Twenty Key Challenges in Environmental and Resource Economics

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  • Published: 16 October 2020
  • volume  77 ,  pages 725–750 ( 2020 )

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  • Lucas Bretschger 1 &
  • Karen Pittel 2  

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Economic and ecological systems are closely interlinked at a global and a regional level, offering a broad variety of important research topics in environmental and resource economics. The successful identification of key challenges for current and future research supports development of novel theories, empirical applications, and appropriate policy designs. It allows establishing a future-oriented research agenda whose ultimate goal is an efficient, equitable, and sustainable use of natural resources. Based on a normative foundation, the paper aims to identify fundamental topics, current trends, and major research gaps to motivate further development of academic work in the field.

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1 introduction, 1.1 research frontier.

The research agenda in environmental and resource economics has always been very broad and dynamic, reflecting the ways our economies interact with the natural environment. While in classical economics of the eighteenth century the factor land played a dominant role, the effects of pollution externalities, resource scarcities, ecosystem services, and sustainability became important in subsequent time periods. These issues have triggered different waves of research with very prominent results, specifically on optimal policies in the presence of externalities (Pigou 1920 ), optimal extraction of non-renewable resources (Hotelling 1931 ), optimal capital accumulation in the presence of resource scarcities (Dasgupta and Heal 1974 ), and sustainable development (Hartwick 1977 ; Pearce et al. 1994 ). Of course, the list of topics has already been very diverse in the past but has increasingly become so with recent global environmental problems challenging the functioning of a world economy which is growing at a high rate and heavily relies on an international division of labour and trade.

In the past, new research challenges emerged and manifested in different ways: Some topical fields became increasingly relevant due to new technological developments, new ecological or societal challenges or new political agendas. Others arose in fields that were already well researched but rose in importance. Not all challenges were of a topical nature. In some fields, we found our methodological tool-kit not equipped to deal with new problems or in need of extension to find new (and better) answers to old questions. At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that we have to reach out to other disciplines to meet new and often immense challenges. In environmental economics it is key to seek a good balance between disciplinary excellence, interdisciplinary collaboration, and political impact.

Environmental and resource economics is a dynamic field, in which new key topics emerge frequently. So, while the topical and methodological challenges that the paper identifies will be important for some time to come, they will and should also be subject to further development over the next years and decades. The paper aims to identify and address the variety of new complex problems generated by humans when they exploit natural resources and the environment. We specifically identify Twenty Challenges that we feel will be important for environmental and resource economists to address. We are aware that such a list will never be unanimously agreed upon and we do not even lay claim on the list being complete; the next section provides a background to the compilation of the list. Nevertheless, we feel it to be important to (at best) point researchers in directions important to work in in the future or (at least) to launch a new—controversial but productive—discussion on the development of our field. In any case, the paper should support the profession to operate at the research frontier generating novel theories, empirical designs, and workable policies. But, before we turn to the Twenty Challenges , we aim to motivate the framing of research in our field—past, present and future.

1.2 Identification of Research Challenges

To provide a normative foundation for our research agenda we characterize our underlying assumptions and generalized views on the nature of research in the field. This set of basic assumptions motivates the criteria of importance, activeness, and distinction of the selected topics as well as our choices with respect to design, methodology and research methods. Identifying the relevant issues, i.e. the mere choice of what to study in environmental economics imposes specific values on the subjects. In our view, the guiding principle in the normative framework is that environmental economics differs from general economics by its ontology, i.e. the system of belief that reflects the interpretation of what constitutes an important fact. It is a deep and serious concern about the state of the natural environment that drives the economic analysis of ecological processes. Nature is not simply part of the economic system but a different system with its own very complex regularities and dynamics; ecosystem values are not reducible to market exchange values. The task to integrate the ecological and economic systems to a holistic framework in an appropriate manner and to derive valid guidelines for the economy under the restrictions imposed by the environment lies at the heart of our research. Central parts of the ontology are the valuation of ecosystems, the increasing scarcities in natural resources and sinks, the effects of environmental externalities, the long-term orientation of planning, an important role of uncertainty, and the existence of irreversible processes. The anthropocentric view and the use of utilitarianism do not imply that individuals are purely self-centered and narrowly selfish. It highlights the indistinguishable role of human decision making for the future of the planet and aims at decision making that cares for efficiency, equity, and posterity. Based on a broad utilitarian setup, growth is not valued in terms of material consumption but in terms of wellbeing, which includes elements like social preferences, work-life balance, appreciation of nature etc. Posterity reflects our care for future generations, whose welfare should not be harmed by the activities of current generations. Fundamental changes of the economy e.g. the phase-out of fossil fuels, includes policy-induced decrease of activities, a role for technology, substitutability in production and consumption, a decoupling from natural resource use, and internalizing cost to correct market failures. Substantive transitions are very difficult to implement, as important lock-in mechanisms such as habit persistence, built infrastructure, and supporting policies such as subsidies stabilize current practices. To achieve a change of mindset in politics to achieve a transition to a green economy is a difficult task. A fundamental systems change, as discussed by many these days, is undoubtedly much more complex to accomplish; its impacts are uncertain and may delay the necessary steps which are important to rapidly improve the state of our ecosystems.

We acknowledge that one can always challenge an ontological position because it reflects ethical principles. In our research agenda there is no external reality, independent of what we may think or understand it to be. We reduce economic and ecological complexity through our personal system of belief to design our preferred map, which by definition is not the territory. In his survey of ecological research issues for the economists, Ehrlich ( 2008 ) refers to his ”own mental meta-analysis” to motivate his choices and to alert us to the importance of research on big issues like the meaning of life, mortality, and death. At the same time, he acknowledges that the emergence of pervasive new environmental problems, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, requires to flexibly adjust research programs to societal demand. Adjustments of the agenda may also be supply driven, when new methods allow for more effective engagement with important issues like risk and uncertainty or assessment of empirical regularities with superior estimation methods.

1.3 Forming a Research Agenda

Environmental economics is closely linked to general economics in its epistemology, i.e. the validity, scope and methods of acquiring knowledge by using models, distinguishing between positive and normative models, and testing hypotheses with empirical methods and experiments. An important cornerstone for economic research has always been the analysis of economic efficiency. Since the early days of environmental economics research, this has also held for our field whether it concerned the efficiency in the use of natural resources or the design of policies. Although research in our field has become much more interdisciplinary and policy-oriented, this still constitutes common ground. It is still a prime duty of the economist to point at the potentially vast allocative inefficiencies of the use of natural resources in pure market economies. Efficiency is a necessary condition for optimal states of the economic-ecological system and the foundation for policies maximizing social welfare.

The pursuit of optimality has to be complemented by a requirement to take care of equity and posterity enabling sustainability of development. In this long-run perspective, economics has to highlight the substitution effect as a powerful mechanism establishing consistency between humanity and its natural environment. Substitution comes in many guises, e.g. as substitution between clean and dirty production, renewable and exhaustible resources, extractive and conservationist attitude, pollution intensive and extensive consumption, etc. This dynamic analysis is crucial in many respects. It has recently been included at all levels of research in the fields. The same holds for the issue of risk and uncertainty, a pervasive topic when dealing with the environment.

In many cases, there has been a significant discrepancy between the theoretical derivation of social optima in academia and the attempts to foster their implementation under realistic policy conditions. As a consequence, policies dealing with environmental issues have been of very different quality and effectiveness. The reduction of acid rains, the protection of the ozone layer, and cutbacks of particulate matter emissions in many world regions were among the prominent successes. Global warming, extraction of rare earth elements, and loss of biodiversity are not yet addressed in a comprehensive manner. Political resistance against the protection of nature often refers to the economic costs of policies, including the concerns of growth reduction, employment loss, and adverse effect on income distribution. The lack of success in many policy areas has led to reformulation and extension of the research agenda. In the future, research should focus more on strengthening the links between theory and policy.

Our selection of the Twenty Challenges is also based on the potential of research in these areas to contribute and leverage social welfare and sustainable development. We specifically look for areas that are either inherently new to the research agenda in environmental and resource economics or in which research stagnates. We present the challenges in a specific order and like to highlight the links between them before we enter into the details. The aim of net zero carbon emission by the mid of the century dominates current policy debates and unites basically all important elements of our discipline; it thus constitutes a good starting point. Decarbonization necessarily involves a deep understanding of systems dynamics and of risk and resilience, which are presented next. An important and not sufficiently addressed research issue is the emergence of disruptive development during a substantive transition, the next challenge for our research. Extending the scope, we then address human and government behaviour. In the context of environmental policy, the popular and sometimes underrated request of an equitable use of the environment has emerged as a dominant topic, a next issue for further research. As natural capital involves many more elements than the climate, biodiversity and general ecosystem services are included in the sequence. Broadening the scope to the big problems of human behaviour with natural resources we then turn to political conflicts, population development and conflicting land use. Shifting the focus on induced movements of the labour force we go on by dealing with environmental migration and urbanization. These affect welfare of the individuals in a major way, like health and the epidemiological environment as a next research challenge. In terms of the reorganization of the transition to a green economy we highlight the central role of finance and the implementation of new measures in the dominant energy sector. The final three research challenges are motivated by advances in the methodology. Big data and machine learning offer new perspectives in sustainability research, refined methods and increasing experience improve our simulation models and structural assessment modelling, which forms the last three challenges of our list.

1.4 Links to Current Research

In order to put our agenda into a broader perspective and to concretize the selected challenges, we believe it is important to show the relationship between our research agenda and the priorities in current literature and policy debates. We have considered three main links. First, we conducted a quantitative and qualitative literature review and analyzed current research as presented at international conferences (World Conference of Environmental and Resource Economics in 2018, the SURED conference in 2018, Meetings of the American, European, and Asian Associations of Environmental and Resource Economics in 2019). The aim of this analysis was to see where our profession moves and which of the currently hotly debated topics offers a high potential for future research. Second, we took the discussions in interdisciplinary research fora into consideration to identify further fields that are of high importance for future resource use, sustainable development and environmental outcomes but have so far not been adequately addressed from an economics perspective. Information on this research was gained through interdisciplinary research initiatives (for example The Belmont Forum, Future Earth and National Research Funding Activities). Involvement in interdisciplinary and globally oriented research councils provided further access to the discussions in other disciplines. Third, we draw conclusions from current policies and news as well as our involvement in the policy arena. The authors are involved in a number of institutionalized policy-oriented activities on the regional, national and international level (Regional Climate Councils, National Climate Policy Platforms as well as the UN climate negotiations).

The paper relates to similar contributions in recent literature. Based on citation data Auffhammer ( 2009 ) identifies important topics and scholars and provides a brief historical overview of the discipline from exhaustible and renewable resources to sustainability, pollution control, development, international trade, climate change, international agreements, and non-market valuation. Polyakov et al. ( 2018 ) analyze authorship patterns using text analysis for classification of articles in Environmental and Resource Economics. Based on 1630 articles published in the Journal from 1991 to 2015 they document the importance of applied and policy-oriented content in the field. They identify non-market valuation, recreation and amenity, and conservation, as popular topics and growing when measured by both number of articles and citations. Costanza et al. ( 2016 ) investigate the most influential publications of Ecological Economics in terms of citation counts both within the journal itself and elsewhere. Important topics turn out to be social aspects of environmental economics and policy, valuation of environmental policy, governance, technical change, happiness and poverty, and ecosystem services. A contemporary analysis of how research issues have developed in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management in the time of its existence is provided by Kubea et al. ( 2018 ). These authors show that the sample of topics has broadened from the core issues of non-market valuation, cost-benefit analysis, natural resource economics, and environmental policy instruments to a more diversified array of research areas, with climate change and energy issues finding their way into the journal. In addition, increasing methodological plurality becomes apparent. They conclude that energy, development, and health are on the rise and that natural resources, instrument choice, and non-market valuation will endure; multidisciplinary work will be increasingly important. An excellent survey on research in the central field of sustainable development is provided in Polasky et al. ( 2019 ), which explicitly shows where the collaboration between economists and the other disciplines is currently insufficient and how it should be intensified in the future.

Regarding the literature that we connect our Twenty Challenges to, we naturally face the problem that some challenges have so far not been addressed adequately in the (economics) literature. In these cases we also reference papers from other disciplines. We, however, also take basic literature and recent research in environmental and resource economics into account. As we often deal with emerging topics, we cite some of this work even when not yet published. In other cases, where future research can build on or learn from past research, we also go back in time and reference older papers. Ultimately, neither our list of challenges nor the literature we base our analysis on will be satisfying to everybody. Our selection cannot be comprehensive and does not claim to be. But the specific task to identify future-oriented topics ultimately lasts on a subjective individual assessment of the authors. Nevertheless, hopefully it imparts impulses for future research in the different subfields of environmental and resource economics.

2 Twenty Challenges

The ordering of the following challenges should not be understood to perfectly reflect their individual importance (beyond what we explained in the previous sections). Also, many of the fields discussed are inherently related, creating some unavoidable overlap. We feel that efforts to bring the challenges into some complete ’natural order’ are not only doomed to fail but also would not do them justice as they relate to very different areas and can/should not be weighed against each other. Also, attempting to show their interrelations would result in a 20-by-20 matrix that would not provide more clarity.

Deep decarbonization and climate neutrality To limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius, a state of net zero greenhouse gas emissions—i.e. climate neutrality—should be reached by the mid of the century (IPCC 2018 ). The directly following and unprecedented challenge is to decarbonize the global economy in very a narrow time window (Hainsch et al. 2018 ). This holds especially as the threshold for 1.5 degrees is expected to be passed around 2040 (IPCC 2018 ). Countries must increase their NDC ambitions of the Paris Agreement more than fivefold to achieve the 1.5 degree goal (UN - United Nations 2019 ). The time window for necessary decisions is closing fast. Infrastructure that is installed today often has a life span that reaches until and beyond 2050. Decisions on investments today therefore affect the ability to reach climate targets not only in 2030 but also 2050 and beyond. And while the necessity of reaching net zero emissions by mid century is reflected by, e.g., the European Commission’ Green Deal, much uncertainty remains regarding its implementation. This holds to an even larger extent with respect to other countries and regions. The fundamental challenge is to better understand economically viable deep decarbonization paths and then to implement incentives for input substitution, technology development, and structural change. More specifically, the vision of these policies has to be long-term and reach beyond phasing out coal and increasing energy efficiency. However, despite recent research efforts in climate economics, many issues around decarbonization, negative emissions and economic development are still controversial or insufficiently understood by economists. Specifically, industry applications for which alternative technologies are not available yet as well as agricultural emissions will have to be addressed. Also, the later greenhouse gas emissions start to fall, the faster their decline will have to ultimately be in order not to overshoot temperature targets (Agliardi and Xepapadeas 2018 ), leading to an increased need for negative emissions. However, potential trade-offs and synergies in the use of land for negative emission technologies, food production and biodiversity are still underresearched. Identifying technologies today that are the most promising in the very long run is subject to high uncertainty. Yet, while investing too early might be costly, delaying investment might cost even more or might lead to a weakening of future climate targets (Gerlagh and Michielsen 2015 ). Also, transition processes may involve strong scale effects implying nonlinear development of abatement cost. Once certain thresholds are reached, lower abatement cost or even disruptive development completely altering the production process could emerge in a later phase of decarbonization. Given the dramatic increase needed in mitigation efforts to reach the 1.5 or even 2 degree target, more attention also has to be devoted to the question of adaptation. Until today, the focus of research as well as policy has been primarily on mitigation rather than adaptation, partially because of expected substitution effects between mitigation and adaptation and partially because adaptation was taken to be automatic (Fankhauser 2017 ). However, as Fankhauser lays out “knowledge gaps, behavioral barriers, and market failures that hold back effective adaptation and require policy intervention”. All of these topics present a wide scope for substantial further research.

Dynamics of the economic-ecological system Depletion of exhaustible resources, harvesting of renewable resources, recycling of raw materials, and accumulation of pollution stocks require basic societal decisions which are of an inherently dynamic nature. Whether the world society will be able to enjoy constant or increasing living standards under such dynamic natural constraints depends on another dynamic process, which is the accumulation of man-made capital. To derive the precise laws of motion in all the stock variables is challenging because general solutions of dynamic systems with several states are usually hard to obtain. An adequate procedure to obtain closed-form solutions may be to link several stocks in a reasonable way, e.g. when simultaneously dealing with resource, pollution, and capital stocks (Peretto 2017 ; Bretschger 2017b ). The specific challenge is then to find the best possible economic justification to motivate the links. One may also focus on a few stocks which are considered the main drivers of economic development and sustainable growth on a global scale (Marin and Vona 2019 ; Borissov et al. 2019 ). When resorting to numerical simulation methods it is a main challenge to provide basic economic results which are sufficiently robust and supported by ample economic intuition. Social-ecological systems are increasingly understood as complex adaptive systems. Essential features of these systems - such as nonlinear feedbacks, strategic interactions, individual and spatial heterogeneity, and varying time scales—pose another set of substantial challenges for modeling in a dynamic framework. A main challenge is the characterization and selection of dynamic paths with multiple equilibria and the overall tractablility of the models, given the diversity of interlinkages and nonlinear relationships. The complexity of economic-ecological systems lead to a main challenge for designing effective policies is taking account of network effects, strategic interaction, sectoral change, path dependencies, varying time lags, and nonlinear feedbacks have to be considered as well as different regional and temporal scales, interdependencies between ecosystems, institutional restrictions and distributional implications (see, e.g., Engel et al. 2008 ; Levin et al. 2013 ; Vatn 2010 ). Optimal policies should also acknowledge the balance between the preservation of the ecology and the development of the economy especially for countries growing out of poverty. Setting a price for ecosystem services and natural capital via policy is important for preventing innovation incentives from being skewed against maintaining natural capital and ecosystem services.

Risk, uncertainty, and resilience The vast majority of contributions in environmental economics use models with a purely deterministic structure. However, large negative environmental events require a completely different framework, which poses specific challenges for modelling. Heatwaves, floods, droughts, and hurricanes are shocks that are very uncertain, arriving at irregular times and with varying intensity. Also, risk and uncertainty about socio-economic impacts and technological development affect the optimal design of policies (see, e.g., Jensen and Traeger 2014 ). Moreover, uncertainty changes the political economy of climate policy and, finally, regulatory and policy uncertainty might create obstacles to reach climate targets through, for example, distortions of investment decisions (Pommeret and Schubert 2018 ; Bretschger and Soretz 2018 ). Stern ( 2016 ) argued forcefully that climate economics research needs to better integrate risk and uncertainty. Bigger disasters or so-called ”tipping points” such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the collapse of Atlantic thermohaline circulation, and the dieback of Amazon rainforest involve an even higher level of uncertainty (Lenton and Ciscar 2013 ) with implications for optimal policy design and capital accumulation (Van der Ploeg and de Zeeuw 2018 ). Understanding the implications of tipping points is further complicated as the different tipping points are not independent of each other (Cai et al. 2016 ). The Economy and the Earth system both form non-deterministic systems; combining the two in an overarching framework and adding institutions for decision making multiplies the degree of complexity for adequate modelling and methods (Athanassoglou and Xepapadeas 2012 ). It is thus a main challenge for further research to provide analytic foundations and policy rules for rational societal decision-making under the conditions of risk and uncertainty up to deep uncertainty (Brock and Xepapadeas 1903 ; Baumgärtner and Engler 2018 ). Future work on policy design under deep uncertainty can build on a wide range of literature ranging from the assessment of the precautionary principle in this context to the fundamental contributions by Hansen and Sargent ( 2001 ) and Klibanoff et al. ( 2005 ) as well as on more recent analyses in the context of environmental and resource economics, e.g. Manoussi et al. ( 2018 ). An important challenge of the environmental discipline is to provide a framework for the global economy providing the conditions for resilience against major shocks and negative environmental events (Bretschger and Vinogradova 2018 ). With deep uncertainty one has to generate rules for deep resilience. Including uncertainty is especially important when environmental events do not occur constantly but cause the crossing of tipping points involving large and sudden shifts. Economic modeling needs to increasingly incorporate tipping points and the value of resilience in theory and to generate and use data supporting the empirical validity. The combination of uncertainty and potential irreversible outcomes (e.g., species extinction) is another big challenge for research.

