Research

 

My research focuses on describing and predicting how economic systems and ecosystems interact in order to support sustainability decision making by governments, business and civil society. This entails advancing both theoretical and empirical methods in economics and combining them with the best sustainability science from other disciplines. More specifically, my interests are focused in three general areas: what land-use choices optimize the tradeoffs among ecosystem services and agricultural production; what policies are optimal to implement spatially-explicit sustainability policy; and, how best to model individual utility maximization and decision making on topics that affect the environment.

Some highlights of my most recent research include:

  • I was the lead author of a study that used high-resolution satellite data to identify which hectares of land globally should be cultivated to meet future food security goals while minimizing the loss of carbon storage. We compared a business-as-usual agricultural expansion scenario, based on existing economic data and trends, to an environmentally optimal expansion scenario and found that optimal expansion would save over US$1.1 trillion worth of carbon storage (valued using a social cost of carbon from climate change damages).
  • I was also the lead author of a study that analyzed how different trajectories of agricultural innovation affect the tradeoff between carbon storage and agricultural production. We reframed this optimization as a microeconomic cost-minimization problem of the firm to show how standard economic theory could be used with high-resolution, spatially-explicit environmental data. We also published a new dataset on the marginal carbon value lost per agricultural profit forgone (MCC) and showed how MCC could be used to guide land-use policy under a wide range of circumstances.
  • My job market paper, “Food for Nature Payments: Cost-Effective Payments for Ecosystem Services Using Global, High-Resolution Data,” defines a spatially-explicit payments for ecosystem services (PES) policy. This paper presents two versions of the PES policy: one based only on public information and one that uses a sealed-bid auction to elicit private information from potential participants on their opportunity cost and the value of their land. Both versions increase the cost-efficiency of conservation investments while minimizing the private loss from forgone private production. The auction version, however, is more cost effective and works even with high degrees of information asymmetry while maintaining the truthful-revelation aspect of sealed-bid auctions. For additional information, see my preview description of Food for Nature Payments.

For a full statement of research, please contact me directly.