Just a day after a United Nations panel called for urgent action on climate change, Nordhaus of Yale University shared the prize for his work on the economics of a warming planet with Paul Romer of New York University, whose study of innovation raises hopes that people can do something about it.
Nordhaus, who has been called “the father of climate-change economics,” developed models that suggest how governments can combat global warming.
One key step he has endorsed is a universal tax on carbon, which would require polluters to pay for the costs that their emissions impose on society.
By using a tax rather than government edicts to slash emissions, the policy encourages companies to find innovative ways to reduce pollution – and their tax burden. Versions of a carbon tax have been used in Europe but have yet to be adopted in the United States.
Romer, a 62-year-old Denver native who has studied why some economies grow faster than others, has produced research that shows how governments can advance innovation.
At a news conference Monday at NYU, Romer said his research left him optimistic that society can solve even a threat as challenging as the warming of the planet.
Nordhaus, 77, is part of a prominent family with long ties to New Mexico. His grandfather started a ranch outside of Montezuma that the family still owns, said Ted Nordhaus, William’s nephew.
William and his brother, Robert Nordhaus, grew up in a house on Rio Grande Boulevard and attended Washington Middle School but left Albuquerque to attend high school in Massachusetts, said Ted, executive director of the Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland, Calif.-based energy and environmental think tank.
Robert, who died in 2016, was a high-profile environmental and energy policy lawyer in Washington, D.C.
At a news conference at Yale, Nordhaus suggested there is “pretty widespread acceptance” of climate change science outside the United States, and he expressed optimism that the nation would come around.
Referring to the Trump administration’s resistance, Nordhaus said: “I think we just need to get through what is a difficult period. But I’m extremely confident it will happen.”
Sunday’s report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that managing climate change could prove a matter of life and death. It argued that failing to prevent just one extra degree of heat could expose countless people and ecosystems to life-threatening conditions over the next few decades.
As economists, Nordhaus and Romer have worked independently of each other, but to some longtime followers of the Nobel committee the decision to collectively honor their research seemed a logical one.
“It’s an ingenious pairing,” said David Warsh, author of a 2007 book on Romer’s research, “Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations.”