Jack Pezzey's research interests
Last updated on 18 March 2016
The following was drafted mainly with prospective PhD students and post-docs in mind, so all the topics mentioned are ones I'd be willing to supervise a PhD student or post-doc on. However, they should also be of general interest to potential co-authors. I am unlikely to do much new research myself in any of these areas until I have finished a book called Sustainability Economics: Scarcity and Growth on a Finite Planet.
(1) Interaction between sustainable development, economic growth, and measurement of national income.
My output in this area has so far been either highly simplified, mathematical models of the sustainable (or unsustainable) development of a single economy; or broad reviews of such modelling efforts. Application to general policy debates about "sustainability" is often not easy, particularly as there are theoretical reasons why sustainability is very hard to measure in practice; see "One-sided sustainability tests..." on my website for my last theoretical work on this, and "Augmented sustainability measures..." and "Towards a more inclusive and precautionary indicator..." for my ventures into empirical work. The other relevant past papers in my CV are Pezzey (2004, Scand. J. Econ.), Pezzey (2004, Env. Devel. Econ.), Pezzey (2003, Econ. Lett.), Pezzey and Toman (2002, Int. Yearb. Env. Res. Econ.), Pezzey (1998), Pezzey and Withagen (1998), Pezzey (1997), Toman, Pezzey and Krautkraemer (1995), and Pezzey (1992 - Environmental Values and World Bank papers). For two possible research topics, one on empirical modelling of limits to growth, the other on theoretically correct "sustainability prices" for nonrenewable resources, see here.
(a) The topic I'd most
like to address in this area is the sustainability
of non-renewable resource extraction in
(b) A very different topic in sustainability economics research that would interest me is the importance of "relativistic" effects on sustaining well-being (or happiness), building on work by Howarth (1996, Ecol. Econ. Vol 16; 2006, Ecol. Econ. Vol 58) in particular, and by "happiness economics" in general. Much of people's well-being depends on their relative rather than absolute economic position in society, and relativistic effects are self-cancelling across society as a whole, so economic growth does not make people much happier on average. The risks caused by economic growth (for example, that climate change might prove catastrophic, or that the rate of technical progress might eventually not keep up with depletion of non-renewable resources) then seem less worth taking, and precautionary approaches should play a stronger role in environmental policy.
Many other research
projects are possible, either applying known or new procedures for estimating
"green NNP" or "genuine saving" to countries (particularly
Asian ones) or sectors (such as minerals or water) where they have not been
used much; or working on solutions to well-known general problems in green
accounting. Two obvious general problems are (c) accounting for uncertain changes in world prices of traded
natural resources; and (d) the way that irregular discoveries of non-renewable resources like ores disrupt
any orderly, year-by-year calculation of the value of natural resource
depletion. (Both are important problems for
(2) Political and informational economy of using taxes, tradeable permits or property rights to conserve natural resources efficiently; applications to specific resource uses, especially greenhouse gas emissions.
a long time this has been my main policy research interest, stimulated by
observing over many years of how textbook ideas, of using market mechanisms (Pigovian pollution taxes and tradeable pollution rights) to
manage environmental resources, so often fail to be adopted by policymakers.
Some of my work has been to analyse the general political and information costs
which explain this failure: see Pezzey (2003, Env.
Res. Econ.), Pezzey and Park (1998), Pezzey (1992,
example of applied research in this area is how best to control net emissions
of greenhouse gases from developing countries, given the high uncertainty of
such countries' future development and emission pathways. This was the research topic studied during
2002-5 by my then PhD student, now co-author in the
As far as fossil-fuel CO2 emissions are concerned, the work tends to be mostly "economic", because mainstream macroeconomic questions such as trade and public finance are unavoidable, and not very "environmental", because CO2 is globally diffused, and hard to abate and thus easy to measure from carbon inputs.
are many other interesting, possible applications of market mechanisms of
environmental management that I might be willing to supervise. One worth a special mention is forest
management, such as hidden subsidies for old-growth logging. My specialist
knowledge here is slight, but my scientific colleagues in
(3) Developing variants of William Nordhaus's Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy (DICE) model
Through my teaching a climate-change economics topic within my full-semester graduate course IDEC8004, Sustainability and Ecological Economics during 2006-11 (ask me for the password if you want access to files on this site), I became very interested in the detailed assumptions comprising the DICE model, because its results for the time profiles of carbon emissions cuts and prices seem so complacent compared to recent scientific warnings about urgent needs for deep cuts. It is fairly easy to download Nordhaus's program in either GAMS or Excel form, change his assumptions, and see what difference it makes to the time profile of carbon emissions abatement and prices, and I did just this in my "Towards a more inclusive and precautionary indicator..." paper. I have a number of ideas about climate science, discounting and depreciation here, many of which would make good topics for PhD research because there is a clear framework to depart from and results can be rapidly computed.
(4) Critiques of economic assumptions about people's preferences, and substitutability and technical progress in production processes. Biological and cultural evolution of Western environmental values.
This is my "blue sky", but much-neglected, area of interest. I have many ideas, many set out in Pezzey (1992, Env. Values). Idea (1)(b) above is in essence "blue sky" because I have only one, very old draft paper in the area, and two further ideas particularly interest me:
(a) To what extent can physical measures of sustainability be used to explore the limits to substitutability which are blithely assumed away by the mathematical functions typically used in economic modelling, such as Cobb-Douglas production functions? Through my teaching of IDEC8004 (see (3)), I learnt more about physical measures such as ecological footprints, energy analysis, and materials input per unity of service. Each of these uses a different measure of environmental impact: area, energy and mass respectively. Given how little economic work has been done, and maybe can be done on the long-term limits to substitutability, can physical measures such as these give some useful early warnings of future unsustainability?
(b) Can one use 2-dimensional, agent-based modelling to study how a society's behaviour towards the natural environment evolves in competition with neighbouring societies? For example, how much have expansionary or exploitative attitudes towards the environment been selected for in the evolution of Western industrialism, and how deeply embedded are they in our culture, or even our genes?
Both (a) and (b) are research areas that I'm always meaning to work on but never get round to. There's much fascinating research to do, but it needs study across a wide range of disciplines, and to some extent an interest in knowledge for knowledge's sake.
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