Disruptive development and path dependencies Substantial and sometimes disruptive changes in behavioral patterns, economic structure and technologies will be required if net zero GHG emissions and the UN sustainable development goals are to be reached. On the bright side, development may exhibit favorable disruptions. Consumers’ preferences and political pressure coupled with new technology achievements may alter certain sectors in a short period of time. Similar to the communication industry which has completely changed, transportation and heat generation could and mst probably will undergo fundamental changes in the near future. The research challenge here is to provide adequate models predicting and adequately analyzing such important transitions and to highlight resisting forces at the same time. In fact, the change of trajectories in development is often hampered by technological, economic and behavioral lock-ins, resulting in path dependencies and inertia. In such situations, history influences current development through, for example, past investment in R&D, the size of established markets, increasing returns or habits acquired (Aghion et al. 2016 ; Barnes et al. 2004 ; Arthur 1989 ). Behavioral path dependencies affect acceptance and adoption of new technologies, hinder social innovation and might render policies aimed at marginal changes ineffective. They can thus postpone the transition to a low-carbon economy, harm efforts in biodiversity conservation and prolong unsustainable resource use patterns and lifestyles, even if they are welfare enhancing in the long-run (e.g. Acemoglu et al. 2012 ; Kalkuhl et al. 2012 ). Inertia and lock-ins may also be policy driven with, for example, political or economics elites trying to block change (Acemoglu and Robinson 2006 ) or clean energy support schemes fostering new technology lock-ins. Whether disruption or a lock-in emerges depends, for example, on expectations determining the steady state of an economy (Bretschger and Schaefer 2017 ). This requires nonlinearities e.g. in capital return, generating overlap regions in which the growth path is indeterminate and could be either driven by history or by expectations. The challenge is to add more substantial research into system dynamics and the political economy of change, to gain a better understanding of the different mechanisms responsible for inertia and disruptive change. So far, the role of path dependencies has often been neglected in empirical as well as theoretical analyses (Calel and Dechezlepretre 2016 ). Also, understanding the triggers or tipping points for disruptive change can help to identify policies that have a big environmental impact with moderate costs in terms of environmental policy.

Behavioral environmental economics Traditionally, economics focuses predominantly on the supply side when analyzing potentials and challenges for environmental policies. Preferences of individuals are mostly assumed to be given with economic analysis confining itself to studying the effects of changing incentives and altering constraints. The change and development of preferences over time plays only a comparative minor role for economic research. Also, the follow-up question whether policies should be allowed to tamper with preferences is rarely discussed with nudging being one big exception to this rule (e.g. Strassheim and Beck 2019 ). While the traditional, supply-side oriented analysis has provided powerful results in positive analysis, it proves to be limited in a field which inherently includes normative conclusions like environmental economics. The path toward sustainable development requires behavioral changes and political actions changing our relationship to the environment. Ultimately, environmental policies have to be decided by the same people overusing the environment in the absence of a policy. In situations where outcomes are inefficient because individuals and political actors follow their own self-interest and ignore external costs and benefits of their actions, it is clearly not sufficient for economists to advocate the implementation of environmental policies. It is crucial to understand under what conditions preferences change and agents support green policies (Casari and Luini 2009 ). So, the challenge to economic research is to better understand the evolution of green attitudes, the emergence of preferences for a clean environment, and expectations in the case of multiple equilibria (Cerda Planas 2018 ). The formation and development of preferences is also not independent from cultural, regional and community aspects. Research that ignores heterogeneity among actors or the role of social and group dynamics and only relies on the traditional, isolated analysis of individual preferences is likely to lead to an incomplete understanding of preference dynamics. As the example of discounting shows, the social context has an impact on myopic attitudes and the motivation to undertake sacrifices for a cleaner future (Galor and Özak 2016 ). Also, attention to behavioral details, that economists might find rather uninteresting from a research perspective, might influence effectiveness of policies tremendously (Duflo 2017 ). Especially with the natural environment, the choice and guise of policy instruments should take these mechanisms into account.

Institutional analysis of environmental policy Virtually every contribution to the environmental and resource economics literature culminates in one or several policy conclusions. However, these results are often received with skepticism from industry and public. Therefore, a continuing key challenge for our profession is a thorough understanding of environmental policy institutions, processes and decision-making; this task has become even more important given the enormous scale and global nature of future policies. Research in this area has, however, the advantage of already looking back on a long tradition (see e.g. the body of work by Daniel Bromley, e.g. Bromley 1989 ). Well-designed institutions support and create incentives to drive development toward a welfare-improving state. Absent, weak, inefficient, or even corrupt governments and institutions are detrimental to successful environmental policy (Pellegrini and Gerlagh 2008 ; Dasgupta and De Cian 2016 ) or might lead to detrimental effects of resource wealth (see Badeeb et al. 2017 for an overview of the related literature). To effectively increase social welfare by, for example, conservation of ecological services, one has to design policies in a way that allow implementation under realistic policy conditions (Rodrik 2008 ). Pure reference to the construct of a social planner is not sufficient. For increasing efficiency in problem solving, the ex-post evaluation of policies has to be expanded and improved. Policy evaluation should not only analyze if regulatory objectives have been reached but also which side-effects arise (OECD 2017 ). Moreover, the comparison with alternative measures and a continuous international exchange of best practices have to be supported by science. A proactive environmental policy analysis should furthermore include studying vested interests, lobbying, political power, policy communication, and voting behavior. Especially insights from behavioral economics may add to our understanding of a proper design of environmental institutions. On the international level, the adequate institutional design for global environmental policy still poses great challenges. Beyond traditional research fields like international environmental agreements in specific areas like climate change, the multi-dimensionality of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and potential trade-offs between different goals need to be explored further. This holds especially given the vast differences in income, vulnerability, and resilience between countries, as well as the need for unanimity and voluntary contributions on the UN level. Relating national to international policies has the potential to be especially rewarding in this context given the SDGs relevance for and acceptance in national as well as international politics. Insights from the analysis of institutions in traditional economic sectors (e.g. on the efficiency of capital markets) should be transferred and applied to the global level (e.g. with respect to investment in the world’s natural capital stock).

Equitable use of the environment We place equity and fairness in dealing with the natural environment on the priority list of our challenges because first and foremost equity is a central requirement for sustainability of development. By definition, sustainable development seeks an equitable treatment across different generations as well as agents living today. We also believe that for successful environmental policies, equity and fairness are crucial complements to the dominant efficiency requirement (Sterner 2011 ). It is a specific challenge of our field to study equity in an economic context and to demonstrate its importance for sustainability to mainstream economics and the public. The first aspect of the problem is the aforementioned unequal vulnerability of countries to environmental changes such as global warming. If vulnerability is higher in less developed countries, the equity perspective is especially striking. As a matter of fact, most of the climate vulnerable countries have a low average income. Global environmental policy is then motivated not only by efficiency but also by the aim of preventing increasing inequalities (Bretschger 2017a ). Global efforts are also indicated to avoid adverse feedback effects of induced inequalities like environmental migration. The second aspect is that acceptance of public policies sharply increases with the perceived fairness of the measure (Pittel and Rübbelke 2011 ; IPCC 2018 ). In the past, economists have often underestimated political resistance against efficient environmental protection, which was mostly related to negative impacts on income distribution. Take carbon pricing and emission regulation as a current example. Although evidence from cross-country studies suggests that regressivity of carbon pricing is much less frequent than often assumed in the public (Parry 2015 ), the perceived distributional impact is often very different (Beck et al. 2016 ). Therefore the impact of environmental policies on income groups, regions, and countries should be better integrated in our analysis and policy recommendations. Where efficient policies are regressive, economists have to evaluate and propose alternative or complementary policy designs. Benefits and costs need to be disaggregated by group (country) with a special attention on the poorest members of society (countries). Internationally, equity concerns need to be addressed especially in situations where the entire world benefits from the protection of natural capital and ecosystem services in poor countries (e.g., of carbon sinks and biodiversity hubs like tropical rain forests). The experience with the REDD+ process shows the complexity of designing such international approaches to incentivize and enable developing countries to protect these global public goods. More economic analysis is needed on all of the above aspects, giving rise to a rich research agenda in theory and applied work.

Loss of biodiversity and natural capital The rate of species extinction today is estimated to be up to 1000 times higher than without human interference (Rockstrom 2009 ). Human activities impact biodiversity through land use change, pollution, habit fragmentation and the introduction of non-native species but also increasingly through climate change and its interaction with already existing drivers of biodiversity change (IPCC 2002 ). In view of this, biodiversity conservation has long been a focus of politics. In 1992, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity main objectives were stated as ”the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” (UN - United Nations 1992 ). Yet, although economists have developed conceptual and theoretical frameworks addressing the valuation of biodiversity (Weitzman 1998 ; Brock and Xepapadeas 2003 ) and despite data on valuation having become increasingly available (see, e.g. TEEB 2020 ), Weitzman ( 2014 ) points out, that an objective or even widely agreed measure of biodiversity and its value is still missing. The same holds for an underlying theory framework and a comprehensive measure of natural capital that not only includes biodiversity but also its links to regulating services (e.g., pollution abatement, land protection), material provisioning services (e.g., food, energy, materials), and nonmaterial services (e.g., aesthetics, experience, learning, physical and mental health, recreation). How biodiversity and natural capital should be measured, which societal, political and economic values underlie different measures and valuation and how ecological and economical trade-offs should be dealt with are big challenges left for future research. In order to address these issues, not only do we need to develop appropriate assessment methods, but we also need to disclose the theoretical basics of this assessment and which trade-offs go hand in hand with different assessments (Brei et al. 2020 ; Antoci et al. 2019 ; Drupp 2018 ). Completely new issues for the valuation of biodiversity and natural capital arise with the development of new technologies. Take DSI (digital sequence information), for example. DSI are digital images of genetic resources (DNA) that can be stored in databases. This gives rise not only to new challenges regarding their valuation but also about the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of these resources.

Valuing and paying for ecosystem services Related to the question of biodiversity valuation is the market and non-market valuation of ecosystem services in general and the adequate design of payment for ecosystem services (PES). Overall, research on ecosystem services valuation has made significant progress in the last decades. Nevertheless, challenges remain even in traditional valuation fields (for example, valuation of non-use or interconnected ecosystems). Other, so far underresearched areas that constitute promising fields for future research are health-related valuation aspects (Bratman et al. 2019 ) and nonmaterial ecosystem services, such as amenities of landscapes or cultural ecosystem services (Small et al. 2017 ; James 2015 ). Also, data availability remains a problem in many valuation areas. Although digitized observation and information systems offer large potentials for previously unknown data access, they also raise a whole slew of new ethical, privacy as well as economic questions, especially in areas like health. While a lot of progress has been made in the valuation of ecosystem services, their impact on decision making still lags behind. One factor contributing to this disconnect are prevalent mismatches between regional and temporal scales of economic, institutional and ecological systems that make valuation and policy design complex (Schirpke et al. 2019 ). The challenge is to develop combined natural science-economic models that allow better insights into how changes in economic systems lead to changes in the flows of ecosystem services and vice versa (Verburg et al. 2016 ). This requires a deep understanding of ecological and economic systems as well as other aspects like technologies, regional heterogeneity and system boundaries, i.e. catastrophic events. It also raises classic economic problems, such as choosing an appropriate discount rate and degree of risk aversion. Regarding tools to include ecosystem services in economic decision making, PES are a, by now, well-established (Salzman et al. 2018 ) and also quite well-researched approach for promoting environmental outcomes. Still, the literature has identified a number of aspects to be addressed in the design of PES to make them more effective as well as efficient and to simultaneously improve social outcomes (Wunder et al. 2018 ; Chan et al. 2017 ). A promising area of research rarely addressed are PES to preserve transboundary or global ecosystem services through international payment schemes (for example, in tropical forest preservation). While some work has been done on the conceptual level (e.g. Harstad 2012 ), the REDD+ process (Maniatis et al. 2019 ) and the failure of the Yasuni initiative (Sovacool and Scarpaci 2016 ) show the complexity of such approaches for which a thorough economics analysis is still missing.

Conflicts over natural resources Climate change and decarbonization transform regional and global geopolitical landscapes and might give rise to future domestic as well as international conflicts (Mach et al. 2019 ; Carleton and Hsiang 2016 ). First, decarbonization changes the role of resources and of resource- and energy-related infrastructures. Climate policies affect the rent allocation between different fossil fuels like, for example, coal and natural gas, but might also change the overall rent level (Kalkuhl and Brecha 2013 ). Asset stranding can endanger stability in resource (rent) dependent countries. Conflicts may also arise over materials critical to new, low-carbon energy technologies like rare earth elements but also over access to sustainable energy (Goldthau et al. 2019 ; O’Sullivan et al. 2017 ). Further research is needed to design policies that are better equipped to reduce the vulnerability of economies to changes in resource availability and resource rents. This opens up challenges for future research, especially as restrictions from very diverse institutional capacities have to be considered to render policies efficient and effective. Second, climate change will affect the ability to meet basic human needs through food, land and water. Sulemanaa et al. ( 2019 ) find a positive effect of the occurrence of temperature extremes on conflict incidence. They stress the need for more advanced spatial econometric models to identify effects that are transmitted across space. More research is also needed on the role of institutions and interaction with other phenomena like population dynamics, migration, and environmental degradation. Currently, the role of climate for conflict is still small compared to other causes, many linkages between conflicts and climate change as well as other factors promoting conflict are still uncertain (Mach et al. 2019 ). The challenge to economic research is to get early insights into the nexus of historical and cultural factors, vested interests, population dynamics and climate change in order to help to prevent resource-related conflicts.

Population development and use of the environment Already since antiquity, demographic analysis has been a central topic of human thinking. With the Malthusian predictions of catastrophes caused by population growth, the topic is firmly related to the natural environment and the limits of planet Earth. While limited food production was the dominant topic in the 18th century, the impact of world population on global commons, availability of renewable and exhaustible resources, and ecosystem services have been dominant topics in the last decades. Still, while it is often argued in the public and in natural sciences that world population size should be a concern because of ecological constraints, economics has largely left the topic on the side; the few exceptions (Peretto and Valente 2015 ) and (Bretschger 2013 , 2020 ) point in a different direction, namely the compatibility of population growth and sustainable development under very general conditions. Current trends of demographic transition show significant signs of population degrowth for leading economies while trends for developing countries vary substantially (UN - United Nations 2019 ). Population is forecasted to expand especially in Africa, accounting for more than half of the world’s population growth over the coming decades, raising questions about the effect of this population increase on fragile ecosystems, resource use and ultimately the potential for sustainable growth (African Development Bank 2015 ). Population growth will also promote further urbanization and migration triggered by environmental and resource depletion but also giving rise to new environmental problems (Awumbila 2017 ). Challenges from population development and environment are thus closely linked to the other research topics highlighted in this article. However, population growth is not exogenously given but determined by economic, social as well as environmental factors. Education and income or economic development have long been established as crucial for fertility (see e.g. the reviews of the literature provided by Kan and Lee 2018 ; Fox et al. 2019 ). To integrate these findings into a holistic approach is a mediating challenge for future research. Climate change might affect these channels in different ways, potentially exacerbating global inequality (Casey et al. 2019 ). However, population development, fertility, and mortality are not only affected by climate change but also by other environmental stresses like air pollution (Conforti et al. 2018 ). A successful combination of endogenous fertility and mortality with natural resource scarcity, agricultural production, and pollution accumulation as well as capital and knowledge build-up in a comprehensive framework is a respectable challenge for an economic modeller; we suggest that in the future it should be considered by economists more intensively.

Land use and soil degradation The terrestrial biosphere with its products, functions and ecosystem services is the foundation of human existence, not only for food security but far beyond. Currently, about a quarter of ice-free land area is degraded by human impacts (IPCC 2019 ). The optimal use of scarce land resources becomes an even more urgent topic in the face of the biodiversity crisis and the onset of climate change. This holds especially as the physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food is the basic precondition for human existence. Climate change challenges this access on different levels. On the one hand, climate change increases the pressure on productive land areas (due to extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, forest fires or the shifting of climatic zones). On the other hand, land plays a major role in many climate protection scenarios by reducing emissions from land use and land use change, protecting carbon stocks in soils and ecosystems, and conserving and expanding natural carbon sinks. Also, the capture and storage of CO 2 through carbon dioxide removal technologies plays an increasing role for reaching the Paris climate goals (IPCC 2018 ). The induced increase in the demand for the different services from land inevitably implies trade-offs. However, neither the trade-offs nor the potentials for synergic uses are, as of now, comprehensively understood from an economic point of view and thus pose a challenge for future research. While there is a growing literature on negative emission technologies, their costs, potentials and side effects (Fuss et al. 2019 and references within) as well as on the interaction between climate goals and other SGDs on the global level (von Stechow et al. 2016 ), many research questions still remain to be addressed (Minx et al. 2018 ). This concerns especially a better understanding of opportunity costs, governance requirements, regional and distributional effects as well as of acceptance and ethical considerations. With respect to land degradation and land use for food production, changing climate and weather conditions as well as regional population pressure may raise the rate of land degradation (Fezzi and Bateman 2015 ), hurting food security and calling for preservation policies (Brausmann and Bretschger 2018 ). The overuse of ecosystems like forests and water, which protect and complement land, can accelerate the risk of adverse shocks and thus lower soil fertility, which reveals the close link between the different research subjects. However, much of the agricultural research in this field is still quite distant from mainstream environmental economics which can harm research productivity substantially. It remains a challenge to integrate agricultural and environmental research better, for example by bringing together food production, population, and the environment into a macrodynamic framework (Lanz et al. 2017 ).

Environmental migration Migration in times of climate change is an extraordinarily complex, multicausal and controversial challenge (Adger et al. 2014 ). Heatwaves, droughts, hurricanes, and rising sea levels are likely to motivate or even force a growing number of people to leave their homes moving to presumably safer places. Climate-related migration can take a variety of different forms (Warner 2011) from voluntary to involuntary, from short- to long-distance and from temporary to permanent. Migration decisions are usually based on different motives and personal circumstances (climatically, politically, economically, socially), leading to heterogeneous reactions to climate events and making it often problematic to identify and delineate climate-induced migration. Due to these and other methodological difficulties and the small number of studies so far, no globally reliable forecasts for climate induced migration exist (WBGU - German Advisory Council on Global Change 2018a , b ). At present, the forecasted magnitude of the phenomenon ranges from 25 million up to 1 billion people by 2050 (Ionesco et al. 2017 ). Much of this migration can be expected to take place within countries, for example, from rural to urban areas or from drylands to coastal zones (Henderson et al. 2014 ) with environmental migration being one possible adaptation and survivor strategy in the face of climate change (Millock 2015 ). Given the uncertainty in future migration projections, the challenge is to improve migration models (Cattaneo et al. 2019 ) which includes a better understanding and integration of the microfoundation of agents’ migration decisions. Migration, and especially mass-migration, can have a profound impact on the environment of the new as well as the old settlement location and on their economic structure. Labor and commodities markets will be affected the most, with challenges arising also for education and health systems, government budgets and public spending. By affecting public institutions and the skill-mix of the labor force, migration alters economic development both in the sending and in the receiving countries or regions. More research is needed on these impacts. The influx of environmental migrants to new settlement locations may also trigger hostile attitudes and lead to clashes and even armed conflicts. The migrants may be perceived as rivals for scarce resources (land, clean water) or jobs. The situation may be aggravated by lack of political stability and poor-quality political institutions. Dealing with these aspects gives rise to new challenges in environment and resource economics. Traditional analysis of economic costs and benefits of migration have to be complemented by behavioral economic and political economy analyses.

