This is the second part of my interview with Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling. Part one is here. In this part we talk very generally about climate change: Why it matters, and whether or not it's possible to reach an international agreement on the issue. My questions are in bold.
I wanted to go back to the international climate-change negotiation process. So assuming we had a perfect U.S. bill -- written by you or by 15 experts working on this full time -- how would the international negotiation process work? It's not obvious that averting global climate change is in the rational self-interest of anyone that is alive today. The serious consequences probably won't occur until 2080 or 2100 or thereafter. That's one problem. Another problem is that those consequences are going to be distributed in a radically uneven way. The northwest of the United States might actually benefit. So how does a negotiation process work? How does a generation today negotiate on behalf of future generations? And how do we negotiate when the costs are distributed so unevenly?
Well I do think that one of the difficulties is that most of the beneficiaries aren't yet born. More than that: Most of the beneficiaries will be born in what we now call the developing world. By 2080 or 2100 five-sixths of the population, at least, will be in places like China, India, Indonesia, Africa and so forth. And what I don't know is whether Americans are really willing to understand that and do anything for the benefit of the unborn Chinese.