Monday, May 20, 2013

What do natural resource economists do?

This is an edited re-post from an earlier semester.
As students begin to study the discipline of natural resource economics, there is often confusion about what the topic is really about. This is especially the case when students are coming from backgrounds with only limited exposure to economics (e.g. EVS, where you've only had one or two econ classes before this one).

Generally speaking, economists try to solve problems using a combination of theory, empirical analysis (data, statistics, math), and intuition. For example, macro economists try to address issues such as how to keep an economy growing without significant inflation.  Micro economists might try to find the best way to maximize profit for a particular firm or industry. Natural resource economists try to solve problems associated with scarce natural resources.

Some examples from my work include: How to maximize fishery value while balancing the competing needs of commercial and recreational fishers and maintaining a biologically sustainable stock?  How can Caribbean tourism grow without harming coral reef quality or marine turtle populations? What hunting regulations would maximize the net gains to society from white tailed deer populations? In the face of depleted stocks, will a nation's supply of seafood increase or decrease with financial incentives to curtail fishing effort?

Obviously, these are complex issues that require interdisciplinary effort. One of the things that I really love about what I do is that I work side-by-side with biologists, policy makers and resource users to address these problems.

Here are links to two excellent essays that provide a nice perspective on the economic view of the environment.

The second essay covers non-market valuation, which we will cover in detail later in the term. It makes a good read now however, as it sets the stage for much of what we're covering at the beginning of the class (e.g. the economic view of value).

How do Economists Really Think About the Environment (Fullerton and Stavins, RFF, 1998)

Economic Values without Prices (Loomis, Choices, 2005)


Meghan Potter said...

Out of curiosity, are you able to disclose a summary of findings for those topics you've been studying? It would be interesting to know for future reference.

Dr. Peter Schuhmann said...

Meghan, it depends on the study. There are a few things that I'm currently working on for which I cannot disclose results (yet) for legal reasons. Lots of other stuff is out there for public consumption. Is there something in particular that you're interested in?

Meghan Potter said...

Nothing in particular. The fisheries and Caribbean tourism topics seem like an interesting read is all!

Troy Daniel said...

"The fact that people will pay more for houses, accept lower paying jobs, or travel further to visit areas of higher environmental quality should convey to policy makers that environmental quality has an economic value, dollar per dollar as valuable as many market goods." Those are some good examples when trying to help explain that people do value a clean environment and why people are willing to pay more to travel farther to go to there favorite vacation destination when there is something simular, but not as nice, that is also closer.

Troy Daniel said...

I actually just read an article about the great barrier reef is on the brink of being listed as "in danger" due to coal and natural gas expansion off the coast of Australia. The water quality is a huge concern and without this reef I could see Northeastern Australia's tourism suffer tremendously. One of the senators says, "It's amazing that it had to come down to me, a new member of the Senate, to draft a bill to protect the seventh wonder of the world because the government won't do it."

Here is the article:

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