Urbanization as a key for environmental development In the last 70 years, the urban population has increased fivefold with more than half of the world’s population living in cities today and forecasts projecting the share of urban population to rise to almost 70% in 2050 (UN - United Nations 2018 ). Cities are responsible for about 70% of the world energy use and global CO \(_{2}\) -emissions (Seto et al. 2014 ) and ecological footprints are positively correlated to the degree of urbanization (WBGU - German Advisory Council on Global Change 2016 ). In 2014, about 880 million people were living in slums (UN - United Nations 2016 ) elucidating the problems to make urban development environmentally as well as economically and socially sustainable. The speed of urbanization is projected to be the fastest in low and middle income countries, especially in Africa and Asia (UN - United Nations 2018 ), leading to new challenges for the provision of infrastructure, housing, energy supply, transport and even health care. Climate change can be expected to not only foster urbanization trends (Henderson et al. 2017 ) but also increase the magnitude of urbanization-related challenges. Urban areas are often located close to the coast or rivers basins, making them susceptible to rising sea levels and impacts of extreme weather events. Risks can be expected to be higher for poor households due to settlement in less safe areas and poorer housing (Barata et al. 2011 ), potentially perpetuating existing inequalities. On the other hand, cities might offer more efficient adaptation potentials. To date the consequences of climate change for cities and urbanization are still to be determined in detail but depend heavily on factors like location, size and level of development as well as governance capacities. Making cities, their population and their infrastructure resilient to climate change will be decisive for future development. The main challenge here is to better connect the research fields of environmental and urban economics to understand the drivers and dynamic effects of climate change on urbanization and resulting economic development, on adaptation costs and benefits and on the role of institutions. Insights from regional, political and behavioral economics can help shape effective governance to enhance resilience of cities to climate change.

Health and epidemiological environment Environmental degradation can have profound implications for human health. These implications lead to direct as well as indirect challenges for economic decision making, economic development and thus economic research. While many of these challenges might not be new per se, they can be severely exacerbated by, for example, climate change. Economic implications of long-term increases in vector-borne diseases and heat stress as well as pandemics like the COVID-19 and ozone formation still remain to be analyzed in depth, as do the costs and benefits of adaptation measures dedicated to mitigating these effects (Mendelsohn 2012 ). Climate change also affects human health indirectly through impacts on economic development, land use, and biodiversity - and vice versa. Failed emission reductions and bad environmental management especially impact developing countries negatively through direct effects on health but also through health effects of delayed poverty reduction (Fankhauser and Stern 2020 ). Exposure to diseases or epidemics can increase the risk of civil conflicts and violence (Cervellati et al. 2016 , 2018 ). While research has addressed effects of life-expectancy, diseases and premature mortality on long-run economic development (e.g. Ebenstein et al. 2015 ; Acemoglu and Johnson 2007 ), a thorough analysis of the climate-health-development nexus is still missing. Overall, most research carried out on the interaction between environment, climate and human health has focused on physical health and mortality. The effects of air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels or agriculture on premature deaths, cardiac conditions and respiratory diseases, for example, received not only renewed interest in the wake of recent scandals (see e.g. Alexander and Schwandt 2019 ) but have been an active field of research for a number of years (Schlenker and Walker 2016 ; Tschofen et al. 2019 ). Mental health implications like stress, anxiety or depression on the other hand have received much less attention although, for example, Chen et al. ( 2018 ) in a study on air pollution in China estimate these effects to be on a similar scale to costs arising from impacts on physical health. Also, Danzer and Danzer ( 2016 ) find substantial effects of a large energy-related disaster (the Chernobyl catastrophe) on subjective well-being and mental health. Economic research should take up the challenge and put more effort into the economic evaluation of mental health related effects of climate change and environmental degradation in general. Potential to analyze these and other health-related questions have risen substantially in the last years, method-wise as well as topical, with new large data sets becoming available. Big data from insurance companies, satellite imagery on pollution dispersion and effects of draughts, for example, can provide new insights into the dynamics between environmental changes and health. But digital technologies themselves also generate new research questions addressing, for example, risks, costs and benefits of these new technologies.

Carbon exposure and green finance The impact of climate change and of climate policy on the financial system is a topic of increasing public concern. The transition to a low-carbon economy poses a lot of challenges not only from physical risks and damages but also from transition risks. These accrue in such different areas as climate-related policy making, altered market behavior, changes in international trade patterns, technology development, and consumer behavior. To support a safe and gradual transition to a low-carbon economy, the financial sector needs to evaluate and eventually address the new risks associated with climate change and decarbonization in an efficient manner. There is widespread concern that financial markets currently lack sufficient information about the carbon exposure of assets, resulting in risks from climate change and climate policy for investments (Karydas and Xepapadeas 2018 ). If not anticipated by the markets, climate shocks also cause asset stranding, i.e. unanticipated and premature capital write-offs, downward revaluations, and conversion of assets to liabilities (Rozenberg et al. 2020 ; Bretschger and Soretz 2018 ). The same holds true for climate policies which are not or cannot be correctly anticipated by investors (Dietz et al. 2016 ; Stolbova et al. 2018 ; Sen and von Schickfus 2020 ). The growing awareness of these risks is reflected in the attention that policy makers have devoted to the development of transparency improving information systems and indicators in recent years. However, challenges related the design of these systems and indicators, e.g. with respect to an accurate and encompassing risk assessment, still remain. The importance of addressing these challenges is excerbated by prevalent network effects and counterparty risks that transmit climate-induced financial shocks from individual firms to the broad public holding their capital in stocks of fossil-fuel-related firms, investment funds, and pension funds, which all could suffer from stranded assets (Battiston et al. 2017 ). Divestment campaigns, shareholder engagement, and mandatory disclosure of climate-relevant financial information by companies and investors warrant further theoretical and empirical analysis. Also, a better understanding of the economics behind financing instruments like green bonds is only recently emerging (Agliardi and Agliardi 2019 ). Despite some early studies there is a knowledge gap with respect to the extent of climate and policy risks for central banks and regarding the potential significance of different channels connecting the risks in the real economy with monetary policy. Given the environmental and international policy perspective of the climate problem, the specific contribution of the financial sector and the central banks in the architecture of global climate policy has to be subject to further investigation.

Energy system transformation The transition from a fossil-based to a green economy is needed to combat climate change but requires a thorough transformation of energy systems (Pommeret and Schubert 2019 ) in developed as well as in developing countries. In industrialized countries, challenges arise from the structural transformation of highly complex energy systems and their linkage with other economic sectors. While one hundred years ago, it was the rapid dissemination of fossil-based industrial processes, transportation, and heating that resulted in wide-spread sectoral change, similar adjustments can be expected with the increasing importance of electricity for decarbonization. However, changing the use of energy technologies in practice involves decisions on different levels and constitutes a highly nonlinear process. Future power generation in many countries will increasingly rely on renewable energies like wind and solar energy. To offset intermittent power generation, more and better storage capacities of batteries or pumped hydropower will be needed (Ambec and Crampes 2019 ). Synthetic fuels, heat pumps, fuel cells and e-mobility will increasingly use electricity to replace fossil fuels not only in the power sector but also in traffic and heat generation. While the adoption of renewable technologies like wind and solar was often much faster than predicted in the past, the critical mass of market penetration has still to be reached in other areas to benefit from potential scale effects and cost decreases. Shape and speed of the energy transition are, however, highly dependent on a political process which is hard to predict for market participants. Policy and ecological risks, together with the long-run character of the energy and related infrastructure investments, pose a big challenge for research and practice. In this context, it is especially the economic potential of green hydrogen and/or synthetic fuels that is controversially discussed at present. As production costs are expected to fall (Glenk and Reichelstein 2019 ), interest in hydrogen is increasing sharply (IEA 2019 ) and new research questions arise. For developing countries, clean and decentralized renewable energy technologies offer big potentials for electrification and economic development. However, despite the potential for decarbonization and the reduction of other externalities and health hazards and despite the fact that more than 90% of the annual increase in power generation comes from emerging economies, research on the development and adoption of clean energy technologies still focuses mainly on the developed world. More research on the barriers and challenges for adoption in developing countries is needed, including sustainable financing, institutional framing and the design of regionally tailored policies.

Sustainability perspective on digitalization Digitalization and artificial intelligence are often seen as opportunities for enhancing the efficiency of energy and resource use. They offer new opportunities for circular economy, agriculture, monitoring of ecosystems and biodiversity, sustainable finance and decarbonization (see WBGU 2019 and literature within). However, they may also accelerate energy and resource use, increase inequality between regions and income groups and endanger sustainable development. Digitalization offers new access to markets, impacts market forms and shapes consumer behavior all of which can have extensive implications for the ecological, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development. Digitalization is a cross-cutting theme that reaches across spatial scales (from regional development to globalization) as well as temporal scales (from short-run impacts on energy systems to long-run adaptation to climate change). So far, the potentials and challenges for sustainable development that are associated with digital technologies have mostly been addressed outside of environmental and resource economics. The focus has been on topics such as data security and privacy or, for example, on the implications of the ”fourth industrial revolution” on employment and labor markets. Costs and benefits of digitization, the design and effectiveness of policies in industrialized as well as developing countries have garnered much less attention in the context of environmental, resource, energy and climate economics. Also, impacts of digitization on the behavior of economic agents resulting in, for example, rebound effects or changes in consumption patterns and environmental awareness, have not been addressed comprehensively (Gossar 2015 ). In all of these areas, our limited knowledge base creates opportunities and challenges for future research in the field. But, digitalization not only creates new research questions, it also provides new means to answer them. It has led to new developments in data science, big data analysis, machine learning and artificial intelligence that allow new insights into, for example, material flows, emission patterns and technology diffusion as well as the optimal design, implementation and effectiveness of regulation (Fowlie et al. 2019 ; Weersink et al. 2018 ; Graziano and Gillingham 2015 ).

Quantitative analysis of environmental use Recently, there has been a significant shift in the empirical methods used in economics from traditional regression analysis to random assignment and quasi-experiments. Arguably this can improve the capturing of causal relationships and reduce the biases of traditional study designs. In environmental economics, experimental and quasi-experimental approaches have been applied mainly for capturing individuals’ or firms’ decisions on the use of land, water, resources, and energy (e.g. Allcott 2011 ; Duflo et al. 2013 ; Deschenes et al. 2017 ). Wider applications of these rigorous methods in environmental economics and well-suited empirical designs are desirable but certainly challenging e.g. when assessing aggregate environmental costs from climate change or biodiversity loss. An important but underrated field in applied environmental economics is the ex-post empirical assessment of environmental policies. The challenge is not only to identify environmental externalities, causalities, and impact intensities but also to provide an accurate valuation of the cost of policies, because they vary widely especially in environmental economics. The traditional empirical methods remain to be important and are not simply replaced. The same holds true for empirical designs in a time, cross-country, or panel structure. The increasing availability of large or very large datasets with observations varying widely across time and space offers a different set of options to provide evidence on the impact of environmental damages or policies to abate them (e.g. Currie and Walker 2011 ; Martin et al. 2014 ; Zhang et al. 2018 ). Fast-growing computational power and machine learning provide even more avenues for fruitful applications in environmental economics (see e.g. Abrell et al. 2019 ) but the challenge to use computer power wisely and to derive results which are sufficiently robust remains demanding .

Structural assessment modelling and modelling transparency In an effort to better understand the ramifications of political decisions and technological developments on climate change, energy supply and resource extraction (to name but a few examples), increasingly sophisticated numerical models have been developed in recent decades. It is evident that quantitative economics analysis is important for policy advice. Yet despite their complexity, these models usually still adopt some very simplifying and sometimes ad-hoc assumptions. In particular assumptions used in integrated valuation models have come under heavy criticism in recent years (Stern 2013 ; Pindyck 2013 ). Simplifications concern market structures and market failures, the integration of risk and uncertainty as well as societal, institutional and cultural detail. Also, manifestations of climate change and damages come at very different regional and temporal scales, making a truly integrated assessment of the climate-ecosystem-economy nexus next to impossible. We see it as a major challenge for future research to provide more accurate foundations for integrated assessment models. While simplifications are needed to reduce computational complexity, they raise the question to which extent the results obtained render reliable insights into future developments. Asking for models that are detailed in every dimension and can answer every question resembles of course the search for the holy grail. However, the need for a better understanding of the model dynamics has already led to the development of a new generation of models which have a stronger foundation in theory (Golosov et al. 2014 , Bretschger and Karydas 2019 ). A better understanding of the limits of models and of the questions specific models can and cannot address is still needed as well as transparency in model development. More applied studies, assessments of global environmental trends under different economic assumptions often use ”scenarios” to describe future trajectories. The scenarios are mostly based on expert opinion and do not rely on estimates about the likelihood that such a trajectory will occur. It is also critical that the economics behind the scenarios is often neglected. Prominently, per capita income can be projected using endogenous growth theory, while population development can be evaluated using state-of-the-art theories on fertility and morbidity.

3 Conclusions

This article set out to highlight a number of challenges that are highly relevant for future research in the field of environmental and resource economics. The focus was mainly, although not exclusively, on topical issues. We only briefly touched upon on some methodological advancements that might have the power to further parts of our field. Big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence hold high promise in this regard but their limits and potentials for environment, climate and resource economics have yet to be fully understood.

It should have become clear, that a number of the challenges presented can only be addressed adequately by interdisciplinary research teams with relevant disciplines ranging from climate science, (computer) engineering, sociology, virology to soil sciences. In many cases, economists’ analysis and the derivation of sound policy recommendations require the knowledge available in these fields. However, such research cooperations are by no means one-way streets: Other disciplines need the input of economists in order to assess future development scenarios and implementability of solutions. The knowledge and data required for economics analysis does not always exist yet, but interdisciplinary cooperation can help to identify and close these gaps. Overall, the less economists have already worked on specific challenges, the harder it is to assess best research strategies and the potential for success. Take the digitization-sustainable-development-nexus as an example: best research strategies and success are extremely difficult to predict as not only is the related economics research still in its infancy but also the field itself is extremely dynamic.

As already pointed out in the beginning: We are aware that our selection is bound to create discontent and disagreement. Having said this, it should also be stated that we expect some of our challenges to be more or less universally agreed upon. This holds especially for the broader topics: for example, how to accomplish deep decarbonization; how to deal with risk and uncertainty; or how to assess the role of disruptive development. One reason for this lies in the encompassing nature of these topics. They are relevant for many of the other fields that we have pointed out: For behavioral analyses, the capacity to deal with disruptive change in the face of risk and uncertainty are essential. Loss of biodiversity and natural capital, land degradation, conflicts over resources and migration are exacerbated by climate change. The potential of digitization for sustainable development constitutes disruptive change in itself. Yet, all of these fields are not merely subfields of the more overarching themes, they raise important research questions in their own right.

Nevertheless, it is to be expected that it will be the more specific fields over which disagreement will arise: Are ‘land use and soil degradation’ more important than ‘fisheries’? Is the ‘institutional analysis of environmental policies’ of higher relevance than the ‘development of alternative welfare concepts’ (to pick out some random examples). Of course, there are more fields that could have been included and also, of course, there is no objective criterion for the inclusion or exclusion of fields. The selection of the challenges is based on the analysis and criteria presented in the first section but it is ultimately ours; we are happy if this paper contributes to a lively and constructive discussion about the future of our field.

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Bretschger, L., Pittel, K. Twenty Key Challenges in Environmental and Resource Economics. Environ Resource Econ 77 , 725–750 (2020).

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Original research article, perceptions of local environmental issues and the relevance of climate change in nepal's terai: perspectives from two communities.

research paper on the environmental problems

  • 1 Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
  • 2 Research Department, Institute for Social and Environmental Research Nepal (ISER-N), Bharatpur, Nepal

The direct and indirect impacts of global climate change entail serious consequences for global biophysical and social systems, including the health, well-being and sustainability of communities. These impacts are especially serious for vulnerable groups in economically developing societies. While climate change is a global phenomenon, it is at the local level that impacts are most felt, and from where responses to climate change are enacted. It is increasingly urgent that communities possess the capacity to respond to climate change, now and in the future. Community representations of climate-relevant issues are critical to underpinning responses. Environmental representations do not directly reflect actual physical conditions but are interpreted through social and cultural layers of understanding that shape environmental issues. This paper investigates environmental and climate-relevant perceptions within two communities in the Terai region of Nepal; the city of Bharatpur and the village of Kumroj in Chitwan Province. Following mixed findings on levels of climate change awareness in Nepal, we set out to explore perspectives on the environment and climate change awareness by conducting 30 qualitative interviews with local people. The study found that issues linked to sanitation and cleanliness were most important in both communities, while reports of temperature and weather changes were less common and typically linked to local causes rather than climate change. Imagined futures were also closely related to current environmental issues affecting communities and did not discuss climate change, though temperature and weather changes were anticipated. However, when talk of climate change was deliberately elicited, participants displayed their awareness, though this was rarely linked to local conditions. We conclude that, in light of other pressing local issues, climate change is yet to penetrate the environmental representations of some communities and there is a need to address the disconnect between local issues and global climate change. Making climate change relevant at the local level by connecting to salient local issues and co-benefits comprises an important step in bridging the gap between more global awareness and its relevance more locally, particularly for communities at risk.


Climate change impacts are set to profoundly change global ecological and social systems, bringing about fundamental changes to human behavior ( Evans, 2019 ). The complexity of global climate systems makes it difficult to accurately predict the nature of climate change impacts, though a degree of certainty rests in knowing that fundamental lifestyle shifts commensurate with the scale of climate change will be required if we are to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C by 2100 ( Rogelj et al., 2018 ). In addition to average temperature increase, societies also face increases in the frequency of extreme weather events, air pollution and sea level rise, posing an array of physical threats to human health and well-being, both directly and indirectly ( Watts et al., 2018 ).

Consequently, the impacts of sudden natural disasters (such as shock, emotional distress and post-traumatic stress), and cumulative stresses over time (for example, changes to livelihoods, economic opportunities and social support) from climate change carry serious psychological impacts for those affected ( Clayton et al., 2015 ). These impacts are especially pronounced for citizens living in economically developing countries, particularly for those within developing countries who rely on natural resources to sustain their livelihoods ( Aryal et al., 2014 ).

In addition to continued mitigation, societies will be required to adapt to current and future environmental change. Adaptation in this context refers to a community's capacity to deal with changes, reduce vulnerability to risks, and improve the well-being of communities ( Bhatta et al., 2015 ). While action on climate change maintains a crucial global imperative ( Gupta, 2010 ), variability in environmental impacts and sociocultural differences at the local level also highlight the need to better understand the contexts within which responses to climate-relevant issues occur ( Adger, 2003 ). While global environmental issues such climate change are constructed in top–down ways through scientific, political and other cultural narratives ( Adger et al., 2013 ), they are also blended with and filtered through more vernacular, localized forms of understanding ( Byg and Salick, 2009 ).

In this paper we investigate environmental and climate-relevant perceptions in the context of two rural communities in the Terai (lowland) region of Nepal. Nepal is an economically developing country in South Asia that faces serious impacts from climate change including a predicted temperature increase of 2.8°C by 2060 and up to 4°C by 2090, snowpack melt, glacier retreat, shifting climatic zones, increased extreme weather events, increased periods of drought and erratic precipitation ( Becken et al., 2013 ). In a country where agriculture is the principle industry for 80% of citizens ( Paudel et al., 2019 ) and widespread poverty exists, many of Nepal's citizens are precariously positioned by climate change threats ( Leichenko and Silva, 2014 ).

Following Smit and Wandel (2006) , we take a bottom-up approach to environmental and climate-relevant perceptions at the community level. We discuss the findings from 30 qualitative interviews with community members, focusing on the role of subjective environmental perceptions relating to current and future environmental issues, including community perspectives on climate change, with a focus on the impacts for human well-being. While scientific measurement of ecological impacts provides the foundation for mitigation and adaptation, community perceptions are also critical to ensuring that policy interventions fit community understandings and avoid being misinterpreted or rejected by the community ( Leiserowitz, 2007 ). The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also stipulated that local knowledge should be used to inform climate adaptation planning ( Carter, 2019 ).

