Is Doing Environmental Economics Especially Depressing?

Is Doing Environmental Economics Especially Depressing?

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.

Ironicially the EKC is widely viewed as an optimistic theory: if only we can get income levels high enough around the world, most pollution problems will take care of themselves.  However, while this seems to maybe finally be kicking in for C02 emissions, it has been slow and late in coming, with many nations still increasing emissions, and CO2 not leaving the atmosphere quickly, so that ambient concentrations will continue to rise even as emissions decline for a long time.  The potential optimism of the EKC is seriously weakened when it comes to global warming.

This is all probably quite secondary for what led either of these respected economists to end their lives, but it is a curious coincidence, and I cannot help but think that much of what is going on with the global warming issue may not have contributed to their deadly depressions.

Barkley Rosser

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