Analysis & Opinions - Regulatory Review

The Art of the Climate Change War

| Sep. 29, 2020

The world needs a new strategy to fight climate change aggressively and effectively.

Richard Zeckhauser and Joseph Aldy

Richard Zeckhauser and Joseph Aldy

Humanity is its own enemy in the war against the warming of our planet. To our peril, policymakers have ignored a deep insight attributed to Sun Tzu, from the fifth century B.C. Chinese military treatise, The Art of War: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Environmental advocates, major international environmental agreements, and domestic policy programs have traditionally focused on a myopic one-prong tactic to fighting climate change. That prong is mitigation, the curbing of emissions. A better, well-crafted strategy to address the risks posed by climate change, however, would engage three prongs: continuing mitigation, while adding adaptation and amelioration to the armamentarium.

Were Sun Tzu writing on climate change today, he might describe the mitigation-only approach by invoking the metaphor of fighting a modern war relying solely on ground forces, while ignoring what air and naval forces could contribute. Consistent with his approach to war, he would likely support investments in adaptation and resilience to offset some of the damages associated with warmer temperatures. He would also advocate research into solar radiation management—such as injecting aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reflect back incoming solar energy—to lower the temperature for a given accumulation of atmospheric greenhouse gases....

For more information on this publication: Please contact Harvard Project on Climate Agreements
For Academic Citation: Aldy, Joseph and Richard Zeckhauser.“The Art of the Climate Change War.” Regulatory Review, September 29, 2020.

The Authors