Subjects

Gernot Wagner

Coauthor, Climate Shock
Research associate and lecturer at Harvard University

An expert look at the economics of climate change.

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Biography

Gernot Wagner is fiercely engaged with turning the engines of prosperity toward a stable climate. In his words, "High school science tells us that global warming is real. And economics teaches us that humanity must have the right incentives if it is to stop this terrible trend."

"Witty, far-ranging, and literate… always informed by a deep understanding of the complexities of economics."
New York Review of Books on Climate Shock

With his impeccable economic credentials and his informed, impassioned environmental advocacy, Gernot Wagner brings a dynamic new voice to the climate change conversation. Lead Senior Economist at the Environmental Defense Fund and co-author of Climate Shock, he poses the question: "If your financial portfolio had a ten percent chance of suffering a severe loss, you’d reevaluate your assets… We insure our lives against an uncertain future — why not our planet?"

Increasing carbon emissions imperil our climate and escalate the chances of catastrophic weather events — but how does society valuate that risk and put a price on the potential economic consequences of a hotter planet? What are the prescriptives — both institutional and individual — that will ameliorate financial and environmental risk for us all?

For audiences ranging from technologists to the general public, Gernot answers that question, bringing his fresh, lively vision to the issue of climate change and offering economically-sound, actionable solutions to what is arguably the most important issue of our time.

Gernot is a research associate at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, lecturer on Environmental Science and Public Policy, and a fellow at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. He covered economics, energy, and the environment on the editorial board of the Financial Times, and his academic credentials include a master's degree and Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard.

In addition Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet (Princeton University Press), Wagner is the author But Will the Planet Notice? (Hill and Wang/Farrar Strauss & Giroux).

Books

Climate Shock

The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet

Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman

If you had a 10 percent chance of having a fatal car accident, you'd take necessary precautions. If your finances had a 10 percent chance of suffering a severe loss, you'd reevaluate your assets. So if we know the world is warming and there's a 10 percent chance this might eventually lead to a catastrophe beyond anything we could imagine, why aren't we doing more about climate change right now? We insure our lives against an uncertain future — why not our planet?

In Climate Shock, Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman explore in lively, clear terms the likely repercussions of a hotter planet, drawing on and expanding from work previously unavailable to general audiences. They show that the longer we wait to act, the more likely an extreme event will happen. A city might go underwater. A rogue nation might shoot particles into the Earth's atmosphere, geoengineering cooler temperatures. Zeroing in on the unknown extreme risks that may yet dwarf all else, the authors look at how economic forces that make sensible climate policies difficult to enact, make radical would-be fixes like geoengineering all the more probable. What we know about climate change is alarming enough. What we don't know about the extreme risks could be far more dangerous. Wagner and Weitzman help readers understand that we need to think about climate change in the same way that we think about insurance — as a risk management problem, only here on a global scale.

Demonstrating that climate change can and should be dealt with — and what could happen if we don't do so — Climate Shock tackles the defining environmental and public policy issue of our time.

Princeton University Press (22 Feb. 2015)

Review

It's Getting Hot in Herestrategy+business
A New Solution: The Climate ClubThe New York Review of Books
'Climate Shock'Financial Times

Praise

"A remarkable book on climate change, Climate Shock is deeply insightful, challenging, eye-opening, thought-provoking, and sheer fun to read. It will help you to think clearly and incisively about one of the most important issues of our generation."
— Jeffrey Sachs, author of The Price of Civilization


"Climate Shock is a brilliant, clear, rigorous, and to-the-point account of the problem of climate change and what we can and should do about it. The book's approach to risk — which factors in deep uncertainties — is vastly more sophisticated than the standard methods. An outstanding book."
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Antifragile


"The recent financial crisis was largely the result of an economy set up to privatize benefits and socialize costs. The same holds true for the climate crisis. Let's avoid doing to the planet what we did to the economy, and let's begin by taking the economics of climate change seriously. Climate Shock shows conclusively how bad the problem truly is and how we can fix it."
— Van Jones, founder and president of Green for All and author of The Green Collar Economy


"Think climate change is a low-priority problem? Something to put off while we deal with more immediate threats? Then Climate Shock will open your eyes. Leading economists Wagner and Weitzman explain, in simple, understandable terms, why we face an existential threat in human-caused climate change. The authors lay out the case for taking out a planetary insurance policy, without delay, in the form of market mechanisms aimed at keeping carbon emissions below dangerous levels."
— Michael E. Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars


