HEEP Remembers Martin Weitzman for his Extraordinary Contributions to Environmental Economics

August 29, 2019
Marty Weitzman

Faculty, scholars, and staff at the Harvard Environmental Economics Program (HEEP) – with economists and other scholars around the world – 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, served as a Faculty Fellow at HEEP, 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 both 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 on climate change in particular was unparalleled, and formed the basis of so much theoretical and empirical research carried out by many, many others,” said Robert N. Stavins, the A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development and the director of HEEP. “He developed strong arguments of why, when analyzing the benefits and costs of proposed climate policies, it was essential – from an economic perspective – to take into account the possibility of catastrophic outcomes, despite the fact that their probability might be relatively small. And that was only one of many contributions.”

In October 2018, Professor Stavins wrote in more detail about Weitzman’s contributions to the field of environmental economics – in connection with a symposium organized by HEEP at Harvard Kennedy School to honor and celebrate Weitzman upon his retirement from Harvard University. Many of Weitzman’s colleagues from around the world – including Nobel Prize winner and keynote speaker William Nordhaus – participated.

Gernot Wagner, a student of Weitzman’s as an undergraduate and PhD student at Harvard, who also served as a HEEP Pre-Doctoral Fellow, wrote, “Weitzman was an academic’s academic, a theoretician’s theorist—someone who eschewed the trends in his discipline toward churning out ever more empirical analyses with larger and larger data sets and more and more coauthors. He appreciated and admired the efforts of those who did dive into thorny empirical questions with increasingly powerful computers. His preferred tools: a No. 2 pencil, a legal pad, and a hard wooden chair.” In recent years, Wagner served as co-author with Weitzman of their 2015 book, Climate Shock (Princeton University Press). Read more from Wagner about Weitzman’s legacy.

A memorial service celebrating the life and contributions of Professor Weitzman will be scheduled at Harvard for later this Fall.

See also: 2019