Climatopolis by Matthew E. Kahn
The quick summary is that this is a great book for the general public and should be required reading for environmentalists (but only a good book for economists -- see the next two paragraphs) . Matt accepts the mainstream forecasts of climate change, assumes that governments won't get around to dealing with it (no carbon tax) and raises the "what's next?" question. Matt then uses economic analysis to speculate about how people might adapt to climate change, which would mitigate some of the scary outcomes you hear from the scaremongers. Of course, people will adapt. People have always adapted. But ...
As I was reading as an economist, however, I couldn't get over a couple of concerns. First, Matt loves living in cities and sometimes the book degenerates into a bit of cheerleading. The impression I get is that the smart people who live in cities (I guess dumb people live out in rural areas) will adopt the magic technology and figure out the best thing to do when the world heats. For example, when describing the problems of the rural poor in developing countries, the solution to the exacerbation of those problems by climate change is that the rural poor should simply move to cities. I'm not exactly sure how that would help when there is already an urban poor problem.
Another concern is that the book mostly ignores what could be the enormous costs of adaptation (e.g., coastal cities will adapt by building seawalls), the increased costs of living in cities (i.e., traffic, poor air quality) and other costs (i.e., Matt applies a simple labor migration model to cross border migration and assume costs of migration are zero -- while firms like the lower wage workforce, when have countries welcomed immigrants with open arms?). I'm sure that this was not the intention, and the costs are mentioned, but some readers (i.e., climate change skeptics) need to hear that adaptation won't be painless.
As an economist, I'm looking forward to the second volume/edition of Climatopolis where the magic of cities is explained to non-urban economists and some of the costs are highlighted (making a better argument for a carbon tax or cap-and-trade).
Finally, to dispell some of the criticisms of the book made by folks who aren't reading closely* or read closely but don't like the message and therefore distort (I'd look for the links if I wasn't supposed to be wrapping gifts):
- No, Matt is not arguing against rational climate policy, there are numerous passages where a hefty carbon tax is advocated.
- No, Matt is not making forecasts (the Moscow heat wave criticism), he is speculating using microeconomic theory, probabilities and expected values (just like economists are supposed to do).
- No, Matt is not saying climate change won't turn out really bad, he is saying that adaptation will make it less bad if it is not catastrophic (i.e., don't get distracted if Matt doesn't get climate science 100% correct, no economist will because ... we're economists! as long as we get the basics correct, our models still apply).
- No, Matt doesn't totally overuse the word nerd,..., OK, maybe it is overused a bit!
*There is a good chance that I didn't read closely enough. The comments section is where you can tell me where I got the review wrong. Page numbers please!