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Abstract

We study the role of intertemporal preference representations in a model of economic growth, stock pollutant and endogenous risk of catastrophic collapse. We contrast two polar instances of risk-sensitive preferences: the traditional "discounted utility"” model, which imposes a positive rate of pure time preference and risk neutrality with respect to intertemporal utility, and multiplicatively separable preferences, which display risk aversion in that dimension but no pure time preferences. We show that both representations of preferences can rationalize the same economy when there is no collapse risk associated with pollution. Once we introduce a collapse risk whose hazard rate depends on the pollution stock, multiplicatively separable preferences are associated with a much higher value of catastrophic risk reduction, and a more stringent policy response. A relatively high discount rate may thus be compatible with large emissions abatement in the face of a low probability large impact event, reflecting preferences for catastrophic risk reduction.

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