Debates on climate change also reflect the advantages and the limitations of historical perspective. On the one hand, Barack Obama’s former undersecretary for science in the US energy department, Steven Koonin, has recently argued for humility about future policy because we lack long-run data about the role of the oceans in climate change: “Precise, comprehensive observations of the oceans are available only for the past few decades.” On the other, historical economist Anil Markandya has shown that environmental regulation in 19th-century Britain did not have “any serious impact on GDP per capita”, overturning the orthodoxy that there is a necessary trade-off between growth and environmental protection. Meanwhile, French historians Sabine Barles and Gilles Billen have examined Paris’s “nitrogen footprint” to show how urban managers there invented sustainable practices for recycling waste in large cities: these are precedents relevant to practice and policy today.
|UK sulfur emissions/capita, real GDP/capita, selected air pollution regulations|
(Markandya et al, Envtl & Resource Econ (2006) 35: 221-257)