Climatic Change

, Volume 110, Issue 3–4, pp 507–521 | Cite as

Climate policy: hard problem, soft thinking

  • Gernot Wagner
  • Richard J. ZeckhauserEmail author


Climate change is more uncertain, more global, and more long-term than most issues facing humanity. This trifecta makes a policy response that encompasses scientific correctness, public awareness, economic efficiency, and governmental effectiveness particularly difficult. Economic and psychological instincts impede rational thought. Elected officials, who cater to and foster voters’ misguided beliefs, compound the soft thinking that results. Beliefs must change before unequivocal symptoms appear and humanity experiences the climate-change equivalent of a life-altering heart attack. Sadly, it may well take dramatic loss to jolt the collective conscience toward serious action. In the long run, the only solution is a bottom-up demand leading to policies that appropriately price carbon and technological innovation, and that promote ethical shifts toward a world in which low-carbon, high-efficiency living is the norm. In the short term, however, popular will is unlikely to drive serious action on the issue. Policy makers can and must try to overcome inherent psychological barriers and create pockets of certainty that link benefits of climate policy to local, immediate payoffs. It will take high-level scientific and political leadership to redirect currently misguided market forces toward a positive outcome.


Climate Policy Prospect Theory Policy Response Loss Aversion Cognitive Dissonance 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Defense FundNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.School of International and Public AffairsColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.John F. Kennedy School of GovernmentHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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