How Smart Economics Can Save the World

Friday, January 20, 2012

Gernot Wagner, economist at the Environmental Defense Fund explains why the things individuals do—buying local produce, eating less meat, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store—won’t end up making much of a difference in halting global warming. Instead he argues that economics will. In But Will The Planet Notice: How Smart Economics Can Save the World he puts the onus for curbing global climate change on smarter economics, not science, politics, or activism.


Gernot Wagner

Comments [15]

Amy from Manhattan

Last night I went to an event called Solar in the City. It focused on NYC, but the approaches discussed are applicable elsewhere (& have been used elsewhere). One major aspect was how the economic incentives are set up & who benefits from them. This might be something Leonard's show could look at sometime soon. Video of the event should be available on,,, & other environmental websites, but it's not up yet (which I know because I just spent too much time looking for it there!).

Jan. 20 2012 01:21 PM
John A.

BTW, Claire I use the cloth bags for 90% of the shopping and the 10% plastic bags for garbage. Never have an excess is the goal, IE never throw away any bag empty, unless damaged obviously. Still, THINK BIGger.

Jan. 20 2012 12:46 PM
John A.

So, should I read the guest's book on paper or buy an e-Reader to do it?

I Would like the government to compile the environmental cost information for me, like with "Nutrition Facts".

Jan. 20 2012 12:40 PM
Claire from White Plains

On the topic of plastic grocery bags: if people don't use plastic bags for groceries, they don't have them to re-use for taking out their garbage. Instead, they purchase plastic garbage bags. How is this being ecologically smart? Am I missing something here?

Jan. 20 2012 12:37 PM
Julian from Manhattan

The Endangered Species Act usually results in habitat preservation, which prevents deforestation and thus counters global warming.

Jan. 20 2012 12:37 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Re jgarbuz's first comment about pollution through the past 2.5 centuries, I absolutely agree (pretty obvious really, but we tend to forget this simple point.)

What I would add is that the "captains of industry" made their fortunes in this manner, in effect, on the backs not only of their own workers, but on the back of society as a whole. It is the larger society that has to bear the costs, whilst those captains sang all the way to the bank.

And things are not so much different now, except the costs are not limited to pollution.

Jan. 20 2012 12:32 PM
Ian from New York

I am all for most of the things your guest is talking about, but I would like to point out that this is all essentially shuffling the deck chairs on the titanic. Fundamentally if we as a planet use all of the stored fossil-fuel, or some large percentage of it, the temperature will rise and life as we know it will drastically change. The rate at which we use that energy is essentially irrelevant (until it approaches zero). The latency of the system is such that driving a prius or a SUV are essentially equivalent on the time scale of climate change.

Jan. 20 2012 12:29 PM

The great success in capitalism is due to the appearance that something or someone is in charge, like the greater good. But any economist worth his salt will say the only driving crux of the free market is exactly that - that it is free - an empty ruthless void that will crush us all under its weight.

Jan. 20 2012 12:27 PM
John A.

This interview sounds like the flipside, the fix of a prior interview: "Confessions of An Economic Hit Man", which I will re-review at this interviews end.
The prior guest, as I recall, asserted that economics was a weapon of war, not peace. That this guest also wants to shed light and change that, Bravo.

Jan. 20 2012 12:24 PM
Amy from Manhattan

If you want to make a convincing case, don't talk as though there were nothing to eat but apples all year round! You can eat apples (& other fruits) when they're in season locally & eat what's in season other times of the year. Some foods can be grown slightly out of season in greenhouses, which have little if any environmental cost. And is the difference between transporting an apple 500 miles by truck and transporting it 5,000 miles by plane insignificant? Mr. Wagner sure made it sound that way.

Jan. 20 2012 12:24 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

As long as energy is relatively cheap, we will continue to use it irresponsibly until the price rises along with the sea levels. When the price gets high enough, and the sea levels get high enough to flood our cities, then our behaviors will have to change. But they won't beforehand.

Jan. 20 2012 12:23 PM
yachtboy from Long island

what a silly statement " I do all the right things" I get the impression that he lives in a dark room lit with thrown out candles
I tire of people wearing badges like I don't know how to drive, I won't eat meat, etc.
If he has a disease will he turn to modern medicine on depend on luck.?

His statements demonstrate that he stuck in a 19th century utopian dream
Best he should spend his time figuring out how to use our resources wisely. I don't believe his ideas are attractive to anyone but those outliers who lack positive solutions.

He missed his century, the 18th.

Jan. 20 2012 12:17 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

For the first two centuries of the industrial revolution, from roughly 1750 to 1950,we pretty much ignored environmental costs. Industry could dump its toxins and garbage into the rivers, oceans, and up into the atmosphere, because it was "free." We now know it isn't free. There are costs, in the form of medical costs, and the cost of environmental cleanups, and possibly the creation of bad weather that might at some point damage our planet in an irretrievably. In the past, people just died of diseases and we didn't know why nor care. But for the last 40 years we have increasingly learned about the effects of runaway dumping of pollutants into the environment.

But what to do about it is a whole 'nother question.

Jan. 20 2012 12:16 PM
emmanuel from uws

Your "smart economist" will go on radio shows and talk about how much he loves his grandmother and that he loves taking care of her. Then he will go home, put his grandmother on the curb and make her fend for herself.

Jan. 20 2012 12:14 PM
alan from NY

here is a question for your guest: what is better to wrap a sandwich in: plastic wrap or aluminum foil? Plastic wrap is non-recyclable, but probably has a lower embodied energy value, while aluminum foil has an extremely high embodied energy value but can be recycled indefinitely.

Jan. 20 2012 12:14 PM

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