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?