Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Environmental and Natural Resource Economists, Great Research, and the National Science Foundation

Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Environmental and Natural Resource Economists, Great Research, and the National Science Foundation

Article excerpt

Environmental and natural resource economists could be more effectively engaged in great research on exciting issues in environmental and natural resource management. After identifying possible obstacles to improved research, the article focuses on opportunities and obstacles associated with obtaining funding from the National Science Foundation. Opportunities abound, both ongoing and in the future, for interdisciplinary work involving environmental and natural resource economists. Keys to exploiting these opportunities for funding include a willingness to face rejection, build teams, contact program officers with specific questions, write detailed research designs, and prepare proposals that promise to go beyond narrow incremental advances.

Key Words: natural resource economists, National Science Foundation, research funding opportunities

Effective environmental and natural resource management integrates knowledge from the social sciences as well as from the natural sciences. This social scientific knowledge comes from the work of anthropologists, communication scholars, geographers, political scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and of course economists. This essay identifies obstacles to great basic research by environmental and natural resource scientists,1 describes efforts by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support integrated research that would necessarily often involve environmental and natural resource scientists, and concludes with some suggestions regarding obtaining NSF funding. Although some environmental and natural resource economists are engaged effectively in cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, the community as a whole is not involved as much as it could be and as much as a substantial number of economists would prefer.

As a political scientist who manages NSF's program in decision, risk, and management sciences, and who participates on management teams for interdisciplinary environmental competitions, I am unable to bring an enlightened economic perspective to anything. The contribution of this essay is not to economics, but draws upon my experience at NSF to comment on the role of natural resource economists in the research that NSF funds, to identify present and future opportunities, and to make a few suggestions regarding ways of exploiting these opportunities. This essay argues that natural resource economists have opportunities now (and will increasingly have opportunities in the future) to produce significant new knowledge through interdisciplinary collaborations in environmental and natural resource management. The document concludes with the identification of five keys to obtaining funding from the National Science Foundation.

Interdisciplinary Research in Natural Resource Management: Utility and Obstacles

To address fundamental issues of environmental management without the concepts and tools of economists seems foolish. Readers who are professional economists are likely to embrace the utility of economic analysis. Their problem is more likely to be a denial of the utility of anything besides economics. Nevertheless, the multidisciplinary nature of many important environmental and natural resource research questions seems obvious. Understanding air pollution, for example, involves concepts from epidemiology, geography, meteorology, political science, and sociology, as well as economic concepts such as externalities and tradable permits. Addressing the difficult but popular concept of "sustainability" sensibly involves concepts and methods from several fields, and economics is indispensable.

The National Science Board (NSB) and much senior leadership at the National Science Foundation accept the notion that, although research in single disciplines is important, great advances are also likely to come from interdisciplinary enterprises. Since the 1990s, the NSB has supported expensive interdisciplinary initiatives. Although there are widely differing views within NSF regarding what proportion of NSF funds should go into disciplinary or interdisciplinary research, overall support for interdisciplinary research is strong. …

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