News Story

August 30, 2019

Remembering Marty Weitzman, 1942-2019

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All of us at the Harvard University Center for the Environment are deeply saddened by the loss of Martin L. Weitzman, recently retired professor of economics at Harvard University, who died unexpectedly on August 27, 2019. Weitzman’s contributions to environmental economics and policy are considered extraordinarily important, within both academia and the policy community. He published widely, was elected as a fellow of the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was a longtime faculty associate and friend of HUCE, and for more than 25 years hosted with Robert Stavins the Harvard Seminar in Environmental Economics and Policy. 

 

Marty Weitzman was a treasure—a gift that kept on giving to the research and policy worlds—for Harvard, for environmental economists around the world, and for the global intellectual community. His work as a theorist on environment, broadly, and climate change, in particular, was unparalleled and formed the basis of much empirical research carried out by many, many others, including myself. He was the first to develop strong arguments for why, when analyzing the benefits and costs of proposed climate policies, it is important—from an economic perspective—to take into account the possibility of catastrophic outcomes, despite the fact that their probability may be very small.  That alone was a massive contribution, but it is only one of many.

Robert Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development; Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, Harvard Kennedy School

 

Marty Weitzman was a giant in the field of environmental economics. As a relative newcomer to the field, I was tremendously fortunate to be able to learn from him as a colleague. Marty cared deeply about tackling climate change; his research and thinking was driven by his desire that we must use all our tools as economists to solve this problem. In conversations as well as in his research, he had a way of looking at a problem from angles that are new, unexpected, and yield deep insights. This creativity—the ability to ask the right question, then answer it with beautiful simplicity—was a hallmark of his most influential research. That research included welfare comparisons of cap-and-trade vs. carbon taxes; discounting under uncertainty into the deep future; and why possible climate catastrophes provide a motivation for climate policy action today as a kind of climate insurance. Marty’s ideas have been foundational to environmental economics in general and to climate economics in particular. Speaking personally, I was inspired by how he merged his passion for climate action with hard-headed economics. There is so much more he could have taught me, indeed could have taught us all, and he will be sorely missed.

James Stock, Harold Hitchings Burbank Professor of Political Economy, Department of Economics, Harvard University

 

Nearly two decades ago, in my very first microeconomics lecture in graduate school, I became Marty Weitzman’s student. Ever since that day, I have been challenged, inspired, and enlightened by Marty and his work. As a graduate student and as a colleague on the Harvard faculty, I enjoyed his interventions in seminars. His comments and questions made you think, re-evaluate your assumptions, and cause you to consider a problem from another perspective. In his scholarship, Marty sought out questions whose answers could both advance the frontier of knowledge and lay the foundation for better public policy. In the classroom, when I am teaching from one of his papers, I see in our students the excitement when they begin to understand the insights from Marty’s work. And Marty was always generous with his time—and patient with me—when I solicited his feedback and guidance on my research. I will forever be Marty’s student and forever in debt to his generation of ideas and advancement of knowledge.

Joseph Aldy, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

 

I will really miss Marty Weitzman. Perhaps surprisingly given that we had very different personalities, research styles and fields of interest he was a great inspiration to me. The way in which Marty marched usually alone to his own drummer—pursuing questions others hadn’t conceived, reducing problems to their essence and looking as much for beauty as immediate relevance—represents the very best in the scholarly life. It wasn’t just Marty s approach to economics that inspired me, he also had a kind of mystic brilliance that I envied. We will not see his like for a very long time. 

Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus, Harvard University 

Harvard University
Center for the Environment

Address: 26 Oxford Street, 4th Floor, Cambridge
Email: huce@environment.harvard.edu
Phone: (617) 495-0368

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