Current Research Projects

  • An Integrative Assessment of Factors Contributing to Wellbeing in Australia

    This project will provide residents and policymakers with a tool to assess how various social, economic, and the environmental factors affect Australians’ subjective wellbeing. Results will reveal the value and trade-offs among various factors in creating sustainable wellbeing.

    The project is a first attempt at a comprehensive, integrative, assessment of which factors contribute most significantly to the sustainable wellbeing of the Australian population. It will employ regression analyses to explore the relationship between social, economic, and environmental indicators and subjective wellbeing. The results will allow estimates of the relative value and trade-offs of the factors in creating wellbeing. GIS maps will show the special patterns and distribution of the contributing factors at local and regional scales, providing detailed information about the assets and policy recommendations for improving sustainable wellbeing.

  • Economics of Land Degradation (ELD)

    The Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) is a project on the economic benefits of land and land-based ecosystems. It aims to make the economics of land degradation an integral part of policy strategies and decision making by increasing the political and public awareness of the costs and benefits of land and land-based ecosystems.

    This project highlights the value of sustainable land management and provides a global approach for analysis of the economics of land degradation. The goal is to transform global understanding of the value of land and create awareness of the economic case for sustainable land management that prevents loss of natural capital, secures livelihoods, preserves ecosystem services, combats climate change, and addresses food, energy, and water security, and to create capacity for the utilisation of economic information for sustainable land management.

    For more information, see the project website.

    Publications related to this project:

  • Agricultural Investment in Natural Capital

    Working with the National Australian Bank (NAB) to demonstrate that investment in natural capital or good management of it is correlated to improved business resilience and profitability (accounting for other variables). It is a critical prerequisite for exploring how natural capital risks can be appropriately priced into business (including in lending) decisions.

    Farmers who invest in their natural capital assets (including soil health) reap benefits including improved profitability and/or increased business resilience (more consistent yields and profits over time).

    However, there is a lack of analysis on large-scale, longitudinal and multi-criteria data sets that is able to unpack the relationship between natural capital management and financial performance. Such analysis is needed to be able to clearly demonstrate the answers to questions about whether, how and under what conditions good management of natural capital reduces business risk and improves business resilience and/or profitability.

  • Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI)

    The GPI is one way to measure wellbeing. It is designed to measure the economic welfare generated by economic activity. Countries, states, and regions around the world have used the GPI to track progress.

    This metric is calculated by starting with personal consumption expenditures, a measure of all spending by individuals and a major component of GDP, and making more than 20 additions and subtractions to account for factors such as the value of volunteer work and the costs of divorce, crime and pollution.

    Crucially, unlike other measures in the first group, GPI considers income distribution. A dollar’s worth of increased income to a poor person boosts welfare more than a dollar’s worth of increased income does for a rich person.

    US states of Vermont and Maryland have begun using the GPI as an official measure, while other states have also begun calculating GPI.

    Publications related to this project:

  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

    The SDGs represent a major potential tipping point in the future of humanity. For the first time in human history we have a set of goals and targets agreed to by all countries that include the full range of factors that contribute to equitable and sustainable well-being. We must not squander this opportunity to change the trajectory of humanity toward a sustainable and desirable future.

    To guide real global development (and replace the misuse of growth in gross domestic product (GDP) as the primary national policy goal) the SDGs need an overarching goal, with aggregate metrics of progress toward that objective. In this project, we are working on developing such an aggregated metric based on the SGD goals and targets.

    One way to do this, is to replace the static, linear model by integrated natural and human system models that incorporate the dynamics of stocks, flows, trade-offs, and synergies among the full range of variables that affect the SDGs and overall human and ecosystem wellbeing.

    Publications related to this project:

  • Societal Addiction

    Societies, like individuals, can get trapped in patterns of behavior called social traps or “societal addictions” that provide short-term rewards but are detrimental and unsustainable in the long run. Examples include our societal addiction to inequitable over-consumption fueled by fossil energy and a “growth at all costs” economic model.

