We have now learned that on Aug. 27 last week Matin Weitzman hanged himself, leaving a note citing his failure to share in last year’s Nobel Prize as well as his apparently declining mental acuity. That prize he did not share included William Nordhaus as a recipient for his work on climate economics issues, a topic that Weitzman also worked on, arguably more deeply and originally than did Nordhaus.
Last April Alan Krueger also committed suicide, although we have to this day not learned either how it was done or if he left any notes or if somehow it is otherwise known why he did it, with the only hint of any trouble being that he suddenly stopped tweeting in January, which he had previously done daily. He is better known for his work on minimum wages with David Card and worked on many topics. But among his topics was also environmental economics, with he and Gene Grossman publishing an influential paper on the Environmental Kuznets Curve in 1994, although it is nnot fully known that it was actually discovered by Thomas Selden and Song Daqing from looking at data on SO2 emissions by country. So he was also involved in environmental economics.
Being aware of what we have done to the environment is deeply depressing. There is no silver lining. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Economics is only a tiny part of it. The mass extinction currently underway that we are directly responsible for is crime so broad so breathtaking and irreversible that any human being who has a shred of conscience has to be depressed about it. The more you know about it the more depressed you become until you reach a point where you simply have to try to live ethically and sort of compartmentalize your life. I worked for thirty years trying to develop renewable energy technologies. I suppose I realized at the time that it wasn’t enough. That it would take much more from lots of other directions. Well, I’m old and burned out now. I think we failed. We all failed. The species failed.
Not sharing in the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel with the hugely overly-optimistic William Nordhaus might be better considered as a good thing than as something to become depressed about.
“CO2 not leaving the atmosphere quickly” is also, alas, distressingly hugely overly-optimistic. As for example pointed out by Ray Pierrehumbert in the current Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: “Some of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activities such as fossil fuel burning is quickly taken up by the upper ocean and land ecosystems. Some of the rest is slowly absorbed into the deep ocean over the next millennium. However, a lot remains in the atmosphere, and it is only slowly removed by geological processes that take hundreds of thousands of years. Consequently, carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere throughout the lifetime of the fossil-fueled economy, and it will not drop much even after we finally kick the carbon habit and cease our carbon dioxide emissions.”