Saul Levmore: "Climate Change and the Battle of the Generations"

Why have we taken so few precautions in the face of threatening climate change? In a February 12, 2008 Chicago's Best Ideas talk entitled "Climate Change and the Battle of the Generations" Dean Saul Levmore focused on the difficulty of dealing with a long-off threat in our political system.

The question, he says, is how voters and their politicians can be encouraged to care about problems that can be deferred for consideration by a different electorate or set of taxpayers – but at much higher cost. We know that we should solve most long term problems sooner rather than later, but there are pressures that put off painful solutions. Dean Levmore draws on what we know about “median voters” and median citizens in order to hazard guesses about the coming battle among generations. In this “battle,” young voters will grow increasingly concerned about what is likely to occur as they age – but these voters do not yet have sufficient political power. In turn, arrangements among countries will be seen to depend in part on the disparate age profiles of countries. The topic, in other words, is global warming and the public choice problem of intergenerational bargaining.