He’s Given Us the Roadmap to Avoid Disaster

Economist William Nordhaus’s theories, if adopted, could slow the carbon emissions that are accelerating climate change

William_Nordhaus_1200.jpg
Yale’s William Nordhaus speaks at a press conference at his university after winning the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, which he shared with NYU’s Paul Romer. (Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

On October 8, 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report predicting that, unless the nations of the world take major steps immediately, climate change will transform the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

Nordhaus, a professor at Yale since 1967 and a 2016 Andrew Carnegie fellow, has been described as the inventor of the modern economics of climate change. He has also devised and advocated for a carbon tax as a means to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.

 

That same day, William Nordhaus of Yale University, along with Paul Romer of NYU, won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences or, as it is better known, the Nobel Prize in Economics. Though the timing of the two events may have been coincidental, they are inextricably linked.

Nordhaus, a professor at Yale since 1967 and a 2016 Andrew Carnegie fellow, has been described as the inventor of the modern economics of climate change. He has also devised and advocated for a carbon tax as a means to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.

Nordhaus has said he became sensitive to the fragility of the environment as a boy growing up in New Mexico. His academic interest in climate change dates back to 1970, when according to the Nobel citation, he “keenly studied the emerging evidence on global warming and its likely causes, and concluded that he had to do something.”

By the end of the century, Nordhaus and collaborators had devised two models aimed at tracking the interrelation between the economy and climate. His model led to his advocacy of a global system of carbon taxes which, he believes, would be a more efficient and effective way to limit carbon emissions than direct government controls.

Nordhaus continues to update his models. His Carnegie project is part of that ongoing project, and since receiving the fellowship he has published a paper incorporating his latest findings.

Meanwhile, as the world grapples with extreme weather, rising water levels, wildfires, and food shortages, many see Nordhaus’s work as a roadmap for avoiding disaster. According to a New York Times profile of Nordhaus following the Nobel Prize announcement, the United Nations report heralded his “ideas as essential for slowing the carbon dioxide emissions that are rapidly warming the atmosphere.” The profile concluded, “The world is becoming a laboratory for theories that Professor Nordhaus developed decades ago, when global warming was an abstract future threat.”