speech in 2018, Dr. Nordhaus pegged the “optimal” carbon price — that is, the shared economic burden caused by each ton of emissions — at $43 in 2020. Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia Business School, called it a “woeful underestimate of the true cost” — noting that the prize committee’s home country already taxed carbon at $120 per ton.

another tack. Carbon prices, they reasoned, tend to hit lower-income people hardest. Even if the proceeds funded rebates to taxpayers, as many proponents recommended, similar promises by supporters of trade liberalization — that people whose jobs went offshore would get help finding new ones in a faster-growing economy — proved illusory. Besides, without government investment in low-carbon infrastructure, many people would have no alternative to continued carbon use.

“You’re saying, ‘Things are going to cost more, but we aren’t going to give you help to live with that transition,’” said Rhiana Gunn-Wright, director of climate policy at the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute and an architect of the Green New Deal. “Gas prices can go up, but the fact is, most people are locked into how much they have to travel each day.”

At the same time, the cost of technologies like solar panels and batteries for electric vehicles — in part because of huge investments by the Chinese government — was dropping within the range that would allow them to be deployed at scale.

For Ryan Kellogg, an energy economist who worked as an analyst for the oil giant BP before getting his Ph.D., that was a key realization. Leaving an economics department for the public policy school at the University of Chicago, and working with an interdisciplinary consortium including climate scientists, impressed on him two things: that fossil fuels needed to be phased out much faster than previously thought, and that it could be done at lower cost.

Just in the utility sector, for example, Dr. Kellogg recently found that carbon taxes aren’t meaningfully more efficient than subsidies or clean electricity standards in driving a full transition to wind and solar power. And as more essential devices can be powered by batteries, affordable electricity becomes paramount.

more useful for policymakers than broad, top-down economic models.

begun to look at the relationship between extreme weather and federal revenue. But because it’s still not clear how best to do that, other institutions are trying as well.

Carter Price, a mathematician at the nonprofit RAND Corporation, is working on a budget model that will incorporate the latest social science research, as well as climate science, to inform long-term policy decisions.

“This is a space where having more models early on would be better,” Dr. Price said. “Rather than someone has an assumption, that assumption goes into a model, nobody questions it and, 10 years later, we realize that assumption is pretty powerful and maybe not right.”

The larger lesson is that modern climate policy is a complex endeavor that calls for large, interdisciplinary teams — which is not historically how the economics field has operated.

“You can only do so much by writing things down on a single sheet of paper from your office at Yale,” said Dr. Kopp, of Rutgers. “That’s not how science gets done. That’s how a lot of economics gets done. But you run into limits.”

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