Kirsten L.L. Oleson
I am an ecological economist. This “discipline” is actually an amalgam of economics, ethics, social science, and environmental science. I use the power of economics to help address environmental policy problems. But, I recognize that economics is rife with implicit ethical assumptions and implications, such as whose values count and how much. Further, an economic worldview oftentimes doesn’t adequately capture knowledge from environmental science, such as limits, system dynamics, risk, and uncertainty.
I became interested in environmental policy, and the role of economics in decision-making, working as an impact assessment specialist at the World Bank. Between 1998 and 2003, I specialized in quantifying environmental and social impacts of development projects, and ensuring these impacts were then adequately addressed in management plans. Many times “economic” considerations trumped “environmental and social” concerns. I put these all in quotes, because “environmental and social” would be incorporated in “economic” if we had the right valuation tools. I grew frustrated with the schism between what I know was valuable and what we could value in economic analysis. And therein lies the motivation for my research program…
My dissertation focused on national sustainability accounts. These accounts are a better reflection of national wealth and growth than traditional economic measures, such as GDP. I had the honor to work with a superstar team, including Kenneth Arrow (Nobel Laureate), Sir Partha Dasgupta, Lawrence Goulder, and Kevin Mumford, to further improve an economic sustainability indicator originally developed by Kirk Hamilton and his team at the World Bank. My ongoing research in this area aims to better measure and incorporate nature’s goods and services. For the past three years I have worked with collaborators to build the Genuine Progress Indicator for the state of Hawaii.
After completing my dissertation in 2007, I was a Teaching Fellow with Stanford University’s new Public Policy Program. I co-directed the policy analysis capstone class (with Mary Sprague), led a seminar on applying competing conceptions of justice to public policy (with Josh Cohen), and co-taught a course on collective action (with Debra Satz). I founded an environmental ethics working group, and led a Humanities Center workshop on environmental norms, institutions, and policy.
In 2010, I embarked on an NSF-funded post-doc to Madagascar. There, I studied the impacts of fisheries management, the economic value of coastal ecosystem services, conditions conducive to community management, and climate change adaptation, among others.
In January of 2012 I started with the University of Hawaii – Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management. My research focuses on improving natural resource and environmental management by integrating methods, approaches, and tools from economics, geography, natural science, decision science, and political science.