In addition to comprising physical phenomena, environmental issues, including climate change, comprise important social, cultural, and political dimensions that mediate perceptions of the physical ( Hulme, 2009 ; Whitmarsh, 2011 ). These are both facilitated and constrained by cultural knowledge, expressed through social norms, practices, institutional structures and prescribed roles and ways of living. The extent to which climate-relevant communications, interventions and policy are received, understood and enacted by local communities therefore depends on the degree to which top-down standardized scientific narratives converge with, or diverge from the micro-contexts of localized forms of knowledge ( Zinn, 2004 ). Culturally-filtered observations and experiences of environmental conditions are a crucial way in which citizens understand environmental conditions and processes of change ( Bickerstaff, 2004 ; Hulme, 2012 ). Human cognitive biases also influence and distort environmental perceptions. For example, more unusual or memorable weather events tend to exert a stronger influence on perceptions ( Trenberth et al., 2015 ).

Furthermore, perspectives of global climate change may be constrained due to being beyond human perceptual capacity. This means that other locally-salient issues may be perceived as more immediate ( Weber, 2010 ). While people may attribute extreme weather events to global climate change, such interpretations depend on culturally-available narratives that construct such issues, whereas physical climate change is, arguably, only discernible over long time periods. Essentially, a single event cannot unequivocally be attributed directly to climate change, though an individual may or may interpret it as such, depending on their perspective ( Hulme, 2014 ). Similarly, interpretations of local environmental conditions have been found to influence more global climate-relevant understandings. For example, in one study, local perceptions of deforestation, urbanization and air pollution framed explanations of climate change ( Maharjan and Joshi, 2012 ). This suggests that people look for proximate and visible causes in the absence of wider understanding.

Nonetheless, studies have demonstrated evidence that communities who are more in touch with their surroundings are able to accurately detect environmental changes, such as seasonal temperature and weather fluctuations ( Gurung, 1989 ; Tiwari et al., 2010 ; Poudel and Duex, 2017 ; Uprety et al., 2017 ). Other research has found that while community members are accurate in their perceptions of some seasonal and weather-related changes, they are less accurate at perceiving others ( Myers et al., 2013 ). Environmental impacts also affect different groups within a country or region differently, and not always uniformly ( Gentle et al., 2014 ) and may even be experienced differently by different members of the same community ( Maharjan and Joshi, 2012 ).

Climate change awareness has been reported to be higher in economically developed countries than in economically developing nations, a pattern also found for countries within Asia ( Maharjan and Joshi, 2012 ). Other research has found educational attainment to be the strongest predictor of awareness ( Lee et al., 2015 ). Cultural differences are also evident in terms of climate change risk perceptions; in Latin America and Europe, comprehension of the anthropogenic origin of climate change has been found to be the strongest predictor, while in several Asian and African countries, perception of temperature increase locally was most influential ( Lee et al., 2015 ). Perceptions of temperature and weather change are widespread. Savo et al. (2016) conducted a meta-analysis of 10,660 change observations reported across 2,230 localities in 137 countries, which showed increases in temperature, and changes in seasons and rainfall patterns in 70% of localities in 122 countries.

Nepal is particularly susceptible to climate change, with change in the Himalaya accelerating beyond the global average ( Zomer et al., 2014 ). In the Terai agriculture is the principle economic activity, with around 80% of the population dependent on farming for their livelihoods. Therefore, climate change carries significant risks for the economy, which indirectly affect food production and security. The situation is exacerbated by widespread poverty; in 2010 over 25% of the population subsisted below the national poverty line ( Adhikari, 2018 ). Poorer groups within society are more likely to be exposed to climate stresses and possess fewer resources to adapt ( Gentle et al., 2014 ; Leichenko and Silva, 2014 ). Nepal is divided into three ecological regions comprising the Terai (lowland), hill and mountain regions, each of which is characterized by different ecological and climatic conditions. The Terai forms a fertile plain located in the south of the country where the majority of food production takes place, and is also the most densely populated region ( Paudel, 2012 ). Of relevance within Nepal, food shortages due to seasonal changes, infestations of new crop pests and a decline in soil productivity have been recorded ( Paudel, 2012 ).

Public awareness is seen as a major limitation to climate change adaptation within Nepal ( Withana and Auch, 2014 ). While some studies have found high levels of climate change awareness amongst Nepalese citizens ( Becken et al., 2013 ), other research has found awareness to be low ( Gallup, 2009 ). In a cross-national study of 5,060 households, Tanner et al. (2018) report that climate change awareness was low (<50% were aware of the phenomenon even if they had been aware of changes in the weather). Awareness in urban areas was lower than in rural areas (56% v 46%), and very low in mountain areas (63% had not heard of climate change). There were also significant proportions of citizens who did not perceive that the climate was changing. Maharjan and Joshi (2012) report that among the Chepang community only 11.8% of respondents had heard of climate change; of those, only 4.8% were able to relate the phenomenon to changes in weather patterns, temperature, rainfall, wind, floods, landslides, and environmental change.

Research on community perceptions of environmental and climate-relevant change in Nepal has recorded perceptions of warmer summers ( Tiwari et al., 2010 ; Uprety et al., 2017 ); milder winters ( Dahal, 2005 ; Maharjan and Joshi, 2012 ; Becken et al., 2013 ); more erratic rainfall ( Chapagain et al., 2009 ; Paudel, 2012 ; Becken et al., 2013 ; Devkota and Bhattarai, 2018 ); increased periods of drought ( Tanner et al., 2018 ); and more frequent foggy days ( Shrestha et al., 2018 ). However, community perceptions are not consensual. Maharjan and Joshi (2012) report that while 47.5% believed that summers were getting warmer, nearly 10% reported that summers were becoming cooler and 38% perceived no change. In addition, 21% believed that winters were getting colder while 22% believed that winters were becoming milder. Furthermore, 37% believed that there was less rain overall, while 13–17% perceived no change in rainfall. They attribute this to differences in “visual salience”; whereby rainfall is more conspicuous and facilitates perception, whereas temperature change is less directly observable.

With specific reference to the Terai region, Maharjan et al. (2011) interviewed farmers in the Western Terai, with 90% of respondents reporting increases in climate-related risks (erratic rainfall, flooding, droughts, riverbank erosion, windstorms, hailstorms, insect infestations). Tiwari et al. (2010) surveyed Terai communities in which over 75% of participants reported delayed onset of the monsoon and changes in flowering and fruiting time for some plant species. Meanwhile, Manandhar et al. (2011) found that more than two-thirds of farmers in the Terai claimed to have personally experienced evidence of climatic change.

As a result of perceived environmental change in the Terai, and in other regions livelihoods and lifestyles are adapting to changing conditions. Khanal et al. (2018) surveyed farming households in Nepal to gauge adaptation practices across the three ecological regions of Nepal, reporting that 91% of households had adopted at least one practice to minimize impacts of climate change. Adaptation may be more anticipatory or reactive and distinguished by duration, scale of implementation (i.e., more local or more widespread) and focus (e.g., behavioral, institutional, economic, technological, informational) ( Smit et al., 2000 ). In a study of climate change adaptation in the rural hill region of Nepal, Gentle et al. (2018) examined household responses in four villages. Adaptive responses to climate change in rural communities were found to be less coordinated and more reactive and unplanned rather than anticipated and coordinated.

Changes to agricultural practices constitute a primary focal point for adaptation and change. These have included changes in the times crops are sown and harvested ( Maharjan et al., 2011 ), switching to more climate resilient crop varieties and tree and plant species ( Maharjan et al., 2011 ; Paudel, 2016 ; Gahatraj et al., 2018 ), as well as increased use of pesticides, and income diversification ( Gentle et al., 2018 ). Climate change is also perceived as benefiting some crop species ( Rawal and Bharti, 2015 ). For example, mangos are being grown at higher altitudes than was possible in the past ( Chapagain et al., 2009 ).

Within villages, water practices were changing to conserve water resources ( Tiwari et al., 2010 ), and changes to diets have also been identified ( Tanner et al., 2018 ), with less rice being consumed due to the effects of climate on rice productivity ( Maharjan and Joshi, 2013 ). Two-story houses are increasingly being constructed for food storage and as refuge from flooding ( Maharjan and Joshi, 2013 ), while buildings are being oriented to withstand windstorms, incorporating single rather than double doors ( Maharjan and Joshi, 2013 ). Seasonal migration and resettlement becoming more common ( Prasain, 2018 ). People are also reported to be planting more trees and grasses on their own land as well as on communal land to protect communities from flooding, wind and dust ( Tiwari et al., 2010 ; Maharjan et al., 2017 ). Withana and Auch (2014) report that afforestation is viewed as the most effective climate change adaptation strategy by communities.

In summary, perceptions of environmental conditions are key to informing behavior, including the need to adapt to a changing climate. In the context of Nepal, adaptation is particularly salient and it is critical that communities respond to environmental risks in ways that ensure the well-being and futurity of those communities. Given that studies of climate-relevant perceptions have reported mixed findings in terms of awareness, we seek to clarify how Nepalese communities view environmental issues now and in the future. Such perceptions act as important indicators of how local communities make sense of what is happening in their surroundings.

Following our review of the literature, the following questions guide the study approach:

• How do communities in Nepal's Terai perceive their environment?

• How do they see that environment changing in the future?

• To what degree are local communities aware of climate change?

• What is the relative importance of climate change compared to other issues environmental affecting the community?

Materials and Methods

The following subsections describe the study design and procedure. Broadly, this comprised a qualitative approach using semi-structured interviews with residents in two communities in the Terai region of Nepal. Thirty interviews were conducted in total. 15 interviews were conducted with residents of the village of Kumroj, a small rural community bordering Chitwan National Park. Another 15 interviews were conducted with residents of Bharatpur, an urban community approximately 12 miles (20 km) away. For each group, we were interested in gauging perceptions of salient environmental issues, including climate change. We selected two different communities to explore the degree to which locally salient issues varied and informed discussions. Before commencing fieldwork, the study design was scrutinized and approved by the Research Ethics Committee in the School of Psychology at Cardiff University.


Fieldwork was conducted in January and February 2016. A purposive sampling strategy ( Silverman, 2015 ) was used to try to generate a range of different sociodemographic profiles within each community in terms of age, gender and ethnicity. All participants were aged 18+ and resided in either Bharatpur or Kumroj, both in the Chitwan district. Bharatpur has a population of 280,000 and is one of the largest and fastest growing cities in Nepal. While it is home to a number of small-scale processing industries, agriculture remains the biggest industry. Kumroj is a small town with a population of 8,000. Kumroj borders Chitwan National Park, the first National Park created in Nepal (in 1973). In recent years in-migration has increased pressure on land for settlement and agriculture. Increasing tourism has put additional pressure on the landscape. A number of community development initiatives have attempted to confer Kumroj as an ecological exemplar, with the creation of a community forest initiative and grant funding to encourage domestic biogas installation to reduce deforestation, launched on World Environment Day, 2013. Around 80% of households within Kumroj have installed bio-gas converters to reduce reliance on the forest for fuel.

To arrange fieldwork with local people in Kumroj, we contacted the offices of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) in Kathmandu, who had been involved in community development projects in Kumroj. Through WWF, we were able to negotiate access through local community leaders who helped us to recruit participants. Prior to our arrival, the study was advertised by word-of-mouth by community leaders, who identified potential members of the community willing to be interviewed. Extra care had to be taken in gaining access to participants, establishing contact and opening communicative spaces with the community, which could be damaged if pushed too quickly ( Wicks and Reason, 2009 ). The study was promoted as a “ lifestyle and behavior ” project and avoided making reference to the environment, as we wished to avoid recruiting only those members of the community whose motivations and values were strongly pro-environmental. At recruitment, a brief screening procedure was applied; individuals were screened to ensure that they were 18+ and aware of the broad purpose of the study and what would be required in terms of participation. We also purposefully recruited individuals to ensure that we had a roughly equal split in terms of gender, as well as diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, occupation, and income. See Table 1 for subsample demographics.

Table 1 . Subsample demographics.

To recruit our Bharatpur subsample, we collaborated with the Institute for Social and Environmental Research Nepal (ISER-N). ISER-N is a research and development institute that conducts applied research to inform policy-making and effective sustainable development initiatives across local communities. Using a similar method to the above, ISER-N acted as our guide and point of access to the local community and advertised and recruited a subsample of local people who had expressed an interest in discussing their lifestyles and behaviors.

Once participants had been identified, screened, and given further information about the study, they were invited to take part in an interview to discuss aspects of their day-to-day lifestyles and behaviors with the research team. Interviews were scheduled to take approximately one-and-a-half hours, but varied from 45 min to 2 h. A semi-structured interview method ( Galletta, 2013 ) was chosen in which a standard set of questions was covered while also allowing flexibility for follow-up questions and exploration of other issues of relevance to participants. Such flexibility is an advantage in cross-cultural settings as this allows for greater exploration of cultural factors underpinning issues of interest ( McIntosh and Morse, 2015 ; Hagaman and Wutich, 2017 ). All participants were required to give written informed consent prior to participation.

Questions in the interview protocol sought to contextualize environmental perspectives within people's wider everyday lives as far as possible. Questions broadly covered perceptions of the environment and the importance of environmental issues environmental problems (including climate change), engagement in environmentally-friendly behavior, the character, motivations for and consequences of behaviors, and comparisons with others in terms of acting in environmentally-friendly ways (see Supplementary Information ).

The majority of interviews took place at participants' homes. Discussions took place on seats or woven mats in the front yards of houses rather than inside the building itself. A small number of interviews were conducted in other locations, such as a local café, or community building in the case where the home could not be used. We relied heavily on our collaborators and local community leaders to manage interview arrangements in line with our concerns about accessing members of an unfamiliar culture and wishing not to transgress social boundaries. Because people's yards are the area of the home where a lot of day-to-day interaction takes place, providing socially appropriate spaces for interaction.

One of the disadvantages of holding interviews outside was that on some occasions the research team's presence would attract the curiosity of other family members, neighbors and other locals. The sudden presence of others could occasionally alter the dynamic of the interview interaction, particularly if the others who were present began talking or offering their own perspectives. On one or two occasions the research team had to ask bystanders to limit their contribution so as to allow the participant to speak. To a cultural outsider this would appear potentially problematic and non-conducive to an appropriate interview context, which led us to consider this and other ethical considerations in conducting interview research in different cultures.

Ethical Considerations in Conducting Interviews in Different Cultures

Researchers typically assume that the communities in which they work will be aware of the concept of research and its value, though for many communities research is something abstract, distanced and difficult to make sense of in relation to their ordinary lived experience. This came across clearly in working with each subsample. In Bharatpur, participants were familiar with ISER-N and, owing to participating in other cross-cultural research, were more comfortable with the researcher's presence than participants in Kumroj, who had not been so exposed to researchers and the research process. Further to this, bridging communicative spaces is not confined merely to issues of translation and word equivalence, but of more conceptual differences in terms of the ways that different cultures define reality and categorize their experience ( Fong, 2012 ). Language and culture are woven together in ways that require not only the translation of speech, but the translation of cultural meanings that are often concealed from those outside of that culture. In designing the interview protocol, we worked closely with our collaborators not only to ensure that questions were understandable, but that any cultural assumptions (for example, about the lifestyles, values, and practices of the community) were identified and addressed appropriately. All interview materials were double-translated.

Qualitative methods including interviews, also carry particular ethical implications in terms of power imbalance, where the discussion is primarily directed by the researcher ( King et al., 2018 ). Assumptions about the identity of the western researcher (typically white, middle-class, and educated) on the part of the research participant construct interactional dynamics before a word has been spoken. Similarly, the reflexive researcher will not only consider how their own identity might influence communication, but how their assumptions about the community they are researching enter into framing interactions. While researchers may seek to embark on research practices that are non-exploitative and non-oppressive, researchers are nonetheless complicit in systems of oppression and should be aware of their own privileges.

The interview team comprised a male researcher (lead author) and a female translator to minimize any gender imbalance that might affect trust and participant disclosure, especially for female participants ( Campbell and Wasco, 2000 ; Sikes, 2018 ). The translator also played an active role in facilitating each interview, asking additional questions and clarifying understanding, as opposed to simply translating questions and responses. It was felt that a combination of cultural insider and cultural outsider benefited the discussion; while the former helped to increase trust and disclosure, the latter encouraged more detailed exploration of issues that might otherwise be taken for granted by those familiar with those issues ( Dwyer and Buckle, 2009 ).

Conducting qualitative fieldwork in collaboration with translators can also compromise the quality and accuracy of the material generated. In an interview context, the translator adds an additional layer to the interaction. For example, the translator is likely to be more acquainted with the cultural nuances of the interaction than the researcher. Therefore, both the researcher and translator can affect the fieldwork process, as well as disrupting the flow of talk to allow for translation ( Van Teijlingen et al., 2011 ). When fully transcribed, interviews can also show disparity between participant responses and translated responses. van Teijlingen et al. suggest that a way round this is to allow the translator to conduct the interview and only relay main points to the researcher, though this can be impractical, as well as excluding the researcher.

Prior to the interviews, considerable time was spent in developing and pre-testing interview questions. After constructing an initial set of interview questions in English, these were double-translated and then reviewed by our collaborators in Nepal. This was invaluable in not only identifying significant weaknesses in conceptual equivalence between Nepali and English versions of the questions ( Larkin et al., 2007 ), but also in highlighting researchers' cultural assumptions inherent in questions relating to everyday life in “other” places. That is, while a translated question may be conceptually equivalent to the original, it still may not be understandable in another culture (e.g., where researchers from one culture assume that all participants in another culture will have the same access to resources, such as running water). Even when all care is taken with translation, translators may be unfamiliar with a particular geographical region or cultural group. Therefore, it is recommended that questions are pre-tested in the specific cultural contexts in which they will be used.

With reference to interview locations, our decision to hold interviews outside and not in a more private location was primarily guided by social conventions as well as pragmatism, though we acknowledge the active influence of the nature of the space within which such interactions take place ( Gagnon et al., 2015 ). As mentioned at the end of the previous section, on occasion others were present at interviews in ways that influenced participant responses and could have constrained disclosure or breached informal assumptions about confidentiality (though interview questions were not considered to cover personally sensitive topics). Conversely, in discussing lifestyle and behavior issues, the home sometimes served as an exemplar in which participants described their activities in the context of the physical surroundings, which enhanced disclosure. In addition, conducting interviews in familiar environments can reduce the power imbalance between researcher and research participant ( Gagnon et al., 2015 ).

Ethical considerations do not end at the point at which the interview concludes but influence ongoing reflections following the interview (such as translation, analysis, writing-up and dissemination) ( Hoover et al., 2018 ). Acknowledging that translation imposes an additional level of interpretation on the spoken word ( Caretta, 2015 ), we have tried insofar as possible to contextualize accounts based on participants' direct speech rather than translators' interpretations of what was said. At the end of each interview, participants were provided with a verbal and written debrief in Nepali, in which they were given the opportunity to get in touch with the research team through appointed members of the local community and in-country collaborators should they have any further questions or concerns once participation had ended.

Analytic Approach

All interviews were digitally audio-recorded and translated and transcribed at ISER-N. Written field notes were also taken throughout each interview relating to points of interest and things that might not be captured by the recorder. An “ in-interview ” system of translation was used whereby questions and responses were translated between English and Nepali by the translator. This method of translation was primarily used to aid communication within the interview itself. When the interview recordings were translated, the translators re-translated participants' responses, which appear alongside the in-interview translations in the transcripts. This was done as the task of translating what at times were lengthy utterances in the moment, could have led to omissions and gaps, whereas in translating participant responses from the recordings utterances could be replayed and listened to repeatedly for clarity, thus better capturing what was said.

An episodic narrative approach was used as an analytic framework by which to explore participants' accounts of environmentally-friendly perceptions and behaviors. This approach treats perceptions and experiences as lived narratives situated within the wider society and culture ( Flick, 2000 ; Jovchelovitch and Bauer, 2000 ). Narrative interviewing is interested in eliciting particular episodes or features of participants' lives and how they make sense of the world as embodied, culturally and spatially situated individuals ( Raulet-Croset and Borzeix, 2014 ). Interview audio files and transcripts were analyzed using NVivo 11, supplemented by written field notes.

