Monday, January 24, 2011

Understanding Climatopolis' Bimodal Amazon Book Ratings

Most distributions are not bimodal but people's opinions about my Climatopolis are not normal.  One recent  reviewer who gave it a "1 star" claimed that I over utilize Wikipedia.  I didn't believe this so I just looked at the 210 endnotes to my book and I see that 14 are from Wikipedia.  So, exceeding the 6% rule leads to a death sentence?    Most of these cites were to quirky topics for which I needed access to a fun fact.

Why do some people dig my book while other people just freak out?

Economists are optimistic people.  We are not the dismal science. We celebrate the wonder of free markets to co-ordinate the choices of billions of diverse individuals each pursuing their own conception of the good life.   We are not fatalistic.  We recognize that our choices can have unintended consequences and that we can (ex-post) regret past choices but tomorrow is another day.  We move forward with the new information we have learned and make our best choices going forward giving our conceptions of what we want and what constraints we face in achieving our goals.

We have access to a large number of strategies to protect ourselves against the various risks we face in day to day life.  In the case of climate change, of course it would be wise to reduce our GHG emissions now.  Chapter One of Climatopolis is called "Too Much Gas".  My critics didn't bother to read the title.

Climate Hawks and "Nick Stern" economists (including myself) have failed to convince the public that we should prioritize cutting our GHG emissions.  The starting point of Climatopolis is to be honest about this reality. I expect global GHG concentrations to rise into the mid 21st century. I do believe that improved renewables and carbon mitigation strategies will become cheaper as the century goes on and this will decouple economic growth from GHG production.  But, taking it as given that GHG concentrations will rise and that more and more of the world's people will live in cities, I want to know what happens next?

Where do we build our cities?
How do we build them?
How do we use technology and innovation to protect us against risk?
How will capitalism help us to adapt to the new risks we will face?

These are the core questions I tackle in Climatopolis.

Doom and gloom must offer its proponents a smug chance to "tsk tsk" the rest of us.  They know the pain we will feel.  But, if they know then other entrepreneurs also anticipate the risks that we may face.  The expectation of future pain creates opportunities now.  That's capitalism at work. I believe that our best innovators are good enough and have enough lead time to come up with some strong solutions for our future challenges. If they fail, we can move. Move where?  Over time, we will learn about the likely risks that climate change will pose.  Whether Northern Canada or Detroit or Phoenix is the right place to buy real estate?  Climatopolis offers some conjectures but I know that we will know and we can reoptimize in the future.

Don't bet against capitalism. It will help us to continue to thrive in our hotter future.

1 comment :

Laurent Franckx said...

I am not really sure why you just assume that innovators have enough lead time to come up with solutions, without first discussing incentives. In some fields (e.g. development of new antibiotic drugs), there is barely any innovation taking place, simply because there is misalignment between the incentive drug companies face and the development of antibiotic resistance. The book would have been even better if it has discussed under what circumstances innovation would take place, rather than just assuming it would.