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Michael Beechert’s Guide to the Stars: Env. Studies Professor Richard Howarth

Dartmouth has a wealth of experienced professors who lead their respective research fields, while also working closely with students — inspiring them in the classroom and leading them in laboratory environments. And while at Dartblog we talk frequently about problems that need to be fixed at the College, there are still many bright spots. Our professors deserve more recognition for their achievements. As such, this is one of a series of posts that shines a spotlight on the best professors in Hanover:

Rich Howarth.jpgRichard B. Howarth is Professor and Chair of Environmental Studies. His research, which directly addresses some of the most pressing challenges of our time, is an impressive example of how an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving at an academic level can form the basis for valuable contributions to complex problems in the real world.

After graduating summa cum laude from the Biology and Society program at Cornell in 1985, Howarth completed an M.S. in Land Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1987. He obtained his doctorate in 1990 in Energy and Resources at Berkeley, where he concentrated on the economics of natural resources and sustainable development. Howarth stayed in California for the next eight years: from 1990 to 1993 as a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and from 1993 to 1998 along the Central Coast at U.C. Santa Cruz. Afterwards, Howarth moved to New Hampshire where he grew up, serving on Dartmouth’s faculty ever since.

To say that Howarth’s work is broad in scope would be an understatement. Essentially any sort of environmental issue that has garnered significant public attention in recent years — climate change, energy usage, and ecological conservation, to name a few — has found a place in both Howarth’s classroom and his expansive research (an h-index of 43 and 7906 citations). One could perhaps get a better idea of what motivates Howarth by considering the following question: what ramifications might human behavior, as modelled by economics, have on the natural world we live in, and how can that behavior be changed in order to best balance environmental and economic values?

For a good example of Howarth’s focus on the intersection between environmental studies and economics, look to a 2014 article that he co-authored, titled Risk mitigation and the social cost of carbon. In order to put approximate dollar amounts on carbon emissions — essentially, how much does every ton of carbon spewed into the atmosphere cost the human race — Howarth and his colleagues had to juggle a plethora of intricate variables, including emission levels, environmental damages, and society’s appetite for risk. Their answer (it’s a lot of money) indicates that human behavior, in the form of policy decisions, is a deciding factor in how much damage greenhouse gas emissions will cause.

Moreover, Howarth’s work relating to discounting, by which today’s dollar is more valuable than tomorrow’s dollar, would seem to indicate that it would be wiser to use current resources to mitigate environmentally harmful practices than continue to kick the proverbial can down the road.

Howarth’s scholarship, perhaps unsurprisingly, is heavily normative in character. The 2006 article Sustainable Development in a post-Brundtland World (the Brundtland Commission was established by the United Nations in 1983 in order to work towards sustainable development) makes clear the views of Howarth and his co-authors, Chris Sneddon and Richard Norgaard, with regard to the necessity of cooperative, long-term environmental policy. An excerpt:

A revitalized SD [sustainable development] built around the pluralistic conception of sustainability research highlighted above-would be attentive to the political, cultural, technological, ecological and economic contexts of the array of local-global human communities, but also cognizant of more abstract and universal notions of justice and equity. It would break down false dichotomies such as those constructed between “first and third” worlds.

And just who would ideally be responsible for advocating for and striving towards sustainable development? We are, as it turns out. This section struck a chord with the Jeffersonian in me:

The ideas and practices associated with deliberative democracy-open discussion, transparency of decision-making, forcing policymakers to be accountable, reasoned and respectful debate-may be idealistic, but they are fundamental to the creation of green public spheres where the multiple ideals of SD can be debated and refined, and where an empowered SD social movement can coalesce.

Dartmouth students can, of course, take advantage of Howarth’s expertise and versatility in the classroom. This term, he is offering a course titled Ecological Economics, which explores the role that humanity’s value systems and institutions play in solving environmental problems. His devotion to undergraduates extends to individual mentoring as well; Howarth has had an impressive 28 senior thesis students during his time at the College. On top of all of this, Howarth is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Ecological Economics, a position that he has held since 2008.

Addendum: Here is a video of Professor Howarth discussing discounting:


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