Why Are We Waiting? Because Nobody Is Listening To Nick Stern

  • Date: 02/09/15
  • Ruth Dixon, My Garden Pond blog

Nicholas Stern’s book is not reliable on either science or policy. In the end, the book’s main weakness is its failure to answer the question ‘Why Are We Waiting?

Earlier this year I was invited to review Nicholas Stern’s new book, Why Are We Waiting? The Logic, Urgency, and Promise of Tackling Climate Change (MIT Press, 2015), for the Journal of Economic Psychology.

The published version of my book review can be viewed for free until mid-October 2015, and a manuscript version is here.

In Why Are We Waiting? (a follow-up to his well known Review of 2006), Nicholas Stern assembles scientific, moral and economic arguments that rapid and radical reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are needed to limit global warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures, and wonders why progress is so slow.

Stern book cover

In my review, as I summarise in this post, I criticise Stern’s book for selective use of evidence, over-optimism regarding the co-benefits of climate policy (for instance for public health), and no discussion of the risks of climate policy (as opposed to the risks of climate change itself).

Stern’s book is not reliable on either science or policy. For example, there is no evidence that methane emissions from permafrost are ‘accelerating’ (p.12), and ‘wet-bulb’ temperature is below ‘dry-bulb’ temperature (and not above, as stated on p.137). And on policy solutions, small-scale solar photovoltaic systems will not readily replace biomass for cooking as Stern implies on p.79. I found many examples of such questionable assertions, some of which I discuss in my review, and which I plan to list in more detail in the future.

I hoped for a clear exposition of the economic costs and benefits of CO2 mitigation, but Stern simply asserts that the costs will be far less than the benefits, telling us: “I have not tried to redo the calculation [in the 2006 Review]… But the arguments given thus far in this book suggest the relative-cost argument would tilt still more strongly in favour of action now than [in 2006]” (pp.39-40). In Chapter 4 Stern tells us that current economic models of climate impacts are not alarming enough.

But in the end, the book’s main weakness is its failure to answer the question ‘Why Are We Waiting?

Full review

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