    This project explores the potential to learn from successful therapies at the individual level. In particular, Motivational Interviewing (MI) is one of the most effective therapies. It is based on engaging addicts in a positive discussion of their goals, motives, and futures. We suggest that one analogy to MI at the societal level is a modified version of scenario planning (SP) that has been extended to engage the entire community (CSP) in thinking about goals and alternative futures via public opinion surveys and forums. Both MI and CSP are about exploring alternative futures in positive, non-confrontational ways and building commitment or consensus about preferred futures.We conclude that effective therapies for societal addictions may be possible, but, as we learn from MI, they will require a rebalancing of effort away from only pointing out the dire consequences of current behavior (without denying those consequences) and toward building a shared vision of a positive future and the means to get there.

    Publications related to this project:

  • Pandas

    Pandas are one of the most iconic flagship species and a national treasure of China. In this project, we estimate the quantity and value of ecosystem services from panda reserves in southwest China.

    China’s National Conservation Project for the Giant Panda and its Habitat provided the impetus for the establishment of a panda reserve system, which today numbers 67 reserves covering 1.3 million hectares of suitable panda habitat. The biological diversity of these panda reserves is unparalleled in the temperate world and rivals that of tropical ecosystems.  The goal of this project is to estimate the value of ecosystem services of these reserves as a means of informing policy and future development.

  • Ecosystem Services Games

    Building an interactive gaming platform on top of an ecosystem simulation model will allow individuals to “play” the system to create their version of the “best” landscape.

    Humans currently spend over 3 billion person-hours per week playing computer games. Most of these games are purely for entertainment, but use of computer games for education has also expanded dramatically. At the same time, experimental games have become a staple of social science research but have depended on relatively small sample sizes and simple, abstract situations, limiting their range and applicability. If only a fraction of the time spent playing computer games could be harnessed for research, it would open up a huge range of new opportunities. We review the use of games in research, education, and entertainment and develop ideas for integrating these three functions around the idea of ecosystem services valuation. This approach to valuation can be seen as a version of choice modeling that allows players to generate their own scenarios taking account of the trade-offs embedded in the game, rather than simply ranking pre-formed scenarios. Our prototype provides a potential pathway and functional building blocks for approaching the relatively untapped potential of games in the context of ecosystem services research.

    Publications related to this project:

  • Barrier Reef, Coastal Wetlands, and Mangroves Protection Against Australian Cyclones

    The barrier reef, coastal wetlands, and mangroves function as valuable, self-maintaining ‘‘ horizontal levees’’ for storm/cyclone/hurricane/typhoon protection, and also provide a host of other ecosystem services that vertical levees do not. Their restoration and preservation is an extremely cost-effective strategy for society.

    Globally, between 1900 and 2010, 2652 windstorms (including tropical storms, cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, and winter storms) have been considered disasters. Altogether, they have caused 1.2 million human deaths and have cost USD 381 billion in property damage.  Of these, hurricanes, cyclones, and tropical storms have resulted in USD 179 billion in property damage (47% of the total from all windstorms) and the loss of 874 000 human lives (73% of the total from all windstorms).

    If the frequency and intensity of hurricanes increases in the future, as some are predicting as a result of climate change, then the value of coastal wetlands for protection from these storms will also increase. Coastal wetlands provide ‘‘horizontal levees’’ that are maintained by nature and are far more cost-effective than constructed levees. Coastal wetlands also provide a host of other valuable ecosystem services that constructed levees do not.

  • Claim the Sky

    Under existing national and international law, we as global citizens can effectively claim property rights over the planet’s atmosphere. By asserting that all of us collectively own the sky, we can begin to use the public trust doctrine and existing legal institutions surrounding property rights to protect this collective ‘atmospheric’ property, charge for damages to this asset, and provide rewards for improving this asset.

    The Paris Climate Change agreement was a great step forward. However, we know very well that there is still a lot to do to turn a global agreement into effective implementation around the world, not only across governments, but also in business and society. One important way in which we can all support the global climate deal is to Claim the Sky. This adds ‘legal muscle’ to the agreement using a number of existing national and international legal frameworks and processes.

    For more information, see the project website.