Graduate STEM Fellow Profile
GLobAl Change Initiative: Education and Research (GLACIER)
Thesis: The Role of Economic Rents & Environmental Services in Land-Use Change and Policy for Amazonia
College/University: Boston University
Research Advisor: Robert K. Kaufman
Degree Sought: Ph.D., Geography
Department: Geography and Environment
Research Focus: Economic incentives of land-use change
Teaching Partner(s): Evan MacAlear
Description of Research
My research integrates spatially explicit measures of the economic incentives that individuals use to make decisions regarding land-use change in the Amazon basin. These papers represent a series of efforts that work in concert to create a comprehensive model of the climatic, edaphic, and economic determinants of land-use change in the Brazilian Amazon. These models will be used to measure the economic and environmental impacts of alternative market-based policy regimes on land-use conversion, output value, ecosystem services, and tax burden.
The first of my published papers focuses on the ability to simulate how agricultural rent generates the spatial patterns by which natural ecosystems are converted to agricultural uses. I proxy agricultural rent with the difference between the value of agricultural products generated by a parcel of land and the cost of transporting that output to market. The use of rent allows me to connect decision variables used by individuals to simulate the available policy instruments. My second paper in this series applies a similar methodology to the integration of cattle ranching rents into land-use change modeling. Potential cattle rents are used to quantify the desirability of each pixel for conversion to pasture. My preliminary findings indicate that cattle rents are primary drivers of conversion to pasture for the area of study. Because land-use results from choices between disparate and competing land-use options, this study will examine conversion to agriculture, pasture, or forest simultaneously. My third paper, currently in review at Environmental and Resource Economics, examines the hidden cost of agricultural conversion, the loss of services generated by the natural ecosystem. This external cost is important–I find that the loss of ecosystem services reduces total social welfare by approximately 45%. I find that a simple uniform ecosystem service tax or subsidy could bring total social welfare to within 98% of . This paper is the first to quantify the contributions of ecosystem services to the Brazilian economy and highlights the importance of internalizing its effects.
Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
I have been able to bring my knowledge of environmental science and climate change to the classroom in a number of ways. I have decided to place emphasis on simple immutable truths of climate change. First, I developed a simple one-period demonstration of the effect of high concentrations of CO2 on temperature, using two bottles, dirt, a light, vinegar and baking soda. In my next large interactive project, our students will explore the effects of climatic change on evolution through out geological time. Both of these projects will be made available to other teacher over the web and through short movies on Youtube.