Reviewed 8/29/2016

Why Are We Waiting?, by Nicholas Stern

The Logic, Urgency, and Promise of Tackling Climate Change
Nicholas Stern
Richard Layard, M.P. (Fwd.)
Cambridge: The MIT Press, April 2015




ISBN-13 978-0-262-02918-6
ISBN-10 0-262-02918-9 406pp. HC/GSI $27.95

In 2005, Britain's House of Lords commissioned an economic analysis of the costs of climate change. That analysis, known as The Stern Review, appeared the following year. Much has transpired since it became the most authorative documentation showing that the costs of adapting to climate change far exceed those of a mixture of adaptation and mitigation: the Great Recession knocked the stuffing out of the world's economy; Barack Obama was elected president in the U.S.; "Climategate" purported to debunk the scientific basis of climate change; and COP15 in Copenhagen disappointed all those who understood that Climategate was a trumped-up scandal.1

Lord Stern's book A Blueprint for a Safer Planet (titled The Global Deal here in the U.S.) was intended to convey the essentials of his economic analysis to a broader public.2 It was published in April 2009, in the midst of these events. It was intended to convey a truth — that the mitigation of climate change goes hand in hand with the eradication of poverty, rather than being a major factor in the exacerbation of poverty. That book also reminds us that there are many things easy to do that will make a start on mitigation, and that while making significant reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions will impose costs, doing nothing will impose far greater costs.

Now, in Why Are We Waiting?, Lord Stern lays out the progress that has been made, mostly at local and regional levels.

"Such an understanding could radically reduce the risk of "free-riding," a notion much beloved of game theorists (of the more simple kind) and by those who seek an excuse to do very little. As discussed in chapters 7 and 8, relative to the gloomy, free-riding view of the world, it is remarkable how many countries are willing to act without detailed international agreement; because they see the dangers, they believe it is responsible behavior to contribute to a response, and they see the attraction of an alternative path. The willingness to act is strengthened if there is an understanding of the measures that others are taking—"better knowledge of what others are doing and discussingis a key factor in individual and mutal action."

– Page 279

He reviews the science of climate change and reiterates the plain truth that waiting will be costlier than acting to reduce its effects. But in the main this is a book for professionals; it spends a great deal of time on abstruse matters of ethics and economics. Despite that, I consider it worthwhile for the general public to read; but most will want to read only Parts I and III. The text is supplemented by plenty of tables and graphs, and as usual the book contains an index, endnotes, and a long (34 pages) list of sources.

1 Climategate (more aptly labeled SwiftHack) involved the theft of some 11,000 e-mails from a server at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) a few months before COP15 took place. Carefully chosen snippets from these e-mails were used to assert that the climate scientists involved had fabricated the data showing the planet's mean temperature was rising. Eight separate investigations cleared the scientists of this charge.
2 See: My review
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