The Silence of the Models

Economic models of climate change impacts cannot cope with planet-sized shocks. Say, if the thermohaline circulation shuts down, what’s the predicted next year GDP? There is no GDP. Well, the model just remains silent and stares blankly into its algorithms.

When economists run into the limitations of their models, they tend to heed the Wittgensteinian injunction: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. They don’t feel comfortable making policy recommendations without solid modeling to back it up. Giving counsel in the face gigantic, unquantifiable risks starts to feel less like science and more like an exercise in politics or ethics. Heaven forbid.

As David Roberts puts it, “when I see scientists panicking and economists telling me not to panic … my palms start sweating”.


  1. Unless economists start doing economics through the hard path (and they should).

  2. metatester

    Ah, but we’re all economists of the soft path now. Celui qui croit que la croissance illimitée est compatible avec un planète finie est soit un fou soit un économiste. Le drame, c’est qu’au fond nous sommes tous des économistes maintenant. Serge Latouche dixit.

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