Message from the Director, Mark Lubell
The mission of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior (CEPB) is scientific analysis of the interactions among policy institutions, human behavior, and political decisions in the context of environmental and natural resource conflicts. Through developing and testing theoretical models from social science, CEPB seeks to derive practical lessons that can be used to improve environmental policy.
Social network research often focuses on the core of a network instead of the periphery. There are practical and theoretical reasons for this. The practical reason is that it is often difficult to measure the periphery of the network, for example peripheral actors are less likely to answer a survey or be mentioned by survey respondents. The theoretical reason is that many people think all of the “action” is in the core. For example, in policy networks, the core actors might have the most political resources and therefore have control over how policy decisions are made.
A major branch of my research is devoted to studying complex institutional systems, which I argue are the defining feature of real-world environmental governance and public policy more generally. Along with my colleagues (especially John Scholz and Ramiro Berardo) and students, we have updated the “ecology of games” idea originally developed by sociologist Norton Long in 1958 to describe the many different types of political actors and institutions operating in local political contexts. Our ecology of games framework (EGF) synthesizes a number of existing theoretical concepts, with a strong basis in the work of Elinor Ostrom and new institutional economics, network analysis, and complex adaptive systems.
Blogs are sometimes good for making arguments that might not be published. Of course a good blog doesn’t just invent nonsense. Rather, it focuses on expert-based opinions. In the next couple of months, I’m going to write some expert-based opinions about theories of environmental governance that I use in my research. I begin with a long-standing criticism I have of the term “network governance”, in particular when it is used to describe a form of governance that is different from markets and hierarchies.
Do milestone events (like the publication of Earthrise, December 24 1968, or The Limits to Growth (1972)) have a lasting impact on global econmic and environmental policy? What's "gestation period" for a work such as Limits to Growth, that has profound implications for sustainable management of global resources, before it's message begins to influence policy formulation? Why doesn't growth make us happy? I've been trying to grapple with these and other connected questions. Read more at: http://1680kcal.org/?p=184.
The Times Higher Education recently published an article titled Do the social sciences need a shake up? which is a response of sorts to Nicholas Christakis' NY Times op-ed, Let's shake up the social sciences. The central thesis of both is that the social sciences have stagnated, largely because of disciplinary silos, and would better serve society if reorganized. Here are my thoughts as a recent transplant from the biophysical to social sciences.
On the Christakis piece:
Here is the dplyr talk that I recently gave to the Davis R Users' Group. dplyr is an R library that does basic data manipulation extremely well. It is designed to make the data handling tasks that we all do over and over as easy as possible. It produces highly readable syntax that is low cognitive overhead to write. That means less time, less effort, and fewer bugs. dplyr is also exceptionally fast -- much faster than plyr, faster than base R, and nearly as fast as data.table. Below the screencast is the presentation itself, from which you can copy text if you wish.
In order to reinforce the importance of integrating social and biophysical sciences to solve environmental problems, it is sometimes useful to tilt at straw men. Take the case of the New Zealand mudsnail, and this paper that purports a solution: Simple Control Method to Limit the Spread of the New Zealand Mudsnail Potamopyrgus antipodarum. Awesome, let's go home.
Water policy wonks pride themselves on even-handed analysis of the costs and benefits of water policy, as driven by the rational and logical decisions of involved actors. But the psychology of water policy and politics is much more fun. And psychology is heavily involved in real water policy decisions, and should be considered as an important part of the picture.
The recent toxic drinking water event in Toledo, Ohio drives home this point. Of course one of the interesting aspects is the cooperation problem of controlling non-point source pollution from urban and ag sources, and the associated phosphorous that contributes to the algae blooms. Psychology and cooperation are deeply intertwined; a lot of my work engages those issues.
An important goal at the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior is using basic research on environmental policy to make an impact on real-world decisions. We took a bit of an unusual strategy for this at the 7th Annual Political Networks conference held last week in Montreal at McGill university. The picture features graduate student Matthew (Mateo) Robbins and me holding the poster he made for his work on spiny lobster management in Honduras. We are standing in the supporter section for the Montreal Impact, a Major League Soccer team, which that night beat the New England Revolution 3-1. Needless to say, among many French soccer chants and curse words (we don't speak French...), there were some Canadiens with some very strange looks on their faces when they saw Mateo's awesome poster.
In general, people will pay three times more for an energy efficient CFL light bulb than a traditional incandescent. But, stick a "Protect the Environment" label on the energy-efficient option and conservatives become much less likely to buy the CFL.1
What happened? There's no difference in the economic or environmental benefits from the sticker. Lots of people are just turned off by environmentalism. The sticker's environmental plea invokes a spiteful response: I'm not going to choose the money-saving option that I would have otherwise, because those damn environmentalists want me to.