The Economics of Climate Change

I came across an article by Ross McKitrick in the Financial Post called We’re not screwed. It is essentially a response to the media coverage of the Marcott et al. (2013) paper in Science that I wrote about in an earlier post.

What I found a little surprising is that Ross McKitrick is a Professor of Economics at the University of Guelph. It’s not that I think that economists shouldn’t discuss climate change but – in the article he wrote for the Financial Post – he was being quite specific with his criticisms of the methods used by Marcott et al. (2013). I’m sure he’s a bright person, but climate science is difficult and it seems quite presumptuous that a Professor of Economics somehow thinks that they know better than professional climate scientists (I could be snide and suggest that if economists were unable to predict a global economic catastrophe they should be slightly careful about assuming that they can make predictions about global warming, but that wouldn’t really be fair).

One of Ross McKitrick’s colleagues (in the sense that they’re written articles together) is Stephen McIntyre who has a BSc in Mathematics and an MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. It’s starting to seem to me that a number of those who are skeptical of the claims of climate science have backgrounds in economics. I looked at the website of the Global Warming Policy Foundation one of who’s founders is Lord Lawson, an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer. About 8 of their academic advisors have some background in economics. It appears – to me at least – that economics is more highly represented than any other single discipline.

I haven’t done a proper study to see if there really are more economists who are climate skeptics than any other discipline, but it does seem that way. One of the claims that climate skeptics make is that climate scientists are biased and benefit from suggesting than anthropogenic global warming is real. I find it surprising that noone has really tried to make the counterclaim that it is odd that so many climate skeptics happen to have a background in economics. One reason may simply be that scientists don’t typically want to spend their time debating educated lay-people who think they know better. Normally you can ignore such people and they simply go away. When they have influence and can get their views presented in somewhat reputable media outlets, it’s not that simple. I don’t really think that climate scientists should engage in a battle with those who are skeptical. It’s not really their role and the science will eventually be settled. It’s just a little disappointing that those who have little explicit experience with climate science (or with science at all) somehow seem to have credibility with certain sectors of society. Maybe it’s because they’re saying what that sector wants to hear?

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