The American Economic Association (AEA) held its Annual Meeting from January 5-7. The Annual Meeting, run in conjunction with more than sixty other economics associations, is the world’s largest gathering of economists and presents an opportunity for the best minds in economics to celebrate new achievements in economic research.

Each year, dating back to 1962, the Distinguished Lecture is a highlight of the Annual Meeting. EPIC Director Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, delivered the AEA’s 2024 Distinguished Lecture on January 5th.

“Michael Greenstone’s work has transformed empirical energy and environmental economics, making huge contributions to the conduct of environmental policy in the United States and globally,” said Janet Currie, Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University and Chair of this year’s Annual Meeting. “His work shows that there doesn’t have to be any tradeoff between intellectual rigor and policy impact.”

As the 2024 Distinguished Lecturer, Greenstone continues the University of Chicago’s academic excellence in Economics as the 23rd Distinguished Lecturer affiliated with the University as faculty or alum, nine of whom went on to win a Nobel Prize in Economics.

In his lecture, “The Economics of the Global Energy Challenge,” Greenstone emphasized that thinking narrowly about solving the climate problem will lead to less efficient outcomes that undermine people’s well-being. Instead, he argued that the world must confront a much broader Global Energy Challenge that requires balancing three goals that are often in conflict and require challenging trade-offs: 1) Increasing access to inexpensive and reliable energy; 2) Protecting public health from the pollution that comes from energy consumption; and 3) Minimizing the damages from climate change.

“The Global Energy Challenge is perhaps the defining challenge of the century and it’s also one where these trade-offs inherent in it vary greatly across locations, and particularly when it comes to the climate component it’s going to make it very difficult to solve,” Greenstone said. “So, the question is: Can the world find a path where societies, all pursuing their individual self-interests, don’t make it unnecessarily difficult for each other?”

Greenstone concluded the lecture with a series of evidence-based policy recommendations that can help societies successfully manage the Global Energy Challenge.

Watch the lecture.