Concluding Comments

Two points should be made in conclusion. First, at the start of this chapter, I argued for trying to identify an optimal temperature for the Earth, or the optimal degree of global warming, but the following discussion dealt with how we might more effectively address the problem of global warming. While I believe that our efforts at dealing with global warming would be more persuasive and effective if we knew more about our objective function — the most desirable position to occupy — that is no reason to wait for more evidence on that function. Many of the changes and much of the knowledge that we need to bring about to address the problem will come about only with the passage of time. The direction in which we need to move is, however, not in significant doubt. We need to begin moving in the proper direction in the near future.

Second, economic policy does not necessarily have to be first-best (i.e., most efficient) in order for us to make progress in attaining our goals. There are many policies that if reformed would move us closer to some global optimum. An important example is the commodity programs in the United States and European Union. A reduction in the subsidies provided through these programs can have a substantial effect in reducing greenhouse gases. If political support can be mobilized for moving toward reform, that is sufficient reason for moving in that direction even if we do not know yet what the optimum would be. Delays aimed at having more complete information impose their own costs and make future reversal of undesirable dynamics more difficult. Given what we already know, the benefits in terms of slowing and attenuating global warming should be significant.

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