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.
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.
Last week I had the distinct pleasure of attending and participating in the second World Ocean Summit, a collection of business, political, financial, and scientific leaders hosted by The Economist. (Not that I am counting myself as any of those; I simply had the great luck and fortune of getting a comped registration through a member of the Switzer Foundation). From the beginning, this Summit was unlike any other (read: scientific) conference I had attended. Valet parking? Luxury watches for sale by the coffee? Not to mention the location, at the beautiful beachfront Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, CA. The day started with an intro by John Micklethwait, Editor-in-Chief of The Economist, followed by a video message from HRH The Prince of Wales and a live broadcast interview with Secretary John Kerry. All three of these men talked about the “economic riddle” of the oceans, our apparent disregard for the natural capital contained within.
The recent California drought is a time machine. It represents a regularly recurring event in California’s Mediterranean climate, which cycles back and forth between dry and wet years so frequently that a “normal” year is actually the exception. Hence, we have witnessed many droughts in the past, and we will see them again in the future. This prediction holds even if the models are wrong in forecasting that climate change will load the “climate dice” in favor of more frequent and longer duration droughts in the future. Of course most readers know this already—the recurring climate and hydrological patterns of California are big news headlines with nice info-graphics (and countless blogs, tweets, etc) in 2013-2014.
The following Los Angeles Times headlines illustrate the severity of drought in California:
How will farmers respond to the drought? Following recent announcements about potential zero allocations from the California State Water Project, and the likelihood for other water allocations to follow suit, many are wondering how California agriculture will cope with the recent drought. The Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior is today releasing a new policy brief designed to answer this very question.
Using data from a farmer survey conducted by UC Davis researchers in 2011 in the Central Valley (Yolo County), we discuss farmers water uses in dry and normal years, their likely drought adaptation strategies, and how different kinds of water uses are likely to adopt different practices.
The main takeaways are:
1) Farmers shift away from surfacewater to groundwater in dry years
For over 20 years, Pat Mulroy has been the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, with responsibility for securing the water supplies for the Las Vegas metropolitan region. Over that time, she earned a reputation as a savvy and tough character in water politics, where she has been involved in many of the biggest issues at the local, state, regional, and federal levels. She is retiring from her position on Thursday, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal posted an interesting exit interview. There are some real gems in this interview, which I think are worth further elaboration.