Dave Roberts at Grist has written an interesting piece about the esoteric topic of “carbon wedges” and his concern that the Wedge Daddy (Princeton’s Robert Socolow) believes that the cost of achieving significant carbon reduction is high. Roberts appears to embrace the power of “green positive thinking”. To quote Dave, “Does Socolow understand that pessimism is profoundly demotivating? That no one will accept a problem of this size unless they feel a sense of efficacy and possibility, like there’s actually something meaningful they can do about it? What does he think is going to happen if the hippies adopt his dour take on things? Will that prompt more action? Will it mobilize more people?”
I agree with Socolow and Roberts here. Economists are supposed to be hard headed and avoid wishful thinking and this appears to be Socolow’s world view. But, Roberts and I both foresee two possible outcomes to this “game”. In the ugly equilibrium, we stick to the status quo and emit a heck of lot of carbon and Joe Romm at the age of 120 will be able to tell Republicans that he was right and that they were wrong in a world with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels of 1000 ppm. The other “pretty” equilibrium unfolds thanks to today’s nascent “green push” as experimenting places such as California with AB32 and England try to sidestep the free rider problem and achieve the win-win of growth and declining emissions. Ideas are public goods and the new ideas we learn will diffuse widely. There is a question here of how we take the first steps in “this journey”. Who pays for them? How do we motivate the guinea pigs to fight on rather than giving up. If “hippie positive thoughts” motivate this crew, then why not? People like Jeff Sachs talk about how do you avoid a “poverty trap”. Well, how do you avoid the analogous “carbon trap”?