Are the Grandkids Worth it? Climate Policy Reflects How We Value Human Population

If the human population continues to grow, more pressure will be put on carbon dioxide emissions—leaving future generations vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

To head this off, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced, but that could cost billions of dollars or more over the next few decades, a dilemma plaguing today’s policymakers.

Yet, how much to invest in policies—like setting an appropriate carbon tax—to protect future generations from environmental destruction depends on how society chooses to value human population, according to a new study published Oct. 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To determine the ideal mitigation policy, a research team led by Princeton University, the University of Vermont and the University of Texas at Austin employed a climate-economic model to examine two ethical approaches to valuing human population.

Under one approach, the researchers assumed that society aims to increase the total number of people who are “happy/well-off.” Under the other approach, the researchers assumed society intends to increase the average level of people’s happiness/well-being.

Photo: Tomas Castelazo/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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