemer & Joaquim Silvestre, 2012. "Should we sustain? And if so, sustain what? Consumption or the quality of life?," Working Papers 1222, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:cda:wpaper:12-22
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    Keywords

    Sustainability; climate change; growth; GHG; CO2 emissions; quality of life; education; knowledge.;

    JEL classification:

    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D90 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - General
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming
    • Q55 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Technological Innovation
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • Q58 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Government Policy

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