Gernot Wagner

Economist, Author, and ESPP Lecturer

“It’s fun to be back at Harvard and in the ESPP family. Though I certainly feel like I never really left. There wasn’t a day during my eight years at the Environmental Defense Fund when I didn’t refer back to at least one of my classes or classmates. Whether it was Rob Stavins’s intro to environmental economics—what I’d call intro to tradeoffs, aka common sense—or Bill Clark’s and Sheila Jasanoff’s classes on sustainability and environmental politics, respectively.

   Then, of course, there’s the hard sciences, and, for that matter, basic statistics. It’s frightening how over 35 years of amazing advances in climate science, we have not been able to narrow the ‘likely’ range of perhaps the key parameter: climate sensitivity, linking concentrations or carbon dioxide to eventual temperatures. Adding economics back into the equation, it’s precisely that deep-seated uncertainty that is costly to us, now—what puts the ‘shock’ into my recently published book with Martin L. Weitzman, Climate Shock.

   My current research focus is on climate risk and solar geoengineering. Both are topics where ESPP comes full circle. If climate alone touches virtually every discipline, solar geoengineering in particular does so on overdrive—and with some surprising twists. It’s no longer the ‘free rider’ effect that dominates, it's the ‘free driver’ effect. The task now isn’t to coax people into acting, it may be to stop lone actors. Lots of interesting research questions on how to design rational climate policy in light of that. No place better to do that than Harvard.”
-ESPP ’02, M.A. ’06, Ph.D. ’07