But Will the Planet Notice? How Smart Economics Can Save the World

Gernot Wagner

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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You are one of 7 billion people on Earth. Whatever you or I do personally—eat tofu in a Hummer or hamburgers in a Prius—the planet doesn’t notice. In our confrontation with climate change, species preservation, and a planet going off the cliff, it is what several billion people do that makes a difference. The solution? It isn't science, politics, or activism. It's smarter economics.  The hope of mankind, and indeed of every living thing on the planet, is now in the hands of the dismal science. Fortunately, we’ve been there before. Economists helped crack the acid rain problem in the 1990's (admittedly with a strong assist from a phalanx of lawyers and activists). Economists have helped get lead out of our gas, and they can explain why lobsters haven’t disappeared off the coast of New England but tuna is on the verge of extinction. More disquietingly, they can take the lessons of the financial crisis and model with greater accuracy than anyone else the likelihood of environmental catastrophe, and they can help save us from global warming, if only we let them.


Praise for But Will the Planet Notice?

"Idealism will not shift the choices of billions of people as effectively as self-interest. Gernot Wagner has written a exposition of the underlying economics. We must remove the incentives to treat scarce resources as if they were free. He respects the moral principles of the idealists who want to change behavior by precept alone. But, as an economist, he knows that if we want less of anything, including pollution, we must raise its price."—Martin Wolf, Financial Times
"It’s always a pleasure to read a confident, funny and convincing writer who promotes counter-intuitive conclusions. If you like the idea of an environmentalist who works for one of the nation’s largest environmental groups making a full-throated argument against the Endangered Species Act . . . then But Will the Planet Notice?: How Smart Economics Can Save the World is the book for you."—Dan Shapley, The Daily Green (blog)
"Global warming is a tough nut to crack. Gemot Wagner takes a pithy, fun, and enlightening swing and he hits the mark. Read it and laugh—or weep. Either way, you will come away armed with powerful tools to separate serious thinking from the rivers of nonsense that too often pollute debate over what to do."—Michael Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment, Council on Foreign Relations
"This splendid book showcases why environmental economics is such an exciting field today. Who knew that an economist not named Krugman could write so well? I will buy my mom a copy."—Matthew E. Kahn, author of Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future 
"If you want to understand how an economist thinks about the biggest challenge our planet has ever stumbled up against, this book is an awfully good place to start!"—Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
"As the earth approaches runaway global warming, Gernot Wagner lays out clearly the moral and economic reasoning we will need to make the tough choices ahead. His intellect is powerful, his style is engaging and humorous. But he is also rigorous and persistent, and he will stay with you until you 'get it.' And that’s what we need. He takes the most relevant insights of classical economics, behavioral economics, moral philosophy and even libertarian doctrine and fuses them into a consistent and brilliant analytic construct for thinking about the global environmental threats that face us."—Peter J. Goldmark, Jr., former chairman and CEO, International Herald Tribune
"Gernot Wagner underscores the ‘eco’ in economics, showing how markets that have lifted millions out of poverty could lift our planet out of peril."—Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund and author of Earth: The Sequel
"For more than thirty years, I’ve been waiting for a book that would accurately embody an economic perspective on environmental policy and clearly present it to a truly broad readership. At last, Gernot Wagner has done it, and done it with style! His explanations and commentaries are true to the underlying science and economics, and his prose makes this not just a very interesting read, but an immensely enjoyable one. Whether you are on the right or the left of the political spectrum—or stuck in the middle like me—this is a book that you should read, and will be glad you did!"—Robert N. Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School

"Environmental economist and debut author Wagner points out that no degree of personal environmental awareness will avert the global-warming chaos humanity now faces. With perhaps as little as a decade left for planet-saving action, it's going to take the combined cool-down actions of several billion people to make a difference . . . He argues that at this late date only an immediate, economist-driven redirection of market forces will make that happen. Call it cap and trade, new taxes, emission-reducing regulatory policies or outright bans on the worst contaminants, but the goal will only be achieved by putting a true cost on dumping in the atmosphere. The price of further atmospheric insult has to be high enough so that individuals by the billions, corporations and governments will do whatever it takes to avoid paying. Therein lies possible salvation, writes the author, whose light, quasi-witty touch belies the apocalyptic message, one that is hardly his alone. But he doesn't sound like he'll be storming the barricades, and even admits that we still could get lucky due to unforeseen vicissitudes."—Kirkus

"Wagner’s wry, witty prose brings rationality to an emotionally charged subject and urges us to take personal responsibility for the planet by demanding an economically sound solution to guiding market forces in the right direction, making it in our best interests to do the right thing."—Publishers Weekly

In the Press

BUT WILL THE PLANET NOTICE? by Gernot WagnerKirkus Book Reviews
Read the Kirkus Review of BUT WILL THE PLANET NOTICE? How Smart Economics Can Save the World. Let economists rule and the earth be spared.

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Read an Excerpt




Ask around what caused the financial crisis, and the answer, absent expletives, will be some version of “wrong incentives.” The road signs guiding market forces pointed in the wrong direction. Wall Street wasn’t doing what was in everyone’s best interests. What’s good for Goldman Sachs turned out not to be all that good for America.
Shift your focus on what ails the planet, and the answer will be very much the same. “Wrong incentives” are as important here as they were in the financial
Read the full excerpt


  • Gernot Wagner

  • Gernot Wagner is an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund. He teaches at Columbia and graduated from both Harvard and Stanford. He doesn’t eat meat, doesn’t drive, and knows full well the futility of his personal choices.
  • Gernot Wagner © Yuki Kokubo