The reconciliation of my narrow training in economic theory with the broader implications of ecology on economic processes closely paralleled the formalization of the profession of ecological economics (EE) in the 1990s. During graduate school I found in the relatively new professional society, journal, and scholarship of EE both a critique of neoclassical economic theory that was grounded in the natural sciences, and a transdisciplinary approach to problem-solving that appealed to my interests in integration. My first job at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in 1997 was the first academic position in the country advertising for an ecological economist. Today it’s more common. While the roots of EE go back many decades (and in fact, back more than a century to the classical economists), in many ways my scholarship was developed during the formal professionalization of the field.
Today my research interests span theoretical, methodological, and analytical contributions to EE. My work on theory has helped to substantiate the long-held biophysical foundations of an ecological economics, as well as broaden the social foundations to include the implications of behavioral and experimental economics on the recasting of demand theory. My theoretical contributions have emerged from collaboration with my longtime colleague John Gowdy from RPI, including an edited book together on the Frontiers in Ecological Economic Theory and Application. My methodological work has included the development of a problem-based framework of EE with Josh Farley and Herman Daly, as well as contributions to synthesis tools such as multicriteria decision aides, input-output economic modeling, dynamic systems simulation, and GIS-based spatial modeling. With a grounding in EE theory and using the synthesis methods developed with my graduate students, my applied work has involved many diverse topics, including public health, sustainable development, land and biodiversity conservation, watershed planning, forest management, climate change economics, and renewable energy technology.
While these research interests have been grounded in economics and questions of sustainability, equity, and efficiency of economic organization, the very nature of EE has required a dedication to working across boundaries to incorporate diverse disciplinary, cultural, and institutional perspectives. In most research projects, I am both the credentialed economist and the team member pulling together pieces of the puzzle. For instance, our USAID-funded research on emerging infectious diseases in East Africa has drawn together the fields of veterinary science, public health, wildlife conservation, chemistry, microbiology, epidemiology, anthropology, and economics. I led the socioeconomic components of the project, as well as helped synthesize research output through village workshops, multicriteria analysis, and ecosystem service modeling. A collaborative approach to scholarship has also meant blurring the lines between research, teaching, and service. Many of my courses are problem-based, partnering with community organizations or government agencies, and resulting in publications, workshops, or other public presentations.