You are one of seven billion people on Earth. Whatever you or I do personally—eat tofu in a Hummer or hamburgers in a Prius—the planet doesn't notice. In our confrontation with climate change, species preservation, and a planet going off the cliff, it is what several billion people do that makes a difference. The solution? It isn't science, politics, or activism. It's smarter economics.
The hope of mankind, and indeed of every living thing on the planet, is now in the hands of the dismal science. Fortunately, we've been there before. Economists helped crack the acid rain problem in the 1990's (admittedly with a strong assist from a phalanx of lawyers and activists). Economists have helped get lead out of our gas, and they can explain why lobsters haven't disappeared off the coast of New England but tuna is on the verge of extinction. More disquietingly, they can take the lessons of the financial crisis and model with greater accuracy than anyone else the likelihood of environmental catastrophe, and they can help save us from global warming, if only we let them.
You can replace all your light bulbs, bike to work, and OD on sustainably produced, locally sourced tofu, but much as you may try to minimize your environmental footprint, individual actions are largely useless. It will take a critical mass of people changing their behaviors to make real change, says economist Wagner, who argues for economic solutions to environmental crises. He challenges readers to consider how to corral the masses; what if the pope, for instance, advised the world's Catholics to reduce their personal carbon emissions? Papal edict aside, most significant change can only come from simple economic legislation Ireland's 2002 PlasTax, for instance, which reduced the demand for landfill-clogging plastic bags by 90%. Applying economics at both the macro level (making dirty energy more expensive to maintain) and the micro (increasing the cost of filling your car with gas) can help us create a greener world in a larger, more substantive way. Wagner's wry, witty prose brings rationality to an emotionally charged subject and urges us to take personal responsibility for the planet by demanding an economically sound solution to guiding market forces in the right direction, making it in our best interests to do the right thing.