Simon Brod
Measure of Hope

Mr Nordhaus chopped and burnt wood,
relearned ancient arts as best he could,

and tested antique lamps with a Minolta light meter,
recording how flames flared, and rose, and weakened.

He concluded that in Babylonian times,
while human hands built gardens in the sky,

a day’s hard work produced enough to light
in fragrant night, putting the stars to flight,

a room for ten minutes. By the end,
chasing the dregs, careening round the u-bend

of the twentieth century, the return on a day’s labour,
digging for fuel, drilling holes from poles to equator,

had improved from ten minutes of light to ten years,
a truth Mr Nordhaus treasured. Let’s be clear:

that is the kind of progress that gives one hope.
But, Mr Nordhaus, are we heading up, or down, the slope?

Author’s notes:

In the above, the words in italics are from Tim Harford’s column ‘Let’s innovate our way out of climate change disaster’ published in the 12 October 2018 Financial Times. This poem, and the words used in it from Mr Harford, are used here with the permission of the Financial Times.

William D Nordhaus of Yale University was (jointly with Paul Romer) awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for ‘integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis’. Earlier in his career, Mr Nordhaus published a ground-breaking paper ‘Do real-output and real-wage measures capture reality? The history of lighting suggests not’.