Educated people in developed countries are typically aghast when anyone suggests that you might want to risk destruction of entire nations just to save a little cash. As an economist I would say this results from their low marginal valuation of income. A person in the developing might say that they don’t really know the value of a dollar.

In any case, I don’t think it’s helpful to bore or more likely enrage my readers with a cold, quantitative comparison of the value of statistical life across counties. So instead, let’s look at some of the things money can buy:

Would you risk your life for these things? How about this:

And perhaps most meaningful to me personally:

When this is what economic growth means to you — when this is what GDP means to you — $2.5 Trillion (5% of world GDP) takes on a somewhat different meaning.

So, the economic question is not whether risking climate change is worth giving up your HUMMER. It’s whether it’s worth giving up these little girls’ school. Remember that developing world GDP will also be reduced by carbon emission restrictions.

You might instantly retort that you want both. You want to reduce the risk of economic destruction AND buy these things for children in developing countries. But, unless you’re going to give everything you have to raise them out of poverty the question has to be would they rather have a reduction in climate change or even more schools and even more housing. Perhaps you are giving to them now, but you could still give more if we took the proceeds from forgoing Waxman-Markey and sent them all there.

I don’t think that has to be an academic question, either. Climate Change and Human Development Assistance is an idea whose time has come.

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