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Role of Uncertainty in the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change

26 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2007  

Martin Weitzman

Harvard University - Department of Economics

Date Written: May 2007

Abstract

Using climate change as a prototype motivating example, this paper analyzes the implications of structural uncertainty for the economics of catastrophes. The paper shows that having an uncertain amplifying or scaling parameter (which is updated by Bayesian learning) induces a critical "tail thickening" of posterior-predictive distributions. Such thickened tails have strong implications for applications of expected utility theory to situations (like climate change) where a catastrophe is theoretically possible because a priori knowledge cannot place sufficiently narrow bounds on overall damages. In principle, the impact of an uncertain scale of damages on cost-benefit analysis outweighs the impact of discounting.

Keywords: climate change, catastrophes

JEL Classification: H00

Suggested Citation

Weitzman, Martin, Role of Uncertainty in the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change (May 2007). AEI-Brookings Joint Center Working Paper No. 07-11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=992873 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.992873

Martin L. Weitzman (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-5133 (Phone)

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