Can We Afford the Future? The Economics of a Warming World

Zed Books, 2009 (distributed in the U.S. by Palgrave Macmillan)

Author(s): Ackerman, F.
Year: 2009

According to many scientists, climate change is a growing threat to life as we know it, requiring a large-scale, immediate response. According to many economists, climate change is a moderately important problem; the best policy is a slow, gradual start, to avoid spending too much. They can't both be right.

In this book, Frank Ackerman offers a refreshing look at the economics of climate change, explaining how the arbitrary assumptions of conventional theories get in the way of understanding this urgent problem. The benefits of climate protection are vital but priceless, and hence often devalued in cost-benefit calculations.

Ackerman also argues that preparing for the most predictable outcomes of global warming is less important than protecting against the growing risk of catastrophic change; investing in new, low carbon technologies and industries, he suggests, is akin to buying insurance for the planet.

Ackerman makes an impassioned plea to construct a better economics, arguing that the solutions are affordable and the alternative is unthinkable. If we can't afford the future, what are we saving our money for?

  • The Status Quo is not an Option
  • Your Grandchildren's Lives are Important
  • We Need to Buy Insurance for the Planet
  • Climate Damages are too Valuable to Have Prices
  • Some Costs are Better than Others
  • Hot, it's Not: Climate Economics According to Lomberg
  • Much Less Wrong: The Stern Review vs. its Critics
  • Climate, Equity and Development
  • What is to Be Done?

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Praise for Can We Afford the Future?

"Frank Ackerman provides the much-needed ammunition for advocates of strong climate policy to debunk the conclusion that stabilizing our future climate is 'too expensive.' "
Stephen H. Schneider, Stanford University

"This book is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the major economic debates around the major new long-term change of our times – global warming. Frank Ackerman has done us all a great service with this very accessible critical survey of the varied and complicated issues involved."
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development

"Journalists serious about informing their audiences about the coming climate change debates should well have Ackerman's book on their shelves."
Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media

"This is a clear, readable first book for the non-economist, to start understanding the economics around climate change, and the various differing arguments by economists..."
John Mashey (customer review on

Selected media coverage and reviews:

Solutions, by Richard B. Howarth, June 28, 2010
The Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, Feb. 19, 2009
Nature Reports Climate Change, by Yoram Bauman, Jan. 15, 2009; see Frank Ackerman's response here


• On Feb. 25, 2010, Frank Ackerman outlined some of the key ideas in the book, complete with slides and a Q&A period, as part of the Tisch Library's Author Talk series at Tufts University. Watch a video recorded by members of the Tufts Roundtable.
• On April 28, 2009, Frank Ackerman discussed his book at a lunch seminar at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University. Click here for a recap and a video of the talk.

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