Our analysis combined several methods, which we outline here. In line with the early stages of a grounded theory approach ( Timmermans and Tavory, 2012 ) we began by reading through transcripts to identify examples of talk that involved themes relating to health and well-being in the context of environmental issues. As much as possible, given inevitable researcher preconceptions and positions ( Caelli et al., 2003 ) we sought to identify general themes and provisional topics of interest, without imposing a predetermined framework. This manner of bottom-up or inductive analytic reading of the data allows for the broadest possible range of salient themes to be identified. Once we familiarized ourselves with the material through repeated readings, we then developed a system of codes to more precisely categorize these themes. In order to do so, we used a version of template analysis, which is suitable for identifying themes in research data that is commensurate with both essentialist and constructionist perspectives, and which enables a hybrid approach that utilizes both inductive and deductive techniques ( Brooks et al., 2015 ). Template analysis is a form of thematic analysis applied to qualitative data, that is sensitive both to emergent themes that are grounded in the data (i.e., not anticipated or predetermined by the researcher) as well as permitting predetermined codes or categories to be applied (i.e., in line with the researcher's interests and the existing literature). The coding framework was developed through an iterative process: through multiple readings of the research data and refinement of initial codes until further changes to the framework did not enhance it further. A further feature of template analysis is the development and application of a hierarchical coding approach, designed to shed light on the structure across the set of codes. In the case of the present study, this for example has led to higher-level codes such as “behavioral responses” beneath which we identify sub-codes such as “cleanliness” and “waste disposal.”

In the analysis that follows, we present extracts from interviews in both communities comprising perceptions of environmental issues. Where considering the themes identified within the data, we have illustrated this using a single typical extract and alluded to its occurrence in other participants' accounts within the text.

Community Perceptions of Current Environmental Conditions

We began by asking participants about the importance of environmental issues in their day-to-day lives and what the surrounding environment was like. Responses comprised both positive and negative evaluations of environmental conditions, though there was a greater range of issues forming the latter. To get some sense of the kinds of terms used to describe the local environment in each community, we created two word clouds using NVivo, which display the most frequently used words in discussing issues. The results of these are displayed in Figures 1 , 2 .

Figure 1 . Word cloud of the 75 most common words associated with present environmental conditions (Bharatpur participants).

Figure 2 . Word cloud of the 75 most common words associated with present environmental conditions (Kumroj participants).

Both communities used the same terms in discussing the environment, such as “ people ” and “ good .” In Bharatpur, “ better ” was also commonly used in talking about the environment, which may reflect the dominance of the issue of sanitation (see section Sanitation and Hygiene below). Negative words such as “ pollution,” “ smoke,” “ problem,” and “ dust” also came up relatively regularly, as did the word “ plastic .” Terms relating to hygiene and sanitation were also notable. These included “ cleanliness,” “ toilet ,” “ healthy,” and “ clean .” Meanwhile, in Kumroj, commonly used terms appeared congruent with the community's rural position. These included “ animals ,” “ jungle ,” “ wild ,” and “ forest .” Words such as “ polluted ,” “ concerned,” and “ worried” were also used. We now move on to discuss responses in more detail.

Sanitation and Hygiene

The primary way issue through which the environment was assessed in both communities, though particularly in Bharatpur, related to sanitation and the need to maintain a clean environment to reduce the risks of disease:

“ Previously, like ten to fifteen years ago people used to smoke, and there was open defecation everywhere, there weren't any toilets, so people used to get sick and the death rate also used to be very high, people used to be suffering by many kinds of disease, skin problems, allergies. Now currently almost every household has a toilet, and many organizations have been working on cleanliness. They have been providing various training and awareness programs regarding the clean environment. So now I would say, the environment is not so bad around here .” (Bharatpur, Interview A3).

In the above account, a positive assessment of environmental conditions is formulated by drawing a comparison between past and present sanitation and sanitary practices. Whereas, in the past, communities were affected by diseases resulting from unsanitary conditions, this had now changed, providing a positive indicator of the local environment as a whole.

In addition to health risks from open defecation, providing proper toilets in rural communities such as Kumroj also minimized other risks from wildlife, and the discomfort of adverse weather conditions:

“ If we don't have a toilet, then we may have to face many difficulties such as while going outside for toilet then we might get attacked from snake or when raining it would be hard to go the toilet. And if we openly defecate then it will pollute the environment and as result we may have to suffer from different diseases, so environment is the most important thing to survive for everyone and we can't imagine life without environment .” Kumroj, Interview B11).

For rural communities, development of sanitation was considered not only key to well-being, but also, implicitly, key to a good environment. Talk of sanitation in the context of evaluating the local environment also rested heavily on community awareness. What contributed to a lack of environmental quality in the past was not only that proper sanitation was unavailable, but that in the past, communities were less aware of the risks to health and well-being from poor sanitation. Risky sanitary practices were thus maintained as people did not know any better. In contrast, nowadays, communities were more aware of risks from inadequate sanitation and knew how to overcome issues such as contaminated drinking water. In this way, community awareness also contributed to positive judgements of environmental quality:

“ The e nvironment here is better in comparison to the past…These facilities didn't exist. There had been problems of drinking water taps. The same tap was used. It wasn't enough. In society, people had to drink water from wells. They had germs, smoke and dust .” (Bharatpur, Interview A10).

Similar to the accounts of the shift to a better environment through the development of toilet facilities and reduction in the practice of open defecation, an overall positive evaluation of the environment is constructed through comparisons of past and present. For many participants, issues of health, sanitation and hygiene formed the yardstick by which the overall environment was evaluated positively.

Waste and Pollution

While improvements in sanitation and hygiene across both communities provided a positive indicator of environmental quality, there was more ambivalence where participants discussed other issues indicative of environmental quality in their respective communities. For participants in both Bharatpur and Kumroj, distance from industrial development and proximity to green spaces were important factors associated with positive environmental assessments:

“ The environment around here is ok, there is no industry and factory so it is not that much polluted here and we are nearby jungle so we have greenery, yeah, it's good, it's fine .” (Kumroj, Interview B5).

As illustrated in the above account, environmental quality was implicitly understood as relating to human well-being, in terms of risks from pollution. Such a location for the community, close to the jungle and away from factories, led to evaluations that the environment was good. Conversely, accounts of pollution from other sources within the community itself, suggested a rather different environmental evaluation. At the same time as some participants positively evaluated the environment being relatively pollution-free, others constructed it as a polluted space due to the way that plastic waste was managed. The problem of plastic waste disposal came up most frequently in Bharatpur:

“… looking at increasing population, there can be very dangerous pollution. I feel that it will increase, yes, increasing. The use of plastics is increasing and there is no awareness regarding how to maintain cleanliness, how to save us from the problem. They have no such idea. Due to increasing population density, such symptoms are evident .” (Bharatpur, Interview A14).

Concerns about plastic waste were tied to other concerns about local population increase and the perception that there was a lack of awareness amongst the community in addressing the issue. Such accounts implied that there were no alternatives to using plastic, therefore the problem was in disposing of plastic waste that littered the environment and did not decompose. The main problem causing the pollution was not the presence of plastic waste, but the method used to manage and deal with waste plastic. This chiefly involved collecting the plastic and burning it in open fires. While this resolved the problem of plastic waste littering the community, participants were concerned that the smoke polluted the air and posed risks to health:

“ There is plastic around here and there. To dispose plastic, we need to burn it, and if we burn plastic it makes huge air pollution and affects people's health. The other day I argued with one person not to throw plastic. We must use firewood for cooking and because of that there is again smoke in the air, because of a lack of cooking gas. That's why it has been a very bad environment .” (Bharatpur; Interview A2).

In contrast to the previous extract constructing the local environment in positive ways as being relatively pollution-free, alternative perspectives such as the above led to very different evaluations of the local environment, with concomitant consequences for the health of the community. While the local community was aware of the contribution of existing informal plastic waste management practices to air pollution, it was nonetheless positioned as being powerless to change in ways that address air pollution as people are locked in to environmentally-damaging practices in order to manage waste and address basic needs. Similar to the need to use firewood for cooking due to shortages of cleaner alternatives, there were no alternatives and burning plastic waste was viewed as unavoidable. Essentially, such accounts lead to a very different evaluation of local environmental conditions.

Conversely, in Kumroj, a municipal system for collecting plastic waste had been in place for some time, therefore the community's method of dealing with plastic waste was not considered to threaten local environmental quality as much as problems such as poor sanitation:

“ People defecate wherever they want around the city area, there are toilets in here no toilets, so people openly defecated. So, I'm concerned about it…Otherwise, there is a facility to collect the waste from municipalities, the van comes and takes away waste. People collect the wastage plastic in sacks, then when the municipality van comes, then they take it away .” (Kumroj, Interview B6).

The account begins by constructing open defecation as the main issue threatening the environment in nearby Bharatpur, implying a negative assessment of the surroundings. This is contrasted with a more positive assessment where the speaker switches to talk about plastic waste management in Kumroj. Therefore, while plastic waste was a problem in both communities, in evaluating the local environment, the different ways in which plastic waste was managed were used to formulate contrasting assessments of environmental quality overall. These contrasting assessments may also connect to the wider importance of health and well-being, in which potential risks are offset by waste management practices in one community, but raised by plastic waste management practices in another.


While plastic waste did not negatively influence environmental assessments in Kumroj as it did in Bharatpur, there were, nonetheless, other issues affecting the community leading to negative environmental evaluations that were not reported in Bharatpur. For people in rural Kumroj, there was a closer felt connection to the neighboring forest as a source of environmental concerns. That is, forest conditions were more commonly invoked in environmental assessments by participants in Kumroj than in Bharatpur. The forest was seen as a valuable community resource, primarily as a source of firewood. Such talk occurred against a context of strikes and fuel shortages, further highlighting the importance of the forest as a source of firewood for local communities, which was being rapidly diminished due to increased demand:

“ We restored the forest with a lot of hard work. The strikes have already led to twenty-five percent of the forest to deforest and if this goes on, the forest will be completely deforested in a year or two. There is a new facility called biogas, we have that facility but, we have seventy-five percent biogas but people are poor and some bring the firewood from the forest, steal it and sell it… People have to survive. Having to die today and struggling for it tomorrow isn't going to work. If you have to survive today, you'll have to work for it today. And if they don't have any other way they'll go to the forest and steal the firewood .” (Kumroj, Interview B10).

Despite attempts to increase forest cover and reduce reliance on firewood by providing biogas converters within local communities, this did not address the wider problem of sustaining local people's livelihoods, which caused further deforestation and the potential loss of the forest altogether. From this perspective, the amount of forest cover formed an indicator of environmental quality. Furthermore, for participants in Kumroj, the environment was also judged based upon perceived changes in the amount of wildlife that could be observed locally:

“ I think the current environment is worse than the previous environment. I have noticed that the current environment is going down every day instead of going up. Because, previously when I used to go to the jungle I could see the wild animals very near, even sometimes outside of the jungle, but these days we have to go very deep into the jungle to search for the animals .” (Kumroj, Interview B14).

While the need for wood to sustain people's lives were commonly acknowledged within accounts of the pressures on forest resources in Kumroj, deforestation remained a significant concern.

Climate and Weather

While it was not foremost in terms of locally significant issues, participants in Bharatpur and Kumroj also referred to changes in climate and weather conditions in formulating their assessments of the local environment. These changes did not form the basis for positive evaluations of the local environment but appeared in negative or neutral assessments. Talk referred to a narrow range of changes. These mainly involved observations of temperature extremes in which summers were perceived to be increasingly hot, and winters increasingly cold. However, while these observations of climatic change were described causal factors were hardly mentioned. Furthermore, the phenomenon of global climate change was not spontaneously invoked in accounts:

“ I would say it's okay, so far Chitwan's environment is fine, although here is not much forest and plants. In winter it's very cold and summer is getting hotter .” (Bharatpur, Interview A6).

What appears initially as a positive assessment of the local environment is tempered by a perceived lack of forest cover and greenery in Bharatpur. In addition, the speaker adds the casual observation that winter and summer are increasingly subject to extreme temperatures, though no reason is offered as to why.

In addition to temperature changes, the other way in which the environment was judged was based on fluctuations in precipitation. In such accounts, there was consensus that rainfall was becoming more erratic and less predictable, and that rainfall overall was decreasing, including at the wettest times of the year. Again, no specific reasons were ventured as to why this was happening:

“ Yeah, I think sometimes, I think there's not enough or little rainfall during the rainy season .” (Bharatpur, Interview A1)

While changes in climate in terms of global averages cannot readily be detected by individuals ( Hulme, 2009 ), participants' observations appeared to reflect general climate trends. However, there was little concern expressed about temperature and precipitation changes, in comparison to other issues linked to health, cleanliness and well-being. Very occasionally, this type of issue was also linked to other perceived environmental problems. For example, one participant associated reductions in the amount of rain that fell to changes in forest cover:

“… we shouldn't be cutting down trees like we have been doing. We wouldn't get any rain if there weren't any trees .” (Kumroj, Interview B6).

The above account provides an isolated example of causation in relation to weather related changes. Even so, the role of climate change is not mentioned and rainfall change is attributed solely to the local problem of deforestation. While discussions of weather and climate were almost exclusively focused on the local area, an isolated reference was made to climate change in discussing the environment on a larger scale. One speaker spontaneously referred to broader patterns of global warming observed in changes beyond the local environment:

“… as you know because of the international global warming, now these days we have maximum cold, maximum hot, and impacts on ice and the change of snow fall trends…now there is very little snow fall in the mountains. If there is snow it melts so fast. These days we can see there are big storms, rainfall, everything has changed now. I think all the weather patterns have changed because of global warming. So, all those things make me concerned about the environment .” (Kumroj, Interview B13).

While an isolated example, the extract illustrates that climate change did arise in discussions of more local environmental conditions. Broader weather and temperature changes in Nepal corroborated observations at the local level, including temperature extremes and changes in rainfall.

In summary, assessments of the local environment were framed in different ways, leading to differences in the way that environment environmental conditions were evaluated. Assessments were framed based upon locally significant issues, which were both shared by, and individual to each community. Moreover, the most significant concerns were related to health and wellbeing. Next, we consider responses to the question of future environmental change.

Community Perceptions of Future Environmental Change

Following discussions over present environmental conditions, we then asked participants how the local environment might change in the future. Responses again comprised both positive and negative impressions, with a higher proportion of responses focused on the latter.

As previously, we created word clouds to get a sense of the sorts of terms that were used in imagining the future, and how these terms varied across communities. The results are shown in Figures 3 , 4 .

Figure 3 . Word cloud of the 75 most common words associated with future environmental conditions (Bharatpur participants).

Figure 4 . Word cloud of the 75 most common words associated with future environmental conditions (Kumroj participants).

Among participants in Bharatpur, the words “ waste ,” “ population,” and “ increasing ” came up most frequently in responses about future change. References to negative terms, such as “ pollution ” appeared less than in talk about existing conditions, though it appeared to be used relatively more frequently by participants in Kumroj. With reference to the latter community, the two most prominent words used in talking about the future were “ forest ” and “ people .” Other terms referred to environmental concerns looking to the future, including “ live ,”, “ less ,” “ important,” “ survive,” and “ disappear.” We now move on to discuss responses in more detail.

Future Deforestation

Across both communities, the most commonly reported issue in the future was that of population increase and its consequences, especially for those in Kumroj. As can be read from the analysis so far, population increase influenced environmental perceptions; and was something that was set to continue into the future. Population increase was not viewed in positive ways in either community. Instead, environmental impacts were predicted to increase as more people came to live in the Terai. Of these impacts, the pressure on local forests was most often mentioned. This tapped into the idea that the forest existed as a resource for local communities and that, as a resource, the forest was already being overused:

“ Well, um…I think, the population will increase, they may need more homes, more food, etcetera. For that, the increased population might destroy the green forest for their homes and for cultivating land. There might not be good management of the increased population. There may come disorder in the environment. There might be less wild animals, less trees and plants .” (Bharatpur, Interview A7).

In addition to providing raw materials in terms of firewood, as mentioned above, the need for land clearance to build settlements and provide food for newcomers compounded deforestation. If not well-managed, there were fears that this would eventually lead to the complete loss of the forest, both as a resource, and as a habitat for local flora and fauna. Such accounts appeared to be grounded in existing concerns about the exploitation of forest resources and served as a warning against continuing unchecked exploitation. In addition to its construction as a community resource and as a habitat for wildlife, in one or two discussions of future population increase, the forest was constructed as a safeguard against preventing other environmental impacts. For example, the forest protected the landscape from flooding and erosion:

“ Since the population and settlements are increasing, the forest is being cut down and people are settling in areas that were forest. More trees are being cut down to meet demand and brick factories are setting up and their chimneys pollute the air with lots of smoke. Because of less forest there could be floods and landslides, so this is the way the environment will be affected in future .” (Kumroj, Interview B11).

Further to the above, while participants were asked about environmental change in the future, discussions were typically grounded in perceptions of the present. Within the above extract, indications of future conditions linked to increased population and natural disasters are connected with conditions in the here and now, which are projected into an imagined future. It is assumed that present conditions will remain stable and consistent, with little expectation of change. As such, these accounts of the future highlight anxieties linked to present conditions, along with a sense of futility and helplessness that little will change. Conversely, issues such as sanitation did not really come up as future concerns, which likely reflects perceptions of sanitation improvements in the present, compared to the past.

Future Temperature Increases and Reduced Precipitation

Of relevance to climate change, rising temperatures, reduced rainfall and the loss of water resources also came up as potential future conditions locally. As found previously in accounts of present conditions, such talk tended to report conditions without elaborating on reasons as to what might contribute to causing them, or by offering opaque references to some unspoken (or non-understood) conditions or circumstances as “ having changed ”:

“ Yes, I think the environment might change. We even hear in the news that the heat or temperature has risen…we also have heard that because of some things the amount of rainfall has also decreased.” (Bharatpur, Interview A1).

The above narrative hints at climate change, though without any formal acknowledgment of the phenomenon. First of all, the speaker does not refer to direct experience of rising temperatures but formulates this information as something gathered from the media. Likewise, due to a set of unnamed causal factors labeled as “ some things ,” rainfall has also decreased, hinting at complexity. Furthermore, while the speaker begins by stating the belief that the environment could possibly change, the following discussion of climate-relevant change is grounded in changes that have already occurred, rather than changes that could happen in the future. As above, perceptions of future change are intimately connected to changes in the present. This is also confirmed in the next extract, in which a response to the question over future change is also constructed as an account of a present in which the environment locally had shifted from a state of stability to one of flux:

“ When it used to rain in Chure…that is in the mid hills, if we put some grains in the sun to dry then we wouldn't have time to collect them and bring them inside so quickly. The rain would have come, it used to rain quickly. But five to seven years after that there were floods and then other floods, and after that the climate started getting worse and worse. Nowadays what happens is we can see it raining in Chure but here is doesn't rain. So that is a very definite thing that I have noticed .” (Kumroj, Interview B13).

In this extract, rather than merely hearing about weather and temperature-related changes from secondary sources, evidence of environmental change could be found in the course of changes to practices that were arranged in line with previously stable and consistent weather patterns. As weather patterns had become less predictable, community practices had undergone changes, highlighting the impact of weather-related changes on the local community.

Local Community Perceptions of Climate Change

The previous sections have shown that while participants in both communities spoke about issues related to changes to temperature and weather, both now in the future, these issues were typically unelaborated beyond the reporting of changes when unelicited, and only rarely connected to wider global climate change. Yet these perceptions often paralleled broader climate change trends. In order to gauge the extent to which participants were aware of climate change, we then asked directly whether participants had heard of climate change or global warming.

Using NVivo, we began by mapping climate change themes from participants' accounts in both communities., which then formed basic nodes through which to understand the various ways in which participants in both communities talked about climate change. The conceptual map is shown in Figure 5 . We then looked at responses in more detail.

Figure 5 . Conceptual map of themes arising in participants' talk about climate change across both communities.

Changes in Temperature

Of the participants who were directly asked whether they had heard of climate change, only one or two had not, though nobody claimed to know more than a little. Responses were very similar across both communities. Nearly all participants in both communities referred to changes in temperature and/or weather locally. Extreme temperatures were the most commonly cited indicator, most often connected to hotter summers, but also less frequently linked to colder winters, as detailed above in the section on Climate and Weather. Generally, little was said beyond simply noticing change, though one important impact of temperature change in the Terai concerned the direct consequences for plant life:

“ Well…hmm…actually I don't know the reason of global warming. I have heard that the snow of the mountains is melting these days. If it melts it will be hotter. The vegetation will be dry and can't survive, I heard this. It means the temperature increase may affect every living thing on the earth .” (Bharatpur; Interview A7).

Such talk reflects the importance of agriculture for many communities in what is Nepal's primary agricultural region; while the direct impact on plants was highlighted, other impacts of temperature change were not. The speaker also claims to be unaware of the causes of global warming. However, they construct a link between snowmelt on the distant mountains and temperature rise more locally, with potential impacts for the planet.

Links between climate change and health were rare, however, one speaker explained that hotter temperatures brought new disease risks to humans:

“ What is there is that the rays of the sun, the layer between sun and the earth is what people call depleting nowadays, isn't it? This leads to an increase in heat. This heat has brought about different diseases. Like, mosquito bites cause various diseases. I have heard from the radio that climate change has adversely affected human beings .” (Bharatpur; Interview A14).

In explaining the causes of temperature rise that bring about health risks from flying insects, the speaker combines elements of ozone layer depletion and global warming. This reflects the way that lay understandings of climate change do not map neatly onto expert definitions, but often overlap with other environmental problems ( Rudiak-Gould, 2012 ).

Changes in Precipitation

Following changes in temperature, particularly in the summer months, changes in precipitation were the other main symptom linked to climate change in both communities. An example of this type of perception is provided in Section 3.1.3, though talk of erratic or reduced rainfall was framed locally and very nearly always unconnected with global climate change. However, when the issue of climate change was deliberately elicited by the interviewer, a greater degree of acknowledgment was given to the influence of the phenomenon on local changes particularly in relation to agriculture:

“ Because of global warming, there is not timely rainfall, nothing happens according to the growing seasons. For example, no rain in the rainy reason but it is (rainy) in winter time. Nothing occurring at the right time, I guess this is all the impact of climate change .” (Kumroj, Interview B13).

Because of global warming, regular patterns of precipitation and the seasons had been thrown into disarray. This was of particular importance in the Terai in terms of agriculture, and was the primary way in which such changes to established patterns were recognized. For others, while erratic weather had recently been observed, it was of little concern as the weather tended not to be consistent but changeable day-to-day:

“ Few years back there was heavy rain, but now there is very little rain, and the summer heat has increased since last year…I think it's not really concerning me because every day is different and going on in its own way, so I don't feel really concerned about it .” (Kumroj, Interview B12).

In general, accounts of changing temperature and weather were constructed in ways that assumed a transition from the stable and consistent natural patterns of the past, to a present in which established patterns had been disrupted. However, for those less concerned, changes were viewed as part of natural variability. Ultimately, when thinking about local conditions, climate change typically did not form a part of community perspectives unless introduced by the interviewer. The final section summarizes individual climate-relevant behavioral responses to the issues raised in talking about the environment.

Health and Well-Being Motivates Engagement in Climate-Relevant Behaviors

Because participants in Bharatpur and Kumroj often did not associate local issues with climate change, there was little talk of the need to adopt specific mitigation or adaptation behaviors. However, within each community one or two climate-relevant behaviors were raised in the course of discussing engagement in more general environmentally-relevant actions. For example, planting trees was widely practiced in both communities. Primarily, this was done to provide wood, create shade around homes and provide fruit. Trees were also considered important in preventing drought (see section on Climate and Weather) and other natural disasters such as flooding and erosion (see section Future Deforestation). In addition, a few participants framed climate-relevant behaviors as motivated by the need to safeguard health and well-being:

“ Trees I plant in the rainy season, so I plant yearly. Once I cut the old, then I plant new…Trees keep the environment clean and healthier. Trees inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen” (Bharatpur, Interview A6).

While there was no clear link made to climate change, participants acknowledged the value of reducing atmospheric carbon, which was understood as maintaining a “ clean and healthier ” environment. Essentially, such climate-relevant practices were understood not in accordance with received scientific conceptualisations of climate change, but through more pragmatic perspectives linked to health and well-being.

In Kumroj, the Nepalese government had tried to maintain forest stocks by encouraging villagers to purchase biogas converters through grant schemes. Several participants, mainly from Kumroj, had biogas converters. These were seen as advantageous as organic waste could be utilized for producing fuel and then used as a fertilizer. Food could also be cooked quicker without the need to light a fire, and it reduced the need to collect wood. While participants did not mention the link between biogas practices and climate change, one of the most important benefits of biogas was that it did not pollute the air and so reduced health risks linked to inhaling wood smoke:

“ It (biogas) is clean and the air is also clean. The utensils are also not black. Biogas is more hygienic. People can be safe from colds and coughs and smoke-related diseases .” (Kumroj; Interview B13).

Cleanliness is paramount to the importance of biogas in the above extract. The pollution emitted by burnt wood is illustrated with reference to the condition of cooking utensils, with the implication that the wider environment is being affected in a similar way. In contrast, biogas does not discolor cooking utensils, which illustrates the fuel's superiority in terms of minimizing health risks caused by woodsmoke.

This study set out to investigate community perceptions of environmental and climate-relevant issues within two communities in the Terai region of Nepal. Specifically, we sought to address 4 related research questions; (1) How do community members perceive their environment? (2) How do they see that environment changing in future? (3) To what degree are communities aware of climate change? (4) How important is climate change in comparison to other issues? A range of environmental and climate-relevant issues emerged within current and future perspectives. Perspectives were focused primarily on local issues rather than wider environmental conditions. Issues linked to health and well-being were of paramount importance, while climate change was hardly mentioned in either community, either as a current or future problem. However, there was common awareness of temperature and weather changes in the local climate, though the vast majority did not link these changes to climate change. We now move on to discuss the results of our analyses in more detail.

For participants in both communities, assessments of the local environment were commonly based on evaluations of a single locally-salient issue. Positive issues, such as improvements in sanitation over time, invariably resulted in positive overall evaluations of the environment overall. Conversely, pollution resulted in more negative overall assessments. This highlights the highly subjective nature of environmental perceptions and the way in which specific issues can achieve heightened significance in judgements of environmental quality.

Many of the environmental issues raised in both communities were related to health and well-being, including cleanliness, pollution, and deforestation. It may be the relative proximity of each community contributed to this overlapping of issues. It may also be because they represent basic environmental concerns common to many communities—keeping the environment clean, healthy, and pollution free. Similarities between communities may also be partly attributable to our sampling method (see section Study Limitations and Future Research) There were also some differences in issues between communities. While plastic waste was more of an issue in Bharatpur, deforestation came up more often in Kumroj—though neither issue was exclusive to each community.

Climate change as an issue came up only once spontaneously, implying that other local issues were more salient. However, temperature and weather changes analogous to climate change did come up in several interviews across both communities, though without attribution to climate change. There was also little consideration of causal factors beyond immediate local causes such as deforestation affecting precipitation, flooding, and land erosion. In line with Leichenko and Silva (2014) , it appeared that temperature and weather changes allied to global climate change were already being experienced, though such issues were more atomized and vernacular and sometimes merged with other environmental problems ( Rudiak-Gould, 2012 ). In line with previous work, community perspectives often drew on different issues without attempting to clearly categorize or explain them ( Lorenzoni et al., 2007 ). Xiao and Dunlap (2007) note how particular environmental cognitions can constrain others; it is therefore possible that, when issues are framed locally, wider frameworks of understanding are overlooked.

Perceptions of Future Environmental Change

Perceptions of future environmental change were closely linked to mental representations of current conditions and issues of anxiety and concern. This could be seen in the way that participants rarely spoke about sanitation with reference to environmental change in the future, as sanitation had improved within communities. However, concerns about issues linked to current population increase were projected into the future and anticipated to continue unabated. Previous work has found that existing perceptions of self and other can be elicited through projections of “possible selves” in the future ( Harrison, 2018 ). In the same way, communities' imagined environmental futures highlight salient issues within existing relationships between communities and their physical surroundings.

The Terai region has witnessed large increases in population over recent decades ( Population Reference Bureau, 2002 ), and this was linked to pollution, deforestation and pressure on natural resources. While predictions of temperature and weather emerged from the interviews, such impacts were less frequently mentioned than concerns over population growth, as found in other research (e.g., Butler et al., 2014 ). Before communities can interpret and respond to climate-relevant issues, it may therefore be necessary to address existing concerns characterized by visions of the present and the future. In addition, the analysis highlights the relevance of sociocultural arrangements and cultural practices that contribute to community perspectives. For example, tree-felling was understood sympathetically within wider contexts of survival and economic struggle, as well as fuel shortages that left no alternative but to take wood from the forest. Such perspectives serve to highlight the complex nature and wider structural relations sustaining environmentally damaging practices.

Awareness of Climate Change

Climate awareness was relatively unmentioned in discussing the local environment, echoing previous studies ( Gallup, 2009 ; Withana and Auch, 2014 ). We found little difference between awareness in Bharatpur and Kumroj. A potential reason for this is that the changes observed suggest broader shifts in temperature and weather affecting the wider region, rather than localized effects or micro-climates that might affect one community and not another. Other studies have also reported lower awareness in rural communities ( Tanner et al., 2018 ), though a lack of difference may be due to the higher levels of environmental awareness from NGO engagement in Kumroj. However, while most participants did not spontaneously discuss the issue of climate change, when directly questioned, all had at least heard of climate change and many were able to eloquently demonstrate a good degree of knowledge. Therefore, it may not have been that participants were unaware of climate change, but simply did not consider it a locally salient issue. Tanner et al. (2018) also found that climate change awareness was low, despite respondents observing changes to local weather and climate. It may be that communities look to more local explanations for climate-relevant issues, as was found in some discussions. Therefore, if received knowledge teaches that the lack of rain is due to local forests being depleted, why would communities look to wider, more nebulous phenomena as explanations? The kinds of issues that came up in talk of climate change broadly reflects other research on community perceptions of climate change in the Terai (e.g., Tiwari et al., 2010 ; Maharjan et al., 2011 ). The apparent disjuncture between local experience and climate change suggests that the latter may lack relevance for local communities as long as environmental changes can be attributed to more local causal factors. It also suggests two kinds of climate change; a distanced, abstract climate change, and a more experiential, locally-grounded one. Within communities facing such impacts there is a need for a nuanced understanding that blends both. Howe et al. (2013) remark that local perceptions, such as temperature change, can positively bias perceptions of more abstract global climate change, which in turn can generate greater awareness and the capacity to respond to reduce risks to communities. As communities appear to be aware that the local climate is changing in a variety of ways, it is necessary to translate this awareness beyond the local. Reciprocally, more global perspectives need to connect with the concerns and interests of communities at the local level to make climate change more relevant to people's everyday lives. Bain et al. (2016) discuss evidence for initiatives promoting public engagement designed to generate support on the basis of considerations that are independent of climate change, including health and the creation of benevolent communities.

Study Limitations and Future Research

The use of a single qualitative methodological approach utilizing a small sample can only provide a partial insight into climate-relevant and environmental issues confronting the communities studied. Qualitative interview methods rely heavily on participants being able to recall and clearly convey their thoughts in the limited context of the interview interaction. Managing interview interactions in a cross-cultural setting remains a significant challenge and it is possible that the framing of questions could have influenced responses, such as precluding the discussion of global climate change by not deliberately eliciting the topic early in the interviews. Triangulation using other methods and larger samples might help to clarify these qualitative findings. Convergence in perspectives between communities may be attributable to our sampling method. While we categorized Bharatpur as the urban counterpart to rural Kumroj, most participants lived on the edges of the city close to the countryside, which may have generated perceptions that were more aligned with a rural, rather than an urban perspective. Future research might further investigate the apparent disparity between awareness of climate change more generally, and a lack of acknowledgment of climate change in discussions of environmental conditions at the local level. Drawing attention to this gap might also serve to elicit more comprehensive community perspectives and rule out potential shortcomings of a single methodological approach.

Data Availability

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this manuscript will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation, to any qualified researcher.

Ethics Statement

This study was carried out in accordance with the recommendations of the Ethics Policy, Cardiff University School of Psychology. The protocol was approved by the Cardiff University School of Psychology Ethics Committee. All subjects gave written informed consent in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.

Author Contributions

NN, IC, and RM conducted fieldwork with the assistance and guidance of LW and SC. NN was primarily responsible for analysis and authorship of the paper, with significant contributions in both areas from the other authors. All authors agree to be accountable for the content of the work.

This project was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) as part of the CASPI Project (no. 336665).

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


Many thanks to Ugan Manandhar of WWF Nepal and the staff of ISER-Nepal for their valued collaboration on this project. Thanks also to Jyotsna Shrestha (independent translator) for help in designing the study and assisting with the translation of interviews in Kumroj, and Bishnu Adhikari, who assisted with fieldwork translation in Bharatpur. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Krishnan Ghimire of ISER-Nepal, who was instrumental in supporting the research.

Supplementary Material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at:

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Keywords: climate change, environment, perception, community, local, Nepal, culture

Citation: Nash N, Capstick S, Whitmarsh L, Chaudhary I and Manandhar R (2019) Perceptions of Local Environmental Issues and the Relevance of Climate Change in Nepal's Terai: Perspectives From Two Communities. Front. Sociol. 4:60. doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2019.00060

Received: 11 March 2019; Accepted: 22 July 2019; Published: 20 August 2019.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2019 Nash, Capstick, Whitmarsh, Chaudhary and Manandhar. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Nick Nash,

This article is part of the Research Topic

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Top 100 Environmental Research Paper Topics for Your Inspiration

Why taking care of our environment is essential.

Ever since humans first appeared, our planet has provided us with all basic needs like food, air, water, and energy. However, our environment can sometimes harm us too, with natural disasters like droughts, earthquakes, landslides, and floods. In such cases, we give our best to try and figure out the leading causes for their occurrence. 

The more we learn about why something happens in nature, the better we can understand how to enhance or prevent it. As human beings, we all have some basic knowledge of the environment we live in. However, it’s essential to broaden those understandings daily and learn more about ecology and the environment. It’s the only way for us to stop the hazardous side-effects of our industrial growth from damaging the planet we live on.

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We can also help prevent the extinction of endangered or endemic species, which are an essential part of our ecosystem and could cause a disbalance in their local environment if they were to disappear. Environmental research is not just a technique for survival – it’s much more.

It is now a separate field of study led by environmental sciences to positively impact the world around us. This type of research is extensive, and there are numerous environmental research paper topics college students can choose from and explore.

Some overlap with other disciplines, and based on your preferences – be it law research paper , health, biology, chemistry, science, debate, or other – you can choose yours and explore it in great detail. Writing about the environment in research papers is yet another step to a better environment.

Not only do these environmental research paper topics dig deeper into particular burning issues, their causes, and effects, but they also provide possible solutions that could help deal with them once and for all.

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Environmental research paper topics cover numerous issues which usually overlap with chemistry, biology, oceanography, civil engineering, water resources engineering, zoology, and the gas and oil industry. Simply put, there’s a great variety of topics you can choose from.

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The following list of 100 environment research topics will help you find inspiration, so you’ll be able to design your topic faster and start writing your paper without further delays. 

The topics have been divided into groups for you to narrow down your search easier.

Environmental Health Topics

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  • The global impact of tectonic movements on the world’s ecosystems
  • Lung cancer and radon – analysis and potential solutions
  • Acid rain and the harmful effects on aquatic life
  • Killing wildlife with acid rain – what can we do to prevent it?
  • How vital was prehistoric wildlife for the ecosystems we have today?
  • Air pollution and its destructive impact on health
  • Can recycling help improve the health of people worldwide?
  • What can we do to minimize the depletion of the ozone layer?
  • The depletion of the ozone layer and its harmful impacts on health?
  • GMOs, herbicides, and pesticides in food and their impact on health

Environmental Debates Topics

  • Can life on Earth co-exist with radiation? Artificial vs. natural radioactivity
  • How essential is oil for the ecosystem? Oil pollution and the oil industry
  • Is there anything we can do to reverse the ozone layer depletion?
  • Will using red lights make a significant difference in our environment?
  • When we say green energy, what do we mean? Is it green?
  • Can we redeem our planet with the use of green energy?
  • How far should humans go into meddling with extinction? Is it a natural cause?

Environmental Justice Topics

  • Does the government have the most significant impact on the recycling effort of the country?
  • Do we use the total capacity of science to impact climate change?
  • Nuclear power – the importance for the environment and its role in foreign policies
  • Freight transport is a major cause of greenhouse gases emission – how can we reduce it?
  • The hospitality industry and the environmental management

Environmental Science Topics

  • Industrial plants and their connection to water resources – are they a great cause for human diseases?
  • Switching to hydrogen from fossil fuels – why is it beneficial for the world?
  • How can we stop the destruction of coral reefs?
  • The contamination of our soil – to what extent are wastes and pesticides responsible for it?
  • The acidification of the ocean – how big a problem is it?
  • The melting of permafrost and its impact on climate change
  • Global warming – busting all myths about it
  • The increased concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere – downsides
  • Small water resources and their importance for the environment
  • Acid rains and industrialization – what’s the link?

Environmental Controversial Topics

  • The impact of toxic waste on our environment
  • The causes and effects of global warming – what can we expect in the next decade?
  • Can people make use of the greenhouse effect?
  • The depletion of the ozone layer, the current situation, and prospects
  • If all ice glaciers in the world melt from global warming – what can we expect?
  • How important is recycling? Is it a safety strategy or a business?

Environmental Persuasive Speech Topics

  • What strategic actions can we implement to save our environment?
  • Conservation – an analysis
  • How can Donald Trump help save our planet?
  • To what extent should humans be concerned about endangered species, and how can they help stop their extinction?
  • Deforestation – causes, dangers, and effects on our modern world
  • The destruction of wildlife in the Amazon forest – impacts
  • Afforestation – is it possible? Can it help save a dying planet?

Environmental Biology Topics

  • Asthma attacks and the environmental influence on them
  • The effects of genetic diseases on humans
  • Roots of plants – a comparative study
  • Photosynthesis is different in some plants – a comparative study
  • Crustaceans and their importance for the environment
  • Why do we call Earth a living organism?
  • Invasive species and their impact on the environment
  • Soil composition – is it the same everywhere, and why not?
  • Viruses in nature – an analysis of how they work
  • The different types of trees in your local area
  • If honey bees become extinct, what would the effects on nature be? 

