Economic growth futures, climate change, and society

GDP per capita is highly connected to many important measures of societal being, including poverty rates, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and capacity for adaptation, to name three. The range of expert projections of world GDP per capita in 2100 spans nearly an order of magnitude, and authoritative forecasts have often over-projected growth and under-projected inequality in the past. With this much uncertainty, how can we adequately plan for future climate change and other societal challenges? We are working on developing new approaches to forecasting economic growth, improving projections of GHG emissions, and anticipating societal challenges that may arise under various future economic growth trajectories.

Featured publications:

Burgess MG, Langendorf RE, Moyer JD, Dancer A, Hughes BB, Tilman D. 2023. Multidecadal dynamics project slow 21st-century economic growth and income convergence. Communications Earth & Environment 4: 220.

Burgess MG, Becker SL, Langendorf RE, Fredston A, Brooks CM. 2023. Climate change scenarios in fisheries and aquatic conservation research. ICES Journal of Marine Science 80: 1163-1178. Editor's choice.

Pielke Jr. R, Burgess MG, Ritchie J. 2022. Plausible 2005-2050 emissions scenarios project between 2 and 3 degrees C of warming by 2100. Environmental Research Letters 17: 024027.

Burgess MG, Carrico AR, Gaines SD, Peri A, Vanderheiden S. 2021. Prepare developed democracies for long-run economic slowdowns. Nature Human Behaviour 5: 1608-1621.

Burgess MG*, Ritchie J*, Shapland J, Pielke Jr. R. 2021. IPCC baseline scenarios have over-projected CO2 emissions and economic growth. Environmental Research Letters 16: 014016. (*Equal contribution)

Fig. 1 from Burgess et al. Nature Human Behaviour 5: 1608 (2021): Historical GDP per capita growth and the share of the global population living in a democracy have risen together since the Industrial Revolutions, and most projections agree on gradually slowing economic growth throughout the 21st century (a,b). Today's richer countries have slower economic growth, on average (c). 

Reducing political polarization of environmental issues

In the U.S. and some other developed democracies, political polarization might be the single biggest obstacle to widespread and long-lasting action to address climate change. We are working to understand how we can move past this polarization, by studying legislation and public opinion polls, and conducting survey experiments. We also convene dialogs among politically diverse community members about climate change and other issues.

Featured publications:

Burgess M. 2024. How polarization will destroy itself. Guided Civic Revival.

Marshall R, Anderson SE, Van Boven L, Al-Shawaf L, Burgess MG. 2024. Neutral and negative effects of  policy bundling on support for decarbonization. Climatic Change 177, 61.

Burgess MG. 2024. Five considerations for twenty-first-century climate policy. FIU Law Review 18, 283-312.

Burgess MG, Suarez C, Dancer A, Watkins LJ, Marshall RE. 2024. Climate change opinion and recent presidential elections. A Center for Social and Environmental Futures Report. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.10494414

Burgess MG*, Van Boven L*, Wagner G*, Wong-Parodi G*, Baker K, Boykoff M, Converse BA, Dilling L, Gilligan JM, Inbar Y, Markowitz E, Moyer JD, Newton P, Raimi KT, Shrum T, Vandenbergh M. 2024. Supply, demand and polarization challenges facing US climate policies. Nature Climate Change 14, 134-142. (*Equal contribution) 

Kroeger GD, Burgess MG. 2024. Electric utility plans are consistent with Renewable Portfolio Standards and Clean Energy Standards in most US states. Climatic Change 177, 1.

Marshall R, Burgess MG. 2022. Advancing bipartisan decarbonization policies: Lessons from state-level successes and failures. Climatic Change 171, 17.

Fig. 3 from Burgess et al. Nature Climate Change 14: 134 (2024). (a) Fractions of 2015-2020 state-level decarbonization bills passed with different types of co-sponsorship and under different types of state partisan control (from Marshall & Burgess 2022). (b) Fractions of US adults, by party and ideology, who are "somewhat" or "very" worried about climate change (source).

