Reviewed 3/04/2012

The Global Deal, by Nicholas Stern

Climate-Change and the Creaton of a New Era of Progress and Prosperity
Nicholas Stern
New York: PublicAffairs, April 2009




ISBN-13 978-1-58648-669-3
ISBN-10 1-58648-669-1 248pp. HC/GSI $26.95

Here, at long last, a professional (and professionally competent) economist weighs in with an explanation suitable for a lay audience of why prompt and worldwide action against climate change is both necessary and affordable. And Nicholas Stern is not just another economist; he has for over 40 years conducted field research on the growth of poor communities in Ethiopia, Kenya, and India, with special emphasis to small tea farms in the Indian village of Palanpur. These experiences taught him that "Good policy unleashes entrepreneurship and achievement."1 He has also held senior policy positions at the World Bank and in Britain's government. He is now Chairman of the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, first holder of the I. G. Patel Chair in Economics and Government at the London School of Economics, and Director of the India Observatory.

Lord Stern's varied career has given him other important insights.

"The two greatest problems of our times — overcoming poverty in the developing world and combating climate change — are inextricably linked. Failure to tackle one will undermine efforts to deal with the other: ignoring climate change would result in an increasingly hostile environment for development and poverty reduction, but to try to deal with climate change by shackling growth and development would damage, probably fatally, the cooperation between developed and developing countries that is vital to success. Developing countries cannot 'put development on hold' while they reduce emissions and change technologies. Rich and poor countries have to work together to achieve low-carbon growth; but we can create this growth and it can be strong and sustained. And high-carbon growth will eventually destroy itself. We confuse the issues if we try to create an artificial 'horse race' between development and climate responsibility."

– Page 8

The understanding that ending poverty is not the alternative to mitigating the effects of climate change, but an integral part of it, is hugely important and too seldom appreciated. Some of the other truths Lord Stern elucidates in this book are:

Perhaps most important is his observation that widespread discussion can go a long way to breaking the logjam.

"When it comes to climate change, information and public discussion can have a profound effect on what individuals see as responsible. Who takes part in the discussion is also vital, as notions of responsibility depend on which community we believe ourselves to belong to. In this case, the issue concerns the whole world, now and over the indefinite future, so we need to ensure that discussion is broad and that we think through the involvement of future generations. Young people are central to the discussion; we must all try and incorporate their views and think about the rights and preferences of future generations who cannot directly participate in decisions that will affect them."

– Page 119

Which brings him to the subject of media responsibility.

"The media, newspapers, radio, television, Web and so on have a great responsibility in presenting evidence in a measured and careful way. All too often, however, a desire for theatre or misplaced assessment of the balance of the argument leads them to, for example, give similar time to scientists and deniers of the science, when the balance of the argument in logic and evidence is 99 (or more) to 1, not 50-50. There is also a real difficulty in keeping long-term issues in the public eye."

– Pages 131-2

It will, he warns, be a challenge to communicate the need for action to the general public, in the face of strident and persistent obfuscation. Government has a responsibility to use its bully pulpit; the media have a responsibility to report the truths inherent in the situation; and we as citizens have the responsibility to pay attention to what is being said.2

"For any US administration, overcoming the misperception that policies to reduce emissions will harm the economy, and making convincing arguments that domestic support for change is possible without resorting to trade barriers, is a key challenge. Competitiveness issues affect only a few sectors to any serious degree, although the political voice of these sectors is relatively loud. The voice of potential winners in the private sector, on the other hand, is not being heard loudly enough. A powerful case on the new opportunities for America from strong action on climate change, and addressed directly to his fellow Americans, has been made by Tom Friedman in his book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, which in autumn 2008 was number one on the non-fiction best-seller lists in the US."

– Pages 185-6

Removing that unnecessarily obstructive misperception will require the logic and good economic numbers that the author demonstrates a firm command of here. But ethical imagination and a sense of empathy are also necessary. Anyone reading this book will see that Lord Stern has those qualities; his example is worth emulating. Above all, the resolution will require all of us, especially the doubters, to accept that this new world can be reached without wracking the old one.

"This is a very attractive world and it is not fanciful. It can be built using policies and technologies we broadly understand and can develop and implement. It is a world where we can raise our ambitions for growth, development, and poverty reduction across all nations, but particularly in developing countries. And previous examples of rapid change in investment and technologies show that we can achieve, in the timescale that is necessary, the deep cuts in emissions necessary for a safer planet."

– Page 48

Lord Stern makes his case here in a low-key but persuasive narrative. His arguments are cogent and presented in well-organized fashion, supplemented with charts at appropriate places. There are abundant end notes and a good index. I give the book full marks and rate it a must-read and a keeper, since it is full of statistics that can come in handy in the continuing dispute. There are print and on-line references as well. In addition to these, there is a bibliography with 91 entries.

1 Stern (2009), page 1
2 Fortunately, many of us are bloggers, or can comment on blogs. We can thus participate in the resolution directly.
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