IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Responding to Threats of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes


  • Kousky, Carolyn

    () (Resources for the Future)

  • Rostapshova, Olga
  • Toman, Michael
  • Zeckhauser, Richard


There is a low but uncertain probability that climate change could trigger “mega-catastrophes,” severe and at least partly irreversible adverse effects across broad regions. This paper first discusses the state of current knowledge and the defining characteristics of potential climate change mega-catastrophes. While some of these characteristics present difficulties for using standard rational choice methods to evaluate response options, there is still a need to balance the benefits and costs of different possible responses with appropriate attention to the uncertainties. To that end, we present a qualitative analysis of three options for mitigating the risk of climate mega-catastrophes—drastic abatement of greenhouse gas missions, development and implementation of geoengineering, and large-scale ex ante adaptation— against the criteria of efficacy, cost, robustness, and flexibility. We discuss the composition of a sound portfolio of initial investments in reducing the risk of climate change mega-catastrophes.

Suggested Citation

  • Kousky, Carolyn & Rostapshova, Olga & Toman, Michael & Zeckhauser, Richard, 2009. "Responding to Threats of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes," Discussion Papers dp-09-45, Resources For the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-09-45

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Thomas Sterner & U. Martin Persson, 2008. "An Even Sterner Review: Introducing Relative Prices into the Discounting Debate," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 2(1), pages 61-76, Winter.
    2. Lawrence Summers & Richard Zeckhauser, 2008. "Policymaking for posterity," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 115-140, December.
    3. Kjell Arne Brekke & Olof Johansson-Stenman, 2008. "The behavioural economics of climate change," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 24(2), pages 280-297, Summer.
    4. Dasgupta, Susmita & Laplante, Benoit & Meisner, Craig & Wheeler, David & Jianping Yan, 2007. "The impact of sea level rise on developing countries : a comparative analysis," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4136, The World Bank.
    5. Richard S. J. Tol & Maria Bohn & Thomas E. Downing & Marie-Laure Guillerminet & Eva Hizsnyik & Roger Kasperson & Kate Lonsdale & Claire Mays & Robert J. Nicholls & Alexander A. Olsthoorn & Gabriele Pf, 2006. "Adaptation to Five Metres of Sea Level Rise," Journal of Risk Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(5), pages 467-482, July.
    6. Richard Zeckhauser (ed.), 1991. "Strategy and Choice," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262240335, July.
    7. Klaus Keller & Kelvin Tan & Francois M.M. Morel & David F. Bradford, 1999. "Preserving the Ocean Circulation: Implications for Climate Policy," CESifo Working Paper Series 199, CESifo Group Munich.
    8. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    9. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. "Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
    10. Kousky, Carolyn & Cooke, Roger, 2009. "Climate Change and Risk Management: Challenges for Insurance, Adaptation, and Loss Estimation," Discussion Papers dp-09-03-rev, Resources For the Future.
    11. van den Bergh, Jeroen C. J. M., 2004. "Optimal climate policy is a utopia: from quantitative to qualitative cost-benefit analysis," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 385-393, April.
    12. Colin F. Camerer & Howard Kunreuther, 1989. "Decision processes for low probability events: Policy implications," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 8(4), pages 565-592.
    13. 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.
    14. William D. Nordhaus, 2007. "A Review of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(3), pages 686-702, September.
    15. Martin L. Weitzman, 2007. "A Review of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(3), pages 703-724, September.
    16. Cass Sunstein & Richard Zeckhauser, 2011. "Overreaction to Fearsome Risks," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 48(3), pages 435-449, March.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Toman Michael, 2014. "The need for multiple types of information to inform climate change assessment," Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, De Gruyter, vol. 5(3), pages 469-485, December.
    2. Baptiste Perrissin Fabert & Etienne Espagne & Antonin Pottier & Patrice Dumas, 2012. "The “Doomsday” Effect in Climate Policies. Why is the Present Decade so Crucial to Tackling the Climate Challenge?," Working Papers 2012.62, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
    3. Güssow, Kerstin & Proelss, Alexander & Oschlies, Andreas & Rehdanz, Katrin & Rickels, Wilfried, 2010. "Ocean iron fertilization: Why further research is needed," Marine Policy, Elsevier, vol. 34(5), pages 911-918, September.
    4. Ian W. R. Martin & Robert S. Pindyck, 2015. "Averting Catastrophes: The Strange Economics of Scylla and Charybdis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(10), pages 2947-2985, October.
    5. Dovern, Jonas & Harnisch, Sebastian & Klepper, Gernot & Platt, Ulrich & Oschlies, Andreas & Rickels, Wilfried, 2015. "Radiation Management: Gezielte Beeinflussung des globalen Strahlungshaushalts zur Kontrolle des anthropogenen Klimawandels," Kiel Discussion Papers 549/550, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
    6. repec:wsi:ccexxx:v:06:y:2015:i:02:n:s2010007815500098 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Benjamin Jones & Michael Keen & Jon Strand, 2013. "Fiscal implications of climate change," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 20(1), pages 29-70, February.
    8. Gary D. Libecap & Richard H. Steckel, 2011. "Climate Change: Adaptations in Historical Perspective," NBER Chapters,in: The Economics of Climate Change: Adaptations Past and Present, pages 1-22 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Olivier STERCK, 2011. "Geoengineering as an alternative to mitigation: specification and dynamic implications," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 2011035, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
    10. Rickels, Wilfried & Rehdanz, Katrin & Oschlies, Andreas, 2012. "Economic prospects of ocean iron fertilization in an international carbon market," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 129-150.
    11. Rickels, Wilfried & Rehdanz, Katrin & Oschlies, Andreas, 2009. "Accounting aspects of ocean iron fertilization," Kiel Working Papers 1572, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).

    More about this item


    climate change; catastrophe; risk; decisionmaking under uncertainty;

    JEL classification:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-09-45. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Webmaster). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.