Mathematical modeling of human-environment systems

Effectively managing natural resources is essential to food security, livelihoods, and sustaining diverse and productive ecosystems. Yet resource management is caught between needs for complexity and simplicity. On the one hand, the complexity of coupled social-ecological systems pulls natural resource science towards complex models and data-hungry assessment approaches. The need for often large-scale cooperation to achieve management targets, which are as dynamic as the science, pulls resource management towards institutionally complex and (economically) expensive management. On the other hand, many systems lack the data, and financial and institutional capital to implement even the simplest existing approaches to natural resource science and management. 

We are interested in developing pragmatic and interdisciplinary approaches to studying and managing natural resources, with explicit considerations of financial, scientific, and institutional constraints. Within this theme, some overarching questions are: (i) Can we find useful theoretical insights that are not data-dependent or system-specific? (ii) How strong are tradeoffs between different resource management objectives? (iii) Are there approaches to assessment or management that are relatively easy to implement and produce 'pretty good' outcomes (as Hilborn says) in many different social and ecological contexts? (iv) Are there existing but untapped data sources that might provide insightful information?

Featured publications:

Hegwood M, Burgess MG, Costigliolo EM, Smith P, Bajželj B, Saunders H, Davis SJ. 2023. Rebound effects could offset more than half of avoided food loss and waste. Nature Food 4:585-595. Free read-only version.

Hegwood M, Langendorf RE, Burgess MG 2022. Why win-wins are rare in complex environmental management. Nature Sustainability 5: 674-680.

Langendorf RE, Burgess MG. 2021. Empirically classifying network mechanisms. Scientific Reports 11: 200501. Related R package: netcom.

Rao A, Burgess MG, Kaffine D. 2020. Orbital-use fees could more than quadruple the value of the space industry. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 117: 12756-12762.

Burgess MG, Clemence M, McDermott GR, Costello C, Gaines SD. 2018. Five rules for pragmatic blue growth. Marine Policy 87: 331-339.

Burgess MG, Giacomini HC, Szuwalski CS, Costello C, Gaines SD. 2017. Describing ecosystem contexts with single-species models: A theoretical synthesis for fisheries. Fish and Fisheries 18: 264-284.

Fig. 2 from Hegwood et al. Nature Sustainability 5: 674 (2022): The figure (and paper) shows why tradeoffs become more severe--as measured by the maximum simultaneously achievable fraction of all single-objective maxima [X(n )]--as the number of objectives (n ) increases. We show that the limit of X(n ) as n approaches infinity does not depend on the tradeoff surface's curvature.

Mechanistic approaches to conservation

Current approaches to assessing threats of collapse and extinction to species are predominantly phenomenological, inferring threats from past population declines, high current mortality rates, species rarity, or life history characteristics correlated with threat histories of other species. We develop mechanistic approaches to measuring conservation threats, which quantify combinations of biological and socioeconomic conditions that are likely to eventually cause high mortality rates and population declines. Mechanistic approaches have two key advantages. First, they can identify threats of future extinction and severe population decline before the declines occur. Second, mechanistic approaches can be used to quantify tradeoffs and synergies between conservation and other social and ecological objectives. We have found that the nature of these tradeoffs is sometimes counterintuitive. 

Featured publications:

Burgess MG*, McDermott GR*, Owashi B, Peavey Reeves LE, Clavelle T, Ovando D, Wallace BP, Lewison RL, Gaines SD, Costello C. 2018. Protecting marine mammals, turtles, and birds by rebuilding global fisheries. Science 359: 1255-1258. (*Equal contribution. Code here.)

Burgess MG, Costello C, Fredston-Hermann A, Pinsky ML, Gaines SD, Tilman D, Polasky S. 2017. Range contraction enables harvesting to extinction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114: 3945-3950. (Cover article. Open-access arXiv version here.)

Fig. 1 from Burgess et al. Science 359: 1255 (2018): The reductions in fishing pressure needed to maximize profits from target fish stocks globally would be sufficient to halt the declines of roughly half of the marine mammal, turtle, and bird populations we examined.