Climate Cafe with Jisung Park ’04: The Economic Effects of Climate Change

Two weeks following Earth Week, Jisung Park ’04, professor and researcher of environmental economics at UCLA, shared his research at the last Climate Cafe of the year. He held an interactive session with attending students, raising discussions on the economic influence of climate change and its connection to climate injustice.

To Park, environmental economics gives him an opportunity to look at the problem of climate change from a unique perspective. In his studies, Park linked climate change to the decrease in work productivity and other economic issues. He believes that various data from his studies suggest that climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed now.

“My work has centered around the question: What are the economic consequences of climate change? Professionally, I spend a lot of time trying to put numbers behind how climate will affect, in some ways already affecting us, our economics, and lives. I try to understand how the data can reform our perspective on climate change, not just as a future phenomenon a hundred years from now, but as an ongoing phenomenon that we need to respond to currently,” said Park.

Attendee Shreya Bajaj ’23 believed that Park’s talk allowed her to draw the connection between economics and climate injustice through a new lens. Contrary to what she expected, Bajaj learned that economics is not only about monetary concepts.

“My biggest takeaway from the talk is that even when looking at the climate crisis through an economic lens, we can still work for environmental justice. It seems to me that economists sometimes reduce the issue to simple monetary ones, but Professor Park really emphasized how determining the social cost of carbon is not necessarily as important as realizing that cost is unequal in its effect on people,” said Bajaj.

Dominique Williams ’24 was intrigued by Park’s research on the correlation between climate change and decreased work productivity. She believes that making such connections could help policymakers recognize the importance of climate change in order to address these intersecting issues.

“In his research directly, where he was pointing out the cost-effect, loss of climate change, like global warming directly affecting work productivity. I feel like this is something that’s important for policymakers to see. If we continue making connections like those, then maybe we can get kind of an economic basis for correcting climate change,” said Williams.

Similarly, Phillips Academy Sustainability Coalition (PASC) Student Coordinator Frank Zhou ’22 found the new perspectives within Park’s studies valuable. He noted how other climate change groups on campus are working to address the intersecting issues that Park discusses and recognized the importance of supporting such movements.

“The PASC and Andover students in general then can move forward with an understanding of environmental racism that is all the wider and more well informed. That the inequities stemming from climate change are far more than just those that we commonly talk about. This points to perhaps Andover Climate Lobby advocating for legislation that marries the interests of the environmental movement and the labor movement in Massachusetts. That’s an area of tension right now that could use a lot more movement building,” said Zhou.

To conclude his talk, Park addressed some common opinions people hold about climate change. According to Park, the problem with climate change is not the possibility of human extinction in the far future, but its ability to create increasing inequality between different groups of people.

“Reality is that there is no world in which humanity is toast. The data I’ve seen suggests that even with really severe climate change, there’s some part of civilization that will march on, the problem is that climate change will make lives significantly worse for some, and only marginally worse for others, and I think we have a responsibility to think about that shade of gray as opposed to black and white,” concluded Park.

As summer break approaches, many of the PASC activities like Climate Cafe are coming to an end. Zhou, who will soon graduate from Phillips Academy, reflected on his experience with the PASC for the past three years. As one of the founders of the organization, Zhou is glad to see the tremendous progress the PASC has made over such a short period of time.

“In that time across the 29 climate cafes, we’ve organized over 120 community events with the 250-person divestment demonstration being the most recent example. The pace of change is so heartening and so blistering. It really feels like our movement has gained so much attention and momentum thanks to the dozens of student advocates that are working in earnest towards this,” said Zhou.