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Provocative studies reveal the complexities where economics and the environment collide

Brave new world

Conventional wisdom says biofuels like ethanol are to blame for recent increases in world food prices. Not so fast, says economist Ujjayant Chakravorty. Yes, he says, more than 40 percent of U.S. grain is going to produce biofuels. But we need to look more broadly at other factors, like population growth and meat and dairy consumption.

And what about nuclear power plants? Again, Chakravorty offers no easy answers. Instead of rushing to dismantle such plants, he says countries would be wise to sustain investments in nuclear power while alternative energy sources evolve to become more affordable and adaptive. And, he argues, that model would help address climate change concerns by stabilizing carbon dioxide concentrations.

These are just two of the complex, and often controversial, problems to which Chakravorty brings a fresh eye. The provocative models he is building are shaping the emerging discipline of environmental economics, a field that focuses on the interplay of cultural and economic forces. He has studied, for instance, the impact of reliable electricity on poverty in rural India, and how competitive water markets endanger water supplies in China.

Trained as a civil engineer, Chakravorty earned a Ph.D. in resource and environmental economics from the University of Hawaii. He joined Tufts in 2013 from the University of Alberta, where he was a professor and Canada Research Chair. Highly regarded by his peers around the world, he is a fellow at the Toulouse School of Economics and at the Center for Economic Studies Ifo Institute, a European think tank. He is also a co-editor of a major economics journal, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

Daniel Richards, chair of the Department of Economics, says Tufts is fortunate to have recruited such a distinguished scholar who “brings world-renowned expertise to his teaching. He has deeply involved his students in research on the environmental issues of our times.” Chakravorty also supports Summer Scholars exploring such issues as the effects of agricultural and development policies on environmental outcomes. Says Richards, “He is truly making environmental economics a signature Tufts program.”