'Discounting' the future cost of climate change | Science News

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'Discounting' the future cost of climate change

Economists develop new methods to quantify the trade-off between spending now and spending later

By
1:46pm, May 21, 2010

To figure out how much we should spend fighting climate change, economists have some questions for you: How much would you be willing to spend now to make your child $100 richer in the future? What about your grandchild in the farther future, or your great-great-great-great-great-grandchild in the very distant future?

The health of the planet may hinge on the answers. Most economic analyses of climate change have concluded that we should be spending only small amounts to combat climate change now, ramping up slowly over time. This conclusion mystifies most climate scientists, who argue that immediate action is the only way to forestall dreadful consequences. And at the heart of the disagreement are these very questions, about the value of future generations’ welfare in monetary terms.

The worst consequences of climate change are likely to unfold only over decades or centuries — in other words, in our children’s or grandchildren’s or great-gre

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