Monday, September 27, 2010

"Climatopolis" - we are not all doomed after all (or are we)

The new Matt Khan book is out. Climatopolis. I enjoyed his previous books on Green cities and the American Civil War.

It is always impressive when academics can publish well and also write accessible books for a general audience.

I can't provide a full review as I have not bought the book yet although there are a number of obvious questions. I agree that it is pretty much too late to stop significant climate change and that adaption will be crucial. Luckily for him and many Americans, the US will suffer a lot less than many countries. Those on subsistence wages and the poor in developing countries will find it harder to move anywhere - that is where the real suffering will take place.

Arguing that "economic development" will solve the problem misses the endogeneity issue. Environmental degradation will impact on growth making development even harder and the suffering all the greater.

You can read a Grist interview with Matt Khan HERE.

His new book, Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future, argues that while it's too late to avoid the major effects of global warming, that's OK because most people will simply move to places that are effectively adapting to the changes. And here we'd been so worried! Kahn, a University of Chicago graduate, takes the school's free-market tradition to an extreme, arguing that rational agents in a market economy will simply "vote with their feet" and make winners out of the cities that are most able to innovate and attract new residents. It's a provocative argument, to say the least.

This question gets to the heart of the issue:

Q. You seem to see this all as a market problem. To me, 10 million Bangladeshis who can't feed themselves anymore and are crossing the border into India where they're not wanted -- that's a humanitarian and political problem. How does an entrepreneur innovate for that?

A. In India, many households benefit from access to cheap labor. Migrants to India will move to those cities where they will have the greatest opportunities. One could imagine a win-win, where the growing Indian middle class is actually happy to see many of these Bangladeshis if they need help with household chores.

But I agree with your point that adaptation in the developing world is the trickiest. My magic bullet is economic development. The Nobel laureate Tom Schelling contrasts malaria in Singapore and Malaysia. These countries are very close and have the same geographic conditions. Yet one [Malaysia] has much more malaria than the other. Schelling argues that economic development helps to mitigate environmental challenges through things like better diets and better access to medical care.


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