The Political Economy of Climate Change Winners

73 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2011 Last revised: 12 Feb 2013

J. B. Ruhl

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: September 10, 2012


Many people and businesses in the United States stand to receive market and nonmarket benefits from climate change as it moves forward over the next 100 years. Speaking of climate change benefits is not for polite 'green' conversation, but ignoring them — as climate policy dialogue and legal scholarship consistently have — will not make them go away. It is important to take climate change benefits into account if they lead people and businesses to believe that climate change will not be so bad for them, or even to believe it has made them into climate change winners. Thus, whereas legal scholars have devoted considerable attention to how law and policy should respond to the prospect of vast numbers of climate change losers, this Article is the first to ask what law and policy should do about the climate change winners.

Part I of the Article develops a policy-relevant typology of climate change benefits and beneficiaries, showing their potential to be significant in magnitude, diverse, and widely dispersed. Part II examines how climate change benefits are likely to lead many people and businesses to conclude they are climate change winners, in that they believe they are better off because of climate change. Part III frames the prospect of a class of climate change winners in the political economy of climate policy, arguing that people and businesses will fall in vastly different climate impact profiles that will lead to an even more complex and contested climate policy dynamic. Using the background developed in Parts I through III, the remainder of the Article turns to normative dimensions and positive legal responses. Part IV considers and refutes the arguments climate change winners might make to shape climate change mitigation policy around their interests in securing climate change benefits. Climate change mitigation policy should ignore climate change winners by design, not be default. By contrast, Part V argues that climate change adaptation policy should embrace climate change winners by making efficient investments to harness climate change benefits that increase resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. Part VI argues, however, that given the goal of mitigation policy eventually to arrest climate change, legal doctrine must ensure that no vested rights take hold in climate change benefits.

Keywords: climate change benefits, climate change winners, climate change adaption, climate change mitigation

Suggested Citation

Ruhl, J. B., The Political Economy of Climate Change Winners (September 10, 2012). Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 97, 2012; Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 11-30. Available at SSRN: or

J. B. Ruhl (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

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