Environmental Chemistry Topics

  • The scientific standpoint for climate change 
  • Scientific examination and critic reviews on climate change
  • The spread of harmful and dangerous microorganisms and farm chemicals
  • How does farming affect the environment? Are there dangers to it?
  • The contamination of groundwater – causes and risks
  • The destruction of the forest ecosystem and its coping mechanisms
  • Bush burning – the hazardous effects on the environment
  • GMOs, pesticides, and herbicides – how do they impact our lives
  • Spraying vegetables with chemicals – pros and cons
  • The oil pollution and the dangers for wildlife 

Environmental Economic Topics

  • Air pollution and urban migration – is there a link?
  • Modernization and noise pollution
  • If we harness solar energy, will we make a good impact on the environment?
  • The Gulfstream and its importance in the world’s economy
  • The impact of the technological advancements on the environment
  • Technology and the environment – benefits & downsides
  • Ecology in the world today and prospects for the next decade

Environmental Argument Topics

  • The impact of the environmental issues on the world as a whole 
  • Our planet Earth and its desertification – causes & effects
  • Can we make a significant change in the environment with sustainable consumption?
  • The implementation of sustainable consumption and prospects
  • PET bottles – what’s unsafe about them? Can they kill you?
  • The parameters for the quality of the sol and the impact of drought on it
  • Cattle grazing and GMOs – their effect on the production of greenhouse gas

Environmental History Topics

  • EPA – the hazardous waste
  • Exxon Valdez and Santa Barbara oil spills
  • The Love Canal Case and the Eastman Kodak Case
  • The 1978 Three Mile Island
  • A comparative analysis of the most prominent earthquakes throughout history
  • A comparative analysis of the most prominent floods throughout history
  • A comparative study of the most prominent landslides throughout history
  • Norman Borlaug and the Rockefeller Foundation in the Green Revolution
  • The SARE/LISA and the USDA programs on sustainable agriculture
  • The emergence of agricultural biotechnology

Environmental Law Topics 

  • Human vs. animal rights
  • Would implementing tax payments for carbon emissions help minimize them?
  • Making vegetarianism mandatory – pros and cons
  • If governments ban GMOs, what can we expect?
  • The future of agriculture and organic farming
  • Exports of animals – should governments ban them?
  • Zoos – should governments ban them?
  • Selling fur – should the government of each country ban it?
  • Should we make the selling of plastic bags illegal?
  • The impacts of tourism on our environment

We hope that these classified lists of environment project topics will help you find your most suitable pick. Whichever option you choose from, be it from the group of environmental science research topics or a research connected to environmental justice, you should always present both the supporting and opposing views.

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The pope is concerned about climate change. how do u.s. catholics feel about it.

research paper on the environmental problems

Pope Francis has frequently spoken  about  climate change  during his decade-long leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2015, he devoted an entire encyclical to the matter, citing scientific consensus that the Earth is warming due to human activity. And next week, he is expected to release a new document that he said will “address current problems” related to climate issues.

This analysis is based on data from two separate Pew Research Center surveys, one from 2022 and one from 2023.

The 2022 survey was part of a  wider study  of the relationship between Americans’ religious beliefs and their views about the environment. This survey, conducted April 11-17, 2022, included 10,156 U.S. adults. All respondents were part of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey was weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race and ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education, religious affiliation and other categories. For more, read the  ATP’s methodology .

The 2023 survey was part of a Center study to understand Americans’ views of climate, energy and environmental issues. It was conducted from May 30 to June 3, 2023, among 10,329 U.S. adults who are part of the ATP.

Despite Francis’ years of outspokenness on the subject, not all Catholics in the United States share his concerns, according to a  2022 Pew Research Center survey . For example, views vary by:

  • Party: 82% of Catholics who are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party say global climate change is an extremely or very serious problem, while just a quarter of Republican and Republican-leaning Catholics say the same.
  • Race and ethnicity: 71% of Hispanic Catholics see climate change as an extremely or very serious problem, compared with 49% of White, non-Hispanic Catholics. (There were not enough Black or Asian Catholics in the 2022 survey to analyze separately.)
  • Age: Catholics ages 18 to 49 are somewhat more likely than those ages 50 and older to express a high level of concern about climate change (61% vs. 53%).

Broadly speaking, Catholics are no more likely than Americans overall to view climate change as a serious problem. An identical share in each group say global climate change is either an extremely or very serious problem (57%).

A horizontal bar chart showing that a majority of U.S. Catholics view global climate change as a serious problem.

But views  among  Catholics differ, reflecting similar splits in the wider American population. U.S. adults overall who are 49 or younger, Democratic, or identify as a race or ethnicity other than non-Hispanic White are generally more likely than those who are 50 or older, Republican, or non-Hispanic White to express concern about climate change.

Among U.S. adults overall, opinion about climate change is strongly tied to political partisanship. Democrats and Democratic leaners are far more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say that global climate change is an extremely or very serious problem (83% vs. 25%). This gap underlies much of the apparent differences in views among religious groups, including Catholics. Generally speaking,  U.S. Catholics are politically evenly divided . But Catholics who are non-Hispanic White or who are older are far more likely than those who are Hispanic or younger to be Republican.

Partisan and demographic differences in Catholics’ views of climate change extend to other environment-related topics, too. For example, 44% of Catholics say the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity – in line with the pope’s stance , according to a separate Center survey from June. About three-in-ten (29%) say it is warming mostly due to natural patterns, while 13% say there is no solid evidence the planet is getting warmer. Catholics who are Democratic, younger or Hispanic are more likely than those who are Republican, older or non-Hispanic White to say the Earth is mostly warming due to human activity.

A horizontal stacked bar chart showing that 44% of U.S. Catholics say Earth is warming mostly due to human activity.

How often Catholics hear about climate issues in sermons

In addition to asking Americans about their own views on climate change, the 2022 Center survey asked respondents how much they hear about the topic in sermons.

Among those who attend religious services at least monthly, U.S. Catholics indicate that climate change is not discussed frequently from the pulpit. About one-in-ten (8%) say there is a great deal or quite a bit of discussion on climate change in sermons, while 50% say there is either some or a little discussion of it. About four-in-ten (41%) regular Mass attenders say there is no discussion of climate change.

Overall, then, 58% of Catholics who attend services at least monthly say there is at least a little discussion of climate change in sermons.

Among Catholics who attend Mass at least monthly, 36% say they have heard at least a little about climate change in sermons and that those sermons  always or often express  the view that “we have a duty to care for God’s creation.” Smaller shares say sermons at their congregation always or often express “support for actions to limit the effects of climate change” (23%); “concern that policies aimed at reducing climate change give too much power to the government” (9%); or “the view that we don’t need to worry about climate change” (8%).   

Note: This is an update to a post originally published Feb. 9, 2023.

research paper on the environmental problems

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Under Pope Francis, the College of Cardinals has become less European

Two-thirds of u.s. catholics unaware of pope’s new restrictions on traditional latin mass, many catholics in latin america – including a majority in brazil – support allowing priests to marry, just one-third of u.s. catholics agree with their church that eucharist is body, blood of christ, like americans overall, u.s. catholics are sharply divided by party, most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

How to do Research on Environment

Ecology & Environment Research Guide 1

Besides the interaction of human activities that contribute to these ecological and environmental concerns, many other key factors or disciplines play a direct role in the study and research of environmental science topics, including biology, chemistry, engineering, geology, and physics, as well as economics, politics, psychology, and sociology. Thus, your research paper on environmental science subjects most likely will entail not only investigating your primary sources, described in this article, but also crossing over into other disciplines.

Need a Custom-Written Essay or a Research Paper?

Academic writing, editing, proofreading, and problem solving services, selected subject headings.

Listed below is a sample of a few broad Library of Congress subject headings—made up of one word or more representing concepts under which all library holdings are divided and subdivided by subject—which you can search under and use as subject terms when searching online library catalogs for preliminary and/or additional research, such as books, audio and video recordings, and other references, related to your research paper topic. When researching materials on your topic, subject heading searching may be more productive than searching using simple keywords. However, keyword searching when using the right search method (Boolean, etc.) and combination of words can be equally effective in finding materials more closely relevant to your topic.

Suggested Topics for Ecology and Environment Research

  • Air Pollution
  • Air Quality Management
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Deforestation
  • Environmental Health
  • Environmental Law
  • Environmental Law, International
  • Environmental Protection
  • Fishery Law and Legislation
  • Hazardous Waste Sites
  • Medical Wastes
  • Refuse and Refuse Disposal
  • Renewable Natural Resources
  • Soil Pollution
  • Sustainable Development
  • Water Pollution

Selected Keyword Search Strategies and Guides

Most online library indexes and abstracts and full-text article databases offer basic and advanced “keyword” searching of virtually every subject. In this case, combine keyword terms that best define your thesis question or topic using the Boolean search method (employing “and” or “or”) to find research most suitable to your topic.

If your topic is “global warming and renewable natural resources,” for example, enter “global warming” and “renewable natural resources” with “and” on the same line to locate sources directly compatible with the primary focus of your research paper. To find research on more specific aspects of your topic, alternate one new keyword at a time with the primary keyword of your topic with “and” in between them (for example, “global warming and causes,” “global warming and health,” “global warming and pollution,” “global warming and solutions,” etc.).

For additional help with keyword searching, navigation or user guides for online indexes and databases by many leading providers—including Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, EBSCO, H.W. Wilson, OCLC, Ovid Technologies, ProQuest, and Thomson Gale—are posted with direct links on library Web sites to guides providing specific instruction to using whichever database you want to search. They provide additional guidance on how to customize and maximize your search, including advanced searching techniques and grouping of words and phrases using the Boolean search method—of your topic, of bibliographic records, and of full-text articles, and other documents related to your subject.

Selected Source and Subject Guides

Ecology & Environment Research Guide 2

Encyclopedia of Environmental Information Sources: A Subject Guide to about 34,000 Print and Other Sources of Information on All Aspects of the Environment , edited by Sarojini Balachandran, 1,813 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1993)

Environmental Education: A Guide to Information Sources , by William B. Stapp and Mary Dawn Liston, 225 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1975)

In addition to these sources of research, most college and university libraries offer online subject guides arranged by subject on the library’s Web page; others also list searchable course-related “LibGuides” by subject. Each guide lists more recommended published and Web sources—including books and references, journal, newspaper and magazines indexes, full-text article databases, Web sites, and even research tutorials—that you can access to expand your research on more specific issues and relevant to your subject.

Selected Books and References

Atlases and almanacs.

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment , by Paul Harrison and Fred Pearce; foreword by Peter H. Raven, 216 pages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001)

This atlas colorfully illustrates the relationship between the environment and the world population and is an excellent source of statistical data. Includes an index by topic.

Earth Almanac: An Annual Geophysical Review of the State of the Planet , 2nd ed., 576 pages (Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 2001)

Arranged by subject area, entries offer a treasure trove of statistical environmental information. Appendixes provide additional worthwhile information, such as abbreviations, conversion formulas, Earth facts, a geologic time line, a glossary of terms, international and national scientific programs, and treaties and laws.

Environmental Engineering Dictionary , 4th ed., edited by C.C. Lee, 968 pages (Rockville, Md.: Government Institutes, 2005)

Seemingly every technical and regulatory engineering term used in environmental science—more than 14,000 in all—is defined and explained in this dictionary. Definitions conform to the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements for statutes, regulations, and environmental science terms. Reference sources used for most definitions are also listed. An appendix features an extensive list of environmental acronyms.


Encyclopedia of Environmental Science , edited by David E. Alexander and Rhodes W. Fairbridge, 786 pages (Dordrecht, Netherlands, and Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999)

More than 1,000 entries, arranged in alphabetical order, highlight this encyclopedic volume covering key environmental terms and topics. Most entries include a list of references, including useful print and Web resources. Also provided is a series of useful appendixes, including a directory of environmental organizations, listings of endangered species by state, a timeline of environmental history, and Web sites by subject.

Encyclopedia of Global Change: Environmental Change and Human Society , edited by Andrew S. Goudie and David J. Cuff, 2 vols., 1,424 pages (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003)

This authoritative guide features 320 essay-length articles, listed from A to Z, covering natural and artificial changes to the Earth’s biological, chemical, and physical systems. Highlighting the text are graphs, maps, and photos. Also included is a bibliography of sources.

Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change , edited by Ted Munn, 5 vols. (New York: Wiley, 2002)

Five-volume set featuring 500 in-depth articles, 100 biographies, and 150 definitions. Articles are arranged by subject and contain abstracts, bibliographies, photos, and diagrams. Each volume includes an alphabetical list of articles in the back. This well-researched and well-written reference series is divided as follows: volume 1, The Earth System: Physical and Chemical Dimensions of Global Environmental Change; volume 2, The Earth System: Biological and Ecological Dimensions of Global Environmental Change; volume 3, Causes and Consequences of Global Environmental Change; volume 4, Responding to Global Environmental Change; and volume 5, Social and Economic Dimensions of Global Environmental Change.

Environmental Encyclopedia , 3rd ed., edited by Marci Bortman et al., 1,641 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Thomson-Gale, 2002)

Available in print and online via Gale Virtual Reference Library, this fully revised and updated edition includes many well-written, nontechnical articles offering critical analysis, current status, and possible solutions to the gamut of environmental issues facing the world today.

International Encyclopedia of Environmental Politics , edited by John Barry and E. Gene Frankland, 544 pages (London and New York: Routledge, 2001)

This A–Z encyclopedia covers environmental political issues around the world through more than 500 insightful entries that include a list of sources for further reading. Also provided is an index of entries arranged by major themes.

Macmillan Encyclopedia of Energy , edited by John Zumerchik, 3 vols. (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2000)

Covers the broad spectrum of energy topics with more than 250 illustrated articles written by academic scholars and experts. Detailed biographies of key figures in the science and energy fields are also included. An electronic version of the entire contents of this three-volume set is available online via Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Macmillan Encyclopedia of the Environment , edited by Stephen R. Kellert, 6 vols. (New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA; London: Simon & Schuster and Prentice Hall International, 1997)

This full-color, beautifully illustrated six-volume reference series provides coverage of virtually everything about the environment, from basic information to recent developments. Detailed entries focus on such topics as biology, chemistry, climate and weather, ecology, endangered species, disasters, evolution, genetics, land use, natural resources, pollution, population growth, waste management, and more.

Pollution A to Z , edited by Richard Stapleton, 2 vols., 757 pages (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003)

Approximately 264 in-depth articles, written by leading scientists, educators, professionals, and other experts, covering all areas of pollution—air, land, space, and water—make up this important volume. Entries are wide ranging in scope, discussing current issues, key concepts, research, and legislation. Many topical issues are likewise critically examined, including asbestos and carbon monoxide and CFC pollution, among others. Also reviewed are social movements and organizations leading the fight against pollution, such as Earth First and the Green Party. This volume is also available by subscription online via Gale Virtual Reference Library.

The Wiley Encyclopedia of Energy and the Environment , edited by Attilio Bisio and Sharon Boots, 1,592 pages (New York: Wiley, 1997)

This acclaimed encyclopedia covers a wide range of energy and environmental topics, arranged alphabetically with lengthy entries illustrated by diagrams and photos. Bibliographies are listed at the end of each entry for further research in the respective subject area.

Global Environment Outlook , 4th ed., 576 pages (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Region-by-region coverage of current environmental conditions around the globe is contained in this important reference source. Policy responses, future recommendations, and perspectives on many key environmental issues are discussed. Statistical data as it applies to the global environmental conditions are included, along with an index by topic.

The Wellbeing of Nations: A Country-by-Country Index of Quality of Life and the Environment , by Robert Prescott-Allen, in cooperation with International Development Research Centre et al., 342 pages (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2001)

Highlighting this 342-page volume is recent data on the quality of life and the environment in 180 countries worldwide. Indicators examined include air quality, energy use, global atmosphere, land health, protected areas, water quality, and resource pressures, among others, of each country. Included in the first section of the book are maps and charts and, in the second half, detailed data tables and methodologies used in the assessment of each country.

World Resources 2000–2001: People and Ecosystems, the Fraying Web of Life , 400 pages (Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 2001)

Published by the World Resources Institute, this printed edition, also available online, reviews global environmental trends as they relate to the world’s population, food and water supply, consumption and waste, energy use, climate changes, and well-being of humans. Entries are arranged by ecosystem and include key environmental and social indicators for more than 150 countries. An index offers easy access to specific topics.

Selected Full-Text Article Databases

Academic Search Elite  (Ipswich, Mass.: EBSCO Publishing, EBSCOHost, indexing/abstracting: 1984– , full text: 1990– )

Indexing a wide range of subjects, this premier academic database also includes general environment and environment-related journals, including Audubon, Ecology, Environmental Ethics, Environmental Science and Technology, Environment, Journal of Environmental Health, Oceanus, and Sierra.

Annual Reviews  (Palo Alto, Calif.: Annual Reviews, 1932– )

Current collection of critical reviews written by leading scientists, published yearly. Subjects explored include energy and the environment, ecology and systematics, genetics, and many more.

Biological and Agricultural Index Plus  (Bronx, N.Y.: H.W. Wilson Co., indexing: 1983– , full text: 1997– )

More than 225 peer-reviewed journals in agriculture and the life sciences are abstracted and indexed, including full-text articles, from such disciplines as ecology, environmental science, and forestry via WilsonWeb.

Environmental Issues on File CD-ROM  (New York: Facts On File, Inc.)

Offers current environmental facts, figures, and information in full text with maps, charts, numerical data, and detailed diagrams on a wide range of environmental and ecological issues and subjects, including atmospheric pollution, catastrophic weather events, environmental disasters, land and sea pollution, and more.

Expanded Academic ASAP  (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale InfoTrac, 1980– )

Like Academic Source Elite, this popular InfoTrac library database also indexes articles published in many leading general environment and environment-related journals, including some of the same titles, such as Audubon, Ecology, Environmental Ethics, Environmental Science and Technology, Environment, Journal of Environmental Health, Oceanus, and Sierra.

JSTOR  (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Journal Storage Project, 1996– )

Full-text journal collection that offers direct access to numerous ecology reference sources, including the Journal of Ecology, the Journal of Animal Ecology, and Ecology.

LexisNexis Environmental  (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis, 1970– )

Contains abstracts and full-text news from a large variety of sources, including scholarly and professional journals, conference papers and proceedings, federal and state government reports, major daily newspapers, consumer and trade magazines, newsletters, law reviews, administrative codes, case law, regulatory agency decisions, waste sites, and hazardous material data.

Wilson Select Plu s (Bronx, N.Y.: H.W. Wilson Co., 1994– )

Web accessible through OCLC FirstSearch, this searchable collection includes abstracts and full-text articles from more than 1,300 publications. Includes selected full-text articles from H.W. Wilson’s Business Abstracts, General Sciences Abstracts, Humanities Abstracts, Readers’ Guide, and Social Sciences Abstracts online databases.

Selected Periodicals

Audubon Magazine  (New York: National Audubon Society, 1899– , bimonthly)

Published by the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest and largest conservation societies in the United States, this bimonthly magazine covers a broad spectrum of conservation and environmental topics in each issue. The magazine is beautifully photographed and illustrated, and the primary focus of articles is on birds and wildlife and their habitats. Available electronically in full text from Expanded Academic ASAP (1997– ).

The Ecologist  (Wadebridge, U.K.: Ecosystems Ltd., 1970– , monthly)

Possibly the most widely read environment magazine, The Ecologist, read by some 200,000 subscribers in 150 countries, features authoritative articles on issues related to the environment. It examines such major environmental challenges as rain forest destruction, climatic changes, and environmental and political agendas around the world.

Ecology  (Washington, D.C.: Ecological Society of America, etc., 1920– , annually)

Published annually since 1920 by the Ecological Society of America, a Washington, D.C.–based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scientists, Ecology magazine pays particular attention to all aspects of ecology in its wide-ranging articles. Included are statistical reports, features, articles, notes, comments, and data papers covering new concepts, and analytical, experimental, historical, and theoretical approaches applicable to species, populations, communities, or ecosystems. Offered in print and electronic form, full-text articles from past issues are accessible through JSTOR from the first volume through 1998.

Electronic Green Journal  (Moscow, Idaho: Electronic Green Journal, 1994– , biannual)

Web-based ( ) peer-reviewed professional journal devoted to international environmental topics. Subjects covered include assessment, conservation, development, disposal, education, hazards, pollution, resources, technology, and treatment in the fields of ecology and environmental sciences.

Environmental Science and Technology  (Easton, Pa.: American Chemical Society, 1967– , annual)

Published by one of the oldest scientific associations in the world, Environmental Science and Technology delivers authoritative and comprehensive articles about the latest technological advances, regulations, policies, and scientific research in the environmental arena. Topics in past issues have included everything from air quality modeling, to risk from fine particles, to dioxin risk assessment, to recycled wastewater.

EPA Journal  (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Protection Agency, 1975–95, bimonthly)

First published in 1975, this bimonthly journal, published by the Environmental Protection agency (EPA), offered a national and global perspective on key environmental issues. Articles focused on work within the EPA and federal government and private sector to solve environmental problems. Publication was discontinued with the winter 1995 issue. Full-text articles are available of past journals through WilsonWeb beginning with the September/October 1982 issue.

