Economics Professor Concerned with the Climate
Gary Yohe, the John E. Andrus Professor of
Economics, wasn’t surprised to learn that Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma were
churning in the Gulf of Mexico. But along with scientists across the globe,
the economist was surprised by how quickly the storms intensified into
The unpredictability of what these storms and global warming’s possible
effect on their intensity and increased frequency is what Yohe, a climate
change economist, has been studying along with scientists for nearly 25
Climatologists, biologists, and climate modelers often collaborate with Yohe
as they contemplate what could happen in certain scenarios.
“They take what economists like me give them and they produce climate
scenarios and impact trajectories,” says Yohe. “Economists then take their
products as ‘inputs’ for vulnerability assessments.”
Last fall, Yohe co-authored a paper in the journal Science outlining
a possible deterrent to global warming. The paper suggested attaching a tax
on the carbon content (which generates the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide) in
fossil fuels of $10 per ton (or about 5 cents per gallon of gasoline) and
gradually increasing it each year.
Yohe compares this possible tax increase to buying insurance against global
warming. In economic terms it’s known as “hedging” - doing something that
reduces the likelihood of an unpleasant outcome.
He says that hedging global warming is like diversifying governments’ policy
portfolios just like individuals diversify their financial portfolios.
“In no case is buying insurance like paying premiums into a pot from which
you collect payment to cover a climate induced loss,” he says. “Instead,
investments in hedging strategies are designed to reduce the anticipated
cost of climate impacts. We need to accept that the climate is
changing, perhaps increasing the intensity of hurricanes, for example, and
make complementary investments in our capacity to adapt.”
Yohe will be sharing his research on how scientists may adapt to the
ever-changing climate when he presents his findings in January to the
Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) – the international
gathering of natural and social scientists who routinely assess climate
He and his fellow study authors hope to ultimately provide environmental
policy-makers some insight into how they may intelligently voice their
concerns about climate change.
Yohe also hopes that his upcoming journal article in Climatic Change will
help magnify the importance of integrating climate into development plans.
He is currently collecting contributions from scientists who participated in
the Aspen Global Change Institute workshop of Abrupt Climate Change last
summer for the article.
However, Yohe admits that it could be a while until we see any real action
by policy-makers regarding global warming as the United States has withdrawn
from discussions under the Kyoto Protocol. (An international agreement
between more than 150 countries to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that
are suspected to be the cause of global warming).
Still, Northeastern states have been joined by California and some Canadian
provinces in an effort to reduce emissions in spite of Washington's
reluctance to proceed.
“Citizens of these states can work to support and to expand these efforts to
manage climate risks in anticipation that, over the coming years, the threat
of climate impacts, particularly abrupt impact of the sort observed in the
Arctic over the past few years, becomes so clear that the federal government
will follow their lead,” explains Yohe.
Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations