Sunday, September 30, 2007

Scott Barrett's "Why Cooperate?"

Scott Barrett is Professor of Environmental Economics and International Political Economy, Director of the International Policy program, and Director of the Global Health and Foreign Policy Initiative at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Why Cooperate?: The Incentive to Supply Global Public Goods, and reported the following:
From page 99 of Why Cooperate?:

…There seems to be an inconsistency here.

There need not be. Consider the question I asked before: Is it better to cut emissions today so as to reduce climate change damages experienced by poor countries in the future, or is it better to make other investments that can benefit poor countries today — and, in the bargain, help to insulate them from future climate change? Again, we need to do both, but how should we balance these allocations? A problem with the economic analyses of climate change is that they allow different societies, both within and between generations, to interact only in their choice of emission levels. Investment in, say, R&D for a malaria vaccine should be taken into account as well (Chapter 7). Such investments should be co-determined with the emissions path.

…To sum up, the Stern Review makes it seem as if the choices before us are simple and obvious. They are neither. They depend on more than facts and science. They depend on value judgments. They also depend on the options for investment that are considered. Rather than choose particular values for the parameters noted here, it would be better to reveal the implications of choosing different values. The implications of making alternative investments should also be revealed. Both will have profound social as well as environmental consequences.

Why Cooperate? addresses a number of global challenges, from nuclear proliferation to HIV/AIDS, from oil spills to nuclear fusion experiments, from genocide to polio eradication, from asteroid defense to climate change. Page 99 refers only to this last challenge: climate change.

Page 99 is unlike the rest of the book. It contains a section I inserted after the book was written but before it was published. I hadn’t intended to write this section. I added it at the last moment because of the attention-grabbing Stern Review on the economics of climate change. The Stern Review suggested that the choice about what we should do about climate change was easy. It is not, and I needed to explain why.

Stern says that the present generation should reduce emissions by a lot, now, for the sake of the future even though, by his own calculations, the future is expected to be better off than the present. The ethics of this are questionable. More importantly, Stern’s real ethical concern is with the wellbeing of poor countries, and his analysis rules out the possibility that the rich countries could help the poor except by reducing emissions. Climate change is so fundamental a global problem, however, that it needs to be considered from a development and not only from an environmental perspective. That was the point I was trying to make on page 99.

Page 99 is typical of the other pages in one sense. Throughout the book I make connections that may seem surprising — not only between greenhouse gases and a malaria vaccine but also between drug resistance and over-fishing, between bans on nuclear testing and restrictions on reproductive cloning, between the need both to prevent pandemic flu outbreaks and to secure radioactive materials from terrorists. What links all these cases is the need for international cooperation. Why cooperate? Because our wellbeing, the wellbeing of future generations, and even the fate of the Earth depends on cooperation succeeding.
Read more about Why Cooperate? at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue