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The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World [Hardcover]

William Nordhaus
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Nov 2013
Climate change is profoundly altering our world in ways that pose major risks to human societies and natural systems. We have entered the Climate Casino and are rolling the global-warming dice, warns economist William Nordhaus. But there is still time to turn around and walk back out of the casino, and in this essential book the author explains how. Bringing together all the important issues surrounding the climate debate, Nordhaus describes the science, economics and politics involved - and the steps necessary to reduce the perils of global warming. Using language accessible to any concerned citizen and taking care to present different points of view fairly, he discusses the problem from start to finish: from the beginning, where warming originates in our personal energy use, to the end, where societies employ regulations or taxes or subsidies to slow the emissions of gases responsible for climate change. Nordhaus offers a new analysis of why earlier policies, such as the Kyoto Protocol, failed to slow carbon dioxide emissions, how new approaches can succeed, and which policy tools will most effectively reduce emissions. In short, he clarifies a defining problem of our times and lays out the next critical steps for slowing the trajectory of global warming.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (1 Nov 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030018977X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300189773
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.7 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 307,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


Winner of the 2013 American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE), in the Economics category.--PROSE Awards"American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence" (02/07/2014)

About the Author

William Nordhaus is Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University. He has studied and written extensively about global warming for four decades and is author of the award-winning A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies, published by Yale University Press.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Priority reading 27 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Excellent description of the economic consequences of Climate Change
Academic but written in a way that it is fully understandable by any interested person
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book for Understanding Approaches to Solving The Global Warming Problem 25 Nov 2013
By Gerald R. North - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have been a climate scientist for more than 30 years, always staying away from voicing my opinion about policy issues. This book among other recent events has caused me to speak out more. The case for coal being the dominant cause of AGW is made convincingly in this book. Most other fixes are inconsequential. The various alternative approaches to dealing with the problem are explained clearly. Taxation of carbon via cap and trade or a direct tax is covered nicely. Another key principle often misunderstood by the public is discounting, again explained and illustrated well. This is a great book, clearly written and accessible to all who want to know more about the subject. I hope it is read by millions of caring citizens.
Gerald R. North
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent supplement and update to earlier work by the expert 8 Nov 2013
By DavidMills - Published on
Includes lots of good subject matter not covered thoroughly in his 2008 book, and elaborates on his earlier report of the DICE model projections (as far as I can tell).

Notes and Quotes:

(p. 10) "current low-carbon technologies cannot substitute for fossil fuels without a substantial penalty on carbon emissions," proof of this is in Chapter 23.

(p. 18) explains meaning of externality = "public good" (actually bad in this case, so he doesn't use this common econ lingo in book.)

(p. 21) Good log-linear plot (he calls it "ratio" scale) of global CO2 emissions since 1900, shows trend of 2.6% per year.

(p. 22) Nice plot of emissions/unit output, trend in US is -1.8% per year (from peak in 1920).

For US, says real output is 3.4% per year, so net emissions currently increasing at 1.6% per year.
For world, real is 3.7% BUT emissions only -1.1%, so for planet, emissions increasing at 2.6% per year (as Fig 2 showed).

(p. 71) Definition managed system. "From an economic point of view, decline and collapse (of some civilizations) came from narrowly based economic structures heavily dependent on unmanaged or mismanaged systems, with poor trade linkages to enable provisioning from other regions." (i.e., Anazazi, Easter Island).

(p. 82) "paradox" that "People will have substantially higher living standards in the growth world even after subtracting the damages from the changing climate." See Fig. 13. But note in unrestrained growth case temperature reaches nearly 6 C by 2200!

(p. 83-84) He states that food production can increase for local temps to +3 C (from now?) based on fourth IPCC report.

(p108) says 4% of population AND output are less than 10 meters, admits this "probably exaggerates" the risk

Good image of "fuzzy telescope" particularly for sea level rise.

Chap 11 covers "Wildlife and Species Loss" very well.

(p. 133), "80 percent of the underlying tree of life survived even when 95 percent of species were lost."

(p. 153) geoengineering by injecting aerosols cost 1/10 to 1/100 as much as reducing CO2 emissions for same cooling!

(p. 189) "Most research on long-term economic growth suggests that continued growth is a good bet. After all, the information and biotechnology revolutions have just begun. Moreover other countries can grow significantly just by catching up…"

Figure 29 (p. 207) Great explanation of minimum in total cost with no discounting. It's at 2.3 C. Fig 31 assumes limited participation and discounting at 4%, gets minimum at 4 C. Probably more realistic goal.

Table 8 (p 229) shows impact of carbon tax at $25 per ton is only increase of 11% on gas, 31% on electricity. Table 10 gives suggested rates versus year for US, 2015 at $25/ton costing 1% of GDP, 2030 at $53/ton equal to 1.25% of GDP

Chap 23 reviews alternative technology, says it will take carbon tax to force major phase out of existing coal and gas plants.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction 3 Nov 2013
By Richard Tol - Published on
This is Nordhaus' second attempt (after Question of Balance 2008) to write a popular book about the economics of climate change. The core message is the same: Climate change is a problem worth solving, but climate policy requires careful thought. Nordhaus has been saying this for 30 odd years. The book is not aimed at me but I enjoyed reading it. I think it is a good introduction to the intricacies of efficient and effective climate policy.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful; Too Optimistic 5 Jan 2014
By R. Albin - Published on
This is a useful survey of global warming from the very distinguished environmental economist William Nordhaus. To some extent, this book is a summary, aimed at a broad audience, of Nordhaus' extensive work on the economics of global warming. Nordhaus provides a "soup to nuts" survey. The book is divided into 5 sections. He opens with a solid section on the basic features of global warming, followed by a description of likely short-term impacts (short-term being essentially this century). The next two sections, and the heart of the book, are devoted to the economics of global warming. Part 3 looks at strategies for and costs of slowing global warming and Part 4 at the institutional changes needed to implement the required policies. The final section looks at the politics of global warming.

Nordhaus is particularly interested in introducing and explaining basic concepts of economics and data from what is now a large body of economically informed analysis. The co-author of a highly successful basic textbook, he is generally quite successful in this objective. Overall, I found this book to be clear, well organized, generally well written, and thoughtful. Its definitely superior to Nordhaus' last effort at public education.

Nordhaus presents global warming as a very serious but manageable problem, if appropriate actions are taken. Nordhaus argues well that, assuming economically efficient policies are implemented, major impacts of global warming can be reduced without enormous worldwide costs. He emphasizes that decarbonization through mitigation is the both the most effective and cost-effective approach, that a universal carbon tax or equivalent cap-and-trade system should be a cornerstone of policy, and that considerable investment in and subsidy of new technologies will be required, Much of his discussion contains some interesting detail. In an interesting analysis, he shows that extent of national participation has a bigger impact on projected cost-benefit analyses than discounting procedures. Similarly, while he strongly favors a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system as the basic policy instrument, he makes a strong case for complementary and well formulated regulatory measures. I particularly recommend Chapter 18 and Figures 29-32, which provide a nice framework for thinking about cost-benefit accounting in this context.

Despite these considerable positive features, there are some aspects of this book which may be bit misleading. While Nordhaus regards climate change as a grave danger, I suspect he is still somewhat too optismistic about climate change impacts. Some of his misplaced optimism may be due ot outdated data. The chapter on agricultural impacts paints a relatively rosy picture for short-term impacts but the most recent analyses are significantly more pessimistic. I don't think Nordhaus has really assimiliated the existence of long-term feedbacks (tipping points in his parlance) into his thinking. The threshold for these may well be lower than we expect and avoiding long-term disaster may well require more aggressive action now. For an interesting perspective on this issue, see a recent paper in PLoSOne by James Hansen and a group of distinguished colleagues. In this sense, the title of this book, The Climate Casino, is unfortunate. While some of Nordhaus' language indicates he feels otherwise, this title leaves the impression that there is a chance that we'll do OK if we do nothing. This is highly unlikely. Finally, on the highly contested issue of discounting future costs and benefits, I don't find his defense of his conventional opportunity cost accounting convincing.

The final section of the book, on politics, is probably the weakest, though Nordhaus has some interesting things to say about public opinion formation. He is, however, surprisingly naive about some aspects of politi.cs His advice to scientists who become engaged in global warming politics to keep saying the truth over and over again, and claims that this worked for tobacco control. Well, it worked to some extent in the USA but internationally, tobacco abuse continues to spread and present WHO estimates are about 5 million premature deaths per year to due to tobacco, hardly a major success. He also has an unfortunate, and increasingly common, piece of rhetoric in which he presents his very well grounded policy proposals as a "conservative" solution. Nordhaus is advocating an unprecedented international scheme of taxation with the goal of fundamentally changing our civilization's energy production system. This is conservative?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good primer on climate, but limited by economist perspective 9 April 2014
By George - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This an easy to read introduction to climate change. Norhaus reviews the technical aspects and the policy history well. He makes a good case for some kind of carbon pricing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The book suffers from the tendency, perhaps common among economists, to discount the role of power in society. He comes to it near the end of the book, but it is unsatisfying. Also, he dismisses any role for government aside from the institution of a carbon tax. I agree this is an effective mechanism for fighting climate change, but other regulations and incentives are given short shrift in the discussion. Indeed, he can be so dismissive that his analysis suffers. Still, I use Climate Casino in a college classroom to discuss climate change and it is valuable as long as other readings or discussion can fill in the gaps and provide a more complete context.
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