"Cutting through the fog of excuses, obfuscation, and misguided solutions, Climate Shock takes a clear look at the risks and dangers of inaction on climate change. Wagner and Weitzman show the urgent need for fact-based, rational analysis of big environmental challenges so that we can move forward in the quickest and most practical way possible."
— Mark R. Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and author of Nature's Fortune


"Wagner and Weitzman's Climate Shock explores two of the most alarming risks from climate change: unpredictable catastrophes and the all-too-foreseeable human tampering with the environment. They explain how the same political barriers to addressing the problem will leave nations racing to deflect the damage through geoengineering. For anyone interested in the new risk landscape of our changing climate, Climate Shock is a compelling and highly recommended read."
— Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group

"In this clear and engaging exegesis on the risks from global warming, Wagner and Weitzman show that our options for avoiding calamity rapidly narrow toward a few unappetizing possibilities if we don't slash carbon emissions comprehensively and fast."
— Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton University

"Climate Shock fascinates, infuriates, motivates. It's an illuminating guidebook to how the climate debate will unfold over the coming decade. But first and foremost, it's a call to action. Now."
— Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund

"Climate Shock is a clear, well-argued introduction to the economics of climate policy."
— David Keith, author of A Case for Climate Engineering


"Do you want to be challenged and stretched? Climate Shock gives broad perspectives and logical tools that will let you think through the threat of climate change on the level of the best minds on this planet."
— Peter C. Goldmark Jr., former president of the Rockefeller Foundation and former CEO of the International Herald Tribune


"What happens when one of the world's leading economists who thinks seriously about global climate change gets together with one of the world's top writers about matters environmental and economic? Climate Shock. From the first page to the last, this important, new book is both exceptionally interesting and surprisingly fun. Now, that's shocking!"
— Robert N. Stavins, Harvard University

"Climate Shock demolishes the argument made by climate change skeptics for business as usual."
— Ted Steinberg, author of Gotham Unbound


"I cannot think of a better team than Wagner and Weitzman to communicate the risks of inaction on climate change. Their unbiased and informative book Climate Shock dives right into the complexities of the issues and explains them clearly. It provides new and invigorating context for readers."
— Juan Moreno-Cruz, Georgia Institute of Technology

"Climate Shock looks at the key issues in climate change and climate change policy and recommends what actions readers can take to help prevent devastating outcomes. Wagner and Weitzman don't hold back from explaining complicated topics and their arguments are backed by references from the latest scientific and economic literature. This is by far the most engaging presentation of this topic that I have read."
— Kenneth Gillingham, Yale University

"[Climate Shock] is a witty, far-ranging, and literate set of observations…[I]t is always informed by a deep understanding of the complexities of economics and particularly the difficulties of reaching international environmental agreements."
— William D. Nordhaus, New York Review of Books

"'Top 10: Business & Economics' for Spring 2015."
Publishers Weekly

"Economists Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman deliver a high-voltage shock in their analysis of the costs of climate change."
Nature

"[U]seful for policy workers in helping shape dollars-and-cents arguments about the environment and global climate."
Kirkus

"[A]n impressive (and concise) book."
— Diane Coyle, Enlightened Economist

"This informative, convincing, and easily read book offers general audiences the basic case for global climate mitigation."
— Ian Parry, Finance & Development

"This book represents a synthesis of research and offers a clear-headed look at what must be done."
Toronto Star

"Climate Shock is refreshing in many ways: it starts with a pop quiz, reveals the script of a (possible) new James Bond film and gives you the solution to climate change on page 23. That should be enough to entice a broad readership. However, the book's true value lies elsewhere, in the authors' ability to present a complex and multifaceted topic in plain, simple terms. They challenge assumptions and don't shy away from a clear call for action."
— Swenja Surminski, Times Higher Education

"For the intelligent lay reader wanting a lively, lucid assessment of the economic consequences of global warming. . . . [W]ell worth reading."
— Pilita Clark, Financial Times

"[Climate Shock] combines sophisticated analysis with a breezy, informal style….
Foreign Affairs

"[A] sobering wake-up call . . . In my mind, this book should be required reading for any policymaker. The world might actually make some real progress, then."
— Tibi Puiu, ZME Science

"In Wagner and Weitzman's new book, they present a well written analysis of the tradeoffs we collectively face as we unintentionally unleash climate change. They argue that a risk averse person or nation should buy insurance to protect itself — especially when the losses from climate change are ambiguous and fat tail risk could be huge. The book is well argued and I highly recommend it. The economic approach to discussing climate change offers a new prospective relative to the issues that climate scientists focus on."
— Matthew E. Kahn, Green Economics

"[A] welcome new addition to the growing library of depressing but important books about climate change."
— Tom Watson, Real Change News

But Will the Planet Notice?

How Smart Economics Can Save the World

Gernot Wagner

You are one of seven billion people on Earth. Whatever you or I do personally — eat tofu in a Hummer or hamburgers in a Prius — the planet doesn’t notice. In our confrontation with climate change, species preservation, and a planet going off the cliff, it is what several billion people do that makes a difference. The solution? It isn't science, politics, or activism. It's smarter economics.

The hope of mankind, and indeed of every living thing on the planet, is now in the hands of the dismal science. Fortunately, we’ve been there before. Economists helped crack the acid rain problem in the 1990's (admittedly with a strong assist from a phalanx of lawyers and activists). Economists have helped get lead out of our gas, and they can explain why lobsters haven’t disappeared off the coast of New England but tuna is on the verge of extinction. More disquietingly, they can take the lessons of the financial crisis and model with greater accuracy than anyone else the likelihood of environmental catastrophe, and they can help save us from global warming, if only we let them.

Hill & Wang (21 Sept. 2012)

Praise

“It’s always a pleasure to read a confident, funny and convincing writer who promotes counter-intuitive conclusions. If you like the idea of an environmentalist who works for one of the nation’s largest environmental groups making a full-throated argument against the Endangered Species Act . . . then But Will the Planet Notice?: How Smart Economics Can Save the World is the book for you.”
— Dan Shapley, The Daily Green (blog)

“Wagner’s wry, witty prose brings rationality to an emotionally charged subject and urges us to take personal responsibility for the planet by demanding an economically sound solution to guiding market forces in the right direction, making it in our best interests to do the right thing.”
Publishers Weekly

“If you want to understand how an economist thinks about the biggest challenge our planet has ever stumbled up against, this book is an awfully good place to start!”
— Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

“Idealism will not shift the choices of billions of people as effectively as self-interest. Gernot Wagner has written a lucid and enjoyable exposition of the underlying economics. We must remove the incentives to treat scarce resources as if they were free. He respects the moral principles of the idealists who want to change behavior by precept alone. But, as an economist, he knows that if we want less of anything, including pollution, we must raise its price.”
— Martin Wolf, Financial Times

“This splendid book showcases why environmental economics is such an exciting field today. Who knew that an economist not named Krugman could write so well? I will buy my mom a copy.”
— Matthew E. Kahn, author of Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in Our Hotter Future

“As the earth approaches runaway global warming, Gernot Wagner lays out clearly the moral and economic reasoning we will need to make the tough choices ahead. His intellect is powerful, his style is engaging and humorous. But he is also rigorous and persistent, and he will stay with you until you “get it.” And that’s what we need. He takes the most relevant insights of classical economics, behavioral economics, moral philosophy and even libertarian doctrine and fuses them into a consistent and brilliant analytic construct for thinking about the global environmental threats that face us.”
— Peter J. Goldmark, Jr., former chairman and CEO, International Herald Tribune

“Gernot Wagner underscores the ‘eco’ in economics, showing how markets that have lifted millions out of poverty could lift our planet out of peril.”
— Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund and author of Earth: The Sequel

“For more than thirty years, I’ve been waiting for a book that would accurately embody an economic perspective on environmental policy and clearly present it to a truly broad readership. At last, Gernot Wagner has done it, and done it with style! His explanations and commentaries are true to the underlying science and economics, and his prose makes this not just a very interesting read, but an immensely enjoyable one. Whether you are on the right or the left of the political spectrum — or stuck in the middle like me — this is a book that you should read, and will be glad you did!”
— Robert N. Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School

Videos

The economic options for combatting climate change | PBS Newshour

Climate Shock: It's Not Over 'til the Fat Tail Zings

Climate Shock | World Affairs Council