Looking Back, Looking Forward

When I received the email inviting me to apply to become a Monroe Scholar, I was excited about all of the areas of inquiry into which I could delve. I chose climate change because it impacts – and is affected by – the other major challenges faced by society. I had not yet crystallized my understanding of the problem and the policy tools that could be employed to address it efficiently and effectively. That’s why I wanted to learn more about the state of the science.

I started by reading The Climate Casino by William Nordhaus, an economist at Yale. He presented climate change in a very clear and compelling way. He also framed the problem in a way that I had never seen before: in terms of costs. In particular, as a tradeoff between mitigation costs; and adaptation/damage costs. He explained that carbon pricing must be used if we want to minimize the total costs associated with climate change. That was a framing that I had never before considered, and it provides a perfect public policy focal point because climate change is a stressor which impacts all of the other global challenges we face. It is also affected by them. Finally, climate change is the only truly time-sensitive issue we face; the longer we wait to take mitigation action, the higher total cost we will face (unless someone discovers fusion power or some unlimited, externality-free renewable power source). The longer we wait, the more the risk increases.

I proceeded to explore Nordhaus’ sources, which included the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I watched the IPCC presentations and sessions that happened at the Bonn climate change conference in Germany to present findings from the Fifth Assessment Report, the most authoritative international climate change research assessment report. I also read the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal for regulating emissions from existing electricity generation facilities in the United States.

I read articles in newspapers and other online sources, and I also read papers about the distributional impacts of climate change mitigation policy. I watched urban economics and climate change lectures posted online by Matthew E. Kahn of UCLA and NBER, and I read his paper on international trade in renewable energy equipment.

This summer showed me that it is important to find a career I truly love and am truly passionate about. This summer focused me by revealing the optimal way to minimize the total costs associated with climate change. It revealed that as a worthy goal in terms of addressing climate change, and it revealed many areas of future inquiry that are very important for myself and academia and the policymaking community to explore. It was a transformative experience, and I am very thankful to my college for giving me this opportunity, and to my advisor, Professor Sanders, for being very helpful and supportive during the whole process.