The economists’ reassurances were closer to hopeful guesses
September 17, 2021 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Benjamin Franta has published an paper about the role economists in think tanks and academia played in global warming denial.
posted by eotvos (4 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
As far as I can tell, economics as practiced today is the art of constructing a tidy little box around the thing you are interested in, then strenuously ignoring everything that happens outside the tidy little box, then saying that whatever happens inside the tidy little box is correct and inevitable and perhaps even righteous, and that perhaps all the things outside of the tidy little box ought to behave the same way. And so on in this way, until we begin to refer to the incineration of the global biosphere as an Externality.
posted by cubeb at 4:27 PM on September 17 [14 favorites]

I have no reason to doubt the bulk of this, such as the discussion of the Charles River work. But conflating that crap with the some cherry-picked lines from a 1983 report written by honest and brilliant academics like Schelling and Nordhaus borders on defamation.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 4:37 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

But conflating that crap with the some cherry-picked lines from a 1983 report written by honest and brilliant academics like Schelling and Nordhaus borders on defamation.

You can download and read the 1983 report (guest registration required, but free download) if you wish.

I don't think there was any conflation. The new paper doesn't suggest that Schelling or Nordhouse were in any way ethically compromised. It's clear from even a quick reading that the 1983 report preceded industry's problematic use of consulting economists in the 1990s.

Rather, what the paper suggests is the following:

(1) Economists were, compared to most scientists, generally skeptical of the benefits of climate action, and

(2) the fossil fuel industry would have been aware of this by the late 80s/early 90s when they decided to hire consultants like Charles River Associates.

In other words, if you wanted to broadcast uncertainty around the need for climate action, hiring economists would have been a no-brainer.

I skimmed the '83 chapter by Schelling, and while it contains some reasonable concepts, overall it's — I'm trying to figure out how to say this. It's difficult for me to express clearly.

There is nothing preventing an honest and brilliant person from coming to a totally wrong conclusion on a matter of extreme importance. This is something he wrote and published. It had consequences. It should be considered when we consider his legacy.

If anyone can comment on the degree to which Schelling's participation in the '83 report influenced William Nierenberg's thinking, I would be interested to learn more. NAS has a bio of Neirenberg that ends almost abruptly around the time he gets into climate change.
posted by compartment at 10:32 PM on September 17 [4 favorites]

It occurs to me reading the title to this post that I have long since stopped thinking of “think tanks” as organizations where any kind of sincere research goes on, like to the extent it surprised me anybody even gives them the benefit of the doubt for their motives and methods anymore. When I see “think tank” my brain just sort of transparently inserts “propaganda mill” instead.
posted by gelfin at 6:35 AM on September 18 [7 favorites]

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