National Wildlife  (Washington, D.C.: National Wildlife Federation, 1962– , monthly)

Since publication of its first issue in December 1962, this monthly magazine has covered such topics as nature and the environment for conservation-minded readers. Issues feature natural history and outdoor adventure articles, ecological news items, and full-color photo galleries. Content for back issues from the June–July 2005 issue to the present can be viewed at .

Sierra  (San Francisco, Calif.: Sierra Club, 1893– , bimonthly)

One of the oldest environmental journals in the United States, this award-winning, general-interest environmental magazine, published by the Sierra Club, a San Francisco–based nonprofit group, celebrates the wonders of nature through expertly written and strikingly photographed adventure and travel features. Showcased in each issue are travel destinations in natural settings, products, services, lists of Sierra-sponsored trips, and much more.

Worldwatch  (Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, 1988– , bimonthly)

Published by the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit environmental advocacy group, this bimonthly magazine focuses on current developments in many related areas. Issues contain articles discussing current environmental trends worldwide, such as climate change, deforestation, population growth, species extinction, and economic and environmental policies.

Selected Web Sites

EnviroLink Network  ( )

This site, developed by the nonprofit organization EnviroLink, is one of the most comprehensive resources on the Web on the subject of the environment. Access is provided to literally thousands of online environmental resources.

Environmental Defense  ( )

Founded to “protect human health, restore our oceans and ecosystems, and curb global warming,” this New York–based nonprofit environmental group offers current information on environmental topics.

Environmental News Network  ( )

Online newspaper featuring environmental news stories, in-depth accounts, press releases, and other information.

Environmental Quality Statistics  (

Features statistical tables created by the U.S. Department of Energy and published in its annual report of the Council on Environmental Quality.

Global Warming: Early Warning Signs  ( )

This online map illustrates the consequences of global warming and climate changes. Maps are available by region, and the site includes various indicators, references, and teaching resources on the subject.

Know Your Environment  ( )

Published by the Environmental Associates in association with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, this published series offers direct access to articles about natural resources, human influence, public policy, and technology and environment.  ( )

The home page of the Clary Meuser Research Network, this site provides tools and resources devoted to improving social and environmental conditions.

Center for Climate and Energy Solutions formerly Pew Center on Global Climate Change  ( )

Established in 1998 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan, independent organization to address global climate change, the Pew Center offers news, basic information, and in-depth reports about global warming and related environmental issues.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  ( )

This official home page of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers an abundance of resources, including an excellent data source called EnviroFacts ( ).

Water Quality Information Center  ( )

The National Library of Agriculture Water Quality Information Center page provides electronic access to information about water and agriculture. The site includes links to bibliographies, databases, discussion lists, environmental news, and much more.

World Resource Institute  ( )

This Web page provides links to topical environmental research facts and figures, special reports, and comprehensive data on a broad array of environmental, economic and social issues.

The World’s Water  ( )

Developed and maintained by the Pacific Institute for Studies in Environment, Development and Security, this Web page presents current information and data on the world’s freshwater resources. Includes links to many organizations, institutions, and individuals working on a wide range of global freshwater problems and solutions.


research paper on the environmental problems

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Notre Dame researchers’ data-driven approach to protecting wildlife receives $1.5 million from the NSF

Published: September 26, 2023

Author: Grashorn, Christine

Notre Dame researchers’ data-driven approach to protecting wildlife receives $1.5 million from the NSF

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $1.5 million to a multidisciplinary team of faculty researchers at the University of Notre Dame who are working to protect wildlife from impending threats caused by climate change. The project, “Exploiting Federal Data and Beyond: A Multi-modal Knowledge Network for Comprehensive Wildlife Management under Climate Change,” will result in a comprehensive platform to support data-driven approaches to wildlife management.

Changes in climate can make it difficult to manage threatened, invasive, or economically important species. The new platform, KN-Wildlife, will safeguard biodiversity while also ensuring ecosystem health and the economic stability of wildlife. The platform offers interactive tools that can predict and visualize the spread distribution of species’ habitat across geographic areas, and enables the dynamic adjustment of environmental variables, allowing users to probe potential implications of climate factor changes on managed species.

During its first phase, KN-Wildlife will focus on around 3000 managed species by extending the species of concerns from the stakeholders, such as the Fish and Wildlife Commissions (FWC) and Departments of Health (DoH) in Indiana and Florida. 

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The species cover a wide range of taxonomy from fungi and bacteria to fish and mammals. A comprehensive knowledge network will be established by incorporating the vast amount of federal data from sources like the United States Geological Survey, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and others. 

“We envision KN-Wildlife as an open-access platform that can provide a unified representation of managed species” said Xiangliang Zhang , associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and lead principal investigator for the proposal.

She explained that, “by designing a unified resource, we are equipping wildlife stakeholders with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions that ensure a thriving and sustainable future for wildlife everywhere.”

The platform is also being supported by co-principal investigators  Nitesh Chawla , Founding Director of the Lucy Institute for Data & Society and Frank M. Freimann Professor of Computer Science and Engineering as well as Jason Rohr , the Ludmilla F., Stephen J. and Robert T. Galla College Professor and Department Chair in the Department of Biological Sciences .

KN-Wildlife will have a broad impact on both research and education at the University of Notre Dame. The user-friendly design and interactive features will encourage its usage among students, faculty, and researchers, facilitating an enriching learning and discovery experience. 

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Aligned with the Lucy Family Institute for Data & Society’s mission to adventurously collaborate towards addressing society’s “ wicked problems ,” Chawla expressed his excitement upon receiving word of the NSF grant, which he explains will have, “wide-reaching applications in, fostering interdisciplinary research across the fields of computer science, ecology, biogeography, and many more.”

Within the Lucy Family Institute, to achieve the broader impact, the team has plans to, “integrate the use of platform into the NSF-funded Interdisciplinary Traineeship for Socially Responsible and Engaged Data Scientists ( iTREDS ) and the Summer Education and Engagement for Data Science ( SEEDS ) programs.” 

All KN-Wildlife resources will be made publically available at a later date. For more information on the NSF grant award, please visit the National Science Foundation’s award announcement page . 

Christine Grashorn, Communications Specialist Notre Dame Research / University of Notre Dame [email protected] / 574.631.4856 / @UNDResearch

About the Lucy Family Institute for Data & Society

Guided by Notre Dame’s Mission, the Lucy Family Institute adventurously collaborates on advancing data-driven convergence research, translational solutions, and education to ethically address society’s wicked problems. As an innovative nexus of academia, industry, and the public, the Institute also fosters data science access to strengthen diverse and inclusive capacity building within communities. Our vision is to become the preeminent intellectual beacon, inspiring collaborative, equitable, and impactful data innovations as a global force for good.

Research Papers on Environmental Issues

Environmental issues are the harmful effects caused by the activities of human on the environment of our planet. Students find it challenging to write research papers on environmental issues. This is where Researchomatic comes in to provide assistance so you can produce well-researched research paper on any topic related to the nature.


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Environmental Issues Essays Examples

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Essay on Water Quality and Environmental Health

In the modern world the problem of the reliable water supply is extremely important because the water resources are widely exploited and water is used in different fields of human activities. In fact, the life of human beings is impossible without water but nowadays water is used not only simply to provide people with the essential substance they consume to survive but it is also widely used in agriculture and different industries. As a result, the water, being widely used, is naturally deteriorating in quality and decreasing in quantity because the water used in agriculture and industries is often impossible to recycle or filter to make it drinkable. In such a situation, the problem of scarcity of water as the vitally important product seems to be quite real. Continue reading →

Essay on Solid Waste Management and Environmental Health

The problem of the effective solid waste management is very important nowadays and the solution of this problem is necessary not only to the safety of human environment but to human health as well. At the same time, it is necessary to underline that often a little attention is paid to this problem and the solid waste are often disposed improperly. What is more, this problem is considered to be less important than the problem of proper disposal of other types of waste, such as radioactive. However, the danger and potential threat of solid waste often remains underestimated. Continue reading →

Environmental Pollution Essay: Which is Worse Noise Pollution or Radon Pollution

Question: In terms of the overall human health impacts in the community, which problem do you feel is worse, noise pollution or radon pollution? Why? Be sure to justify your position with evidence from the literature.

Pollution of all kinds and in all its manifestations has already threatened the whole humanity and made the scholars discuss various global problems, their formation forces, present conditions and possible consequences of the issues and ways of their solution. Noise and radon pollution are among the burning issues that touch upon everyone irrespective of his or her place of living, age or occupation. Continue reading →

Radon Safety Essay

Situation: Radon gas emits Alpha particles which may cause lung cancer if inhaled by an individual. Several friends of yours are purchasing a new home in an area where you understand that radon gas may be common.

Question: What advice would you give to your friends who are considering purchasing a new home in an area where radon gas levels may be high? One of the friends suggests that inexpensive tests can be performed and most problems can be remediated. Do you agree?

As a matter of fact people come across different dangers every minute of their life and often they even do not realize that they avoided some risk by turning right or left and not going ahead, for instance. If my friends decide to purchase a house or a flat in the area where their health may be at risk and radon may be common, I will surely try to dissuade them from doing that because health is the most precious thing a person has. One should never neglect it for any reason because no material benefit in choosing a flat or house will do good if the main principle of welfare: safe life is not followed. Continue reading →

Noise Control Essay

Situation: You have been notified that there is a case before City Council to approve a new nightclub in your neighborhood. The owners of the proposed nightclub have operated several other clubs in your city. They have a reputation for being insensitive to those who live nearby in the community.

Question: What restrictions would you recommend the city require the new nightclub to meet before granting an approval? Should hearing protection be worn by employees?

Noise constantly interferes with people’s activity and rest, they are deprived of full-fledged rest and sleep, it seems their private life is no longer private as they are continuously disturbed with noise, so called unwanted sounds. This problem is very actual for those living in multi-storied buildings with poor acoustic system. People live in zones which do not ensure acoustic comfort to residents. More than 30 % are exposed at night to such noise levels which are disturbing to sleep. It is no surprise that annoyance to community noise is widespread among citizens (Lambert & Vallet,1994). Continue reading →

Environmental Essay on Swimming Pools

SITUATION: If your goal is to protect the health of swimmers at a local recreational pool, would you recommend using ozonation or chlorination for treatment? Why? Please be sure to support your position with evidence.

The safety of swimming pools is traditionally very important since they are used by people of different ages and the presence of some dangerous elements may affect the least protected swimmers, such as children or elderly people. This is why the treatment of water in swimming pools should be highly effective. At the same time, it should be said that traditionally to treat swimming pool water effectively chlorination is used, though, there are some alternatives which are considered to be safer for human health, such as ozonation. Continue reading →

Environmental Essay on Housing & Habitability

SITUATION: You are an environmental health inspector asked to investigate problems at a local apartment complex. There is lead-based paint peeling from the walls, and mold growing on the walls. Summarize the public health hazard and what may be done to control it.

The place where people live is extremely important since it produces a profound impact on their health. In such a situation, it is extremely important that homes where people live were really safe and environmentally friendly. However, in recent years, in the result of the use of technologies that may be potentially dangerous and ignorance of such problem as mold may lead to serious problems of tenants. Continue reading →

Essay on Solid and Hazardous Waste Management

Situation A: Plans for a proposed landfill expansion in your city include a recycling facility and a green waste processing facility. The operators of the facility propose to use processed green waste as a daily cover material for the landfill. They claim that using shredded green waste for landfill cover would reduce the amount of dirt required to be hauled in for cover.

Question 1: In your opinion, would the use of green waste in landfills be helpful? Or, would it create problems for the community? Explain.

The recycling and processing of wastes is really important, especially nowadays, when the environment pollution is growing creating a serious threat to human health (Suid 1993). It should be pointed out that landfill expansion traditionally provokes a strong opposition from the part of the community since it increases the risk of being affected by the wastes. On the other hand, often there is practically no other choice but to expand landfills because many communities grow, industry progresses and the quantity of wastes is constantly increasing. In such a situation, there are few alternatives to landfills expansion. This is why the primary task of the operators of such facilities is to make them really safe to the health of people living nearby. Continue reading →

Essay on Air Quality and Environmental Health

Air pollution is one of the greatest problems nowadays because it can cause numerous health problems, especially in urban areas. There was invented special Air Quality Index by EPA to measure the air quality and find out six major air pollutants, which influence our health. The two pollutants, ground-level ozone and airborne particles, endanger our lives greatly. Ground-level ozone can be the reason of such a disease as asthma, and it can easily increase the number of asthma attacks. It happens because ozone reduces lung functions and the person can feel shortness of breath, wheeze or tightness in the chest. It is one of the main irritators of the respiratory system and, as a result, it causes coughing, sore throat and other irrigative feelings. Continue reading →

Mosquitoes Essay

At first glance, mosquitoes do not seem to be dangerous, but, in actuality, they may expose people to a great danger since they can transmit serious diseases, such as encephalitis, which can threaten to human health and even life. In such a situation, it is extremely important to prevent such problems and spread of the infections diseases through mosquitoes. In this respect, the ample information about the potential danger of mosquitoes is one of the major conditions of the prevention of any problems caused by these insects. Continue reading →

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Environmental Problems And Its Solutions (Essay Sample)

Table of Contents

Environmental problems and its solutions

The globe is rampantly getting affected by climate impacts. The problems are ranging from prolonged water shortages to damaging coastal floods and wildfires. Ecologists studying the environmental variations are excited and eager to have their intellectual dispensation utilized in adaptive decision making. To enhance productive environmental management, community and science must engage productively within complex management as well as the policies issues. Environmental problems are depicted as issues within the entire ecosystem developed from either human interference or total mistreatment of the universe. The problems could either be in the water, soil, air or the three components of the atmosphere. It is unfortunate over four decades after the first Earth Day; the world is still struggling to various environmental concerns. In regards to various environmental concerns, this paper will address the most pressing environmental problems affecting the globe. Similarly, it will highlight the potential solutions help to restore ecological balance.

Global warming

The greenhouse gas emissions have been the primary contributors to global warming. The gas is released from burning of fossils fuels and other unsustainable forms of energy. The environmental consequences of this emission are calamitous in the developing countries. These ranges from heat waves, wildfires, flooding and prolonged droughts. According to the researchers, there is low political will to initiate a massive policy to restrict fossils fuels. Moreover, the effects of carbon emission are not only limited to the atmosphere, but it contributes to other health hazards. Public awareness and participation against carbon emission are essential than pressuring the policymakers for prompt actions.

Potential solution to global warming

The menace of global warming encompasses both the population well-being and ecosystem. The collective approach to ending the vice imperative and obligatory. The transportation industries are the key emitters of greenhouse gas. The second potential contributor is the home energy. Regarding this, certified home energy audit is necessary at the residential home for more efficient energy utilization. Moreover, for the transportation industries, walking or biking is recommended. However, with the modernization and improvement of technology, going electric can help to reduce global warming.

Air, water and soil pollution

Carbon emission creates the smoggy conditions in major cities and towns. Air pollution in the city is associated with various public health concerns. Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai are leading in the air pollution from industries and plants. Despite the public underestimation of water and soil contamination, they are also significant public health concerns. The health effects of consuming dirty water are severe according to Clean Water Act. Finally, soil pollution is a great concern to food security. The use of farms inputs like pesticides and fertilizers are the major factors in soil contamination in the modern world.

Potential solution to air, water and soil pollution

Managing air pollution is important to reduce respiratory infection cases. People should make a concerted effort to drive less but commute using a bicycle, skating or walking. The efforts of switching over to green energy should be motivated and supported by the government. Meanwhile, soil and water pollution can be reduced through organic farming. Pests and insects should be controlled mechanically rather than excessive use of inorganic chemicals.


Forests are essential natural resources in mitigating adverse climate change. According to scientists, forests are carbon sinks which enhance the absorption of emitted carbon gases from the factories. Clearing trees for settlement purposes or otherwise allows the greenhouse gases to escape into the environment thus causing the environmental problems. Other human activities like ranching may also cause deforestation. However, cattle flatulence is a primary source of methane gas, responsible for short term environmental challenges.

Proposed solution to deforestation

Planting trees to support the environment is an essential approach in promoting the clean and safe environment. Secondly, the consumers should avoid using paper towels but instead adopt washable clothes. Finally, the public should be encouraged to boycott products made by Palm Oil companies. This company has contributed to deforestation in many parts of Indonesia and Malaysia.

research paper on the environmental problems

Environmental Issues Essay for Students and Children


500+ Words Essay on Environmental Issues

The environment plays a significant role to support life on earth. But there are some issues that are causing damages to life and the ecosystem of the earth. It is related to the not only environment but with everyone that lives on the planet. Besides, its main source is pollution , global warming, greenhouse gas , and many others. The everyday activities of human are constantly degrading the quality of the environment which ultimately results in the loss of survival condition from the earth.

Environmental Issues Essay

Source of Environment Issue

There are hundreds of issue that causing damage to the environment. But in this, we are going to discuss the main causes of environmental issues because they are very dangerous to life and the ecosystem.

Pollution – It is one of the main causes of an environmental issue because it poisons the air , water , soil , and noise. As we know that in the past few decades the numbers of industries have rapidly increased. Moreover, these industries discharge their untreated waste into the water bodies, on soil, and in air. Most of these wastes contain harmful and poisonous materials that spread very easily because of the movement of water bodies and wind.

Greenhouse Gases – These are the gases which are responsible for the increase in the temperature of the earth surface. This gases directly relates to air pollution because of the pollution produced by the vehicle and factories which contains a toxic chemical that harms the life and environment of earth.

Climate Changes – Due to environmental issue the climate is changing rapidly and things like smog, acid rains are getting common. Also, the number of natural calamities is also increasing and almost every year there is flood, famine, drought , landslides, earthquakes, and many more calamities are increasing.

Above all, human being and their greed for more is the ultimate cause of all the environmental issue.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

How to Minimize Environment Issue?

Now we know the major issues which are causing damage to the environment. So, now we can discuss the ways by which we can save our environment. For doing so we have to take some measures that will help us in fighting environmental issues .

Moreover, these issues will not only save the environment but also save the life and ecosystem of the planet. Some of the ways of minimizing environmental threat are discussed below:

Reforestation – It will not only help in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem but also help in restoring the natural cycles that work with it. Also, it will help in recharge of groundwater, maintaining the monsoon cycle , decreasing the number of carbons from the air, and many more.

The 3 R’s principle – For contributing to the environment one should have to use the 3 R’s principle that is Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Moreover, it helps the environment in a lot of ways.

To conclude, we can say that humans are a major source of environmental issues. Likewise, our activities are the major reason that the level of harmful gases and pollutants have increased in the environment. But now the humans have taken this problem seriously and now working to eradicate it. Above all, if all humans contribute equally to the environment then this issue can be fight backed. The natural balance can once again be restored.

FAQs about Environmental Issue

Q.1 Name the major environmental issues. A.1 The major environmental issues are pollution, environmental degradation, resource depletion, and climate change. Besides, there are several other environmental issues that also need attention.

Q.2 What is the cause of environmental change? A.2 Human activities are the main cause of environmental change. Moreover, due to our activities, the amount of greenhouse gases has rapidly increased over the past few decades.


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Issues and mishaps are inevitable in any organization, even in the best of circumstances. Both ethical, proactive, well-run companies and those with a reactive approach will encounter problems, but the former will experience fewer and recover faster because they prioritize root cause analyses.   

Root cause analysis (or RCA) is the quality management process by which an organization searches for the root of a problem, issue or incident after it occurs. While it may be tempting to simply address symptoms of the problem as they materialize, addressing symptoms is an inherently reactive process that all but guarantees a recurring—and often worsening—series of problems.

Root cause analysis helps organizations decipher the root cause of the problem, identify the appropriate corrective actions, and develop a plan to prevent future occurrences. It aims to implement solutions to the underlying problem for more efficient operations overall.

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Organizations perform root cause analyses when a problem arises or an incident occurs, but there are any number of issues that necessitate an RCA. Triggers for a root cause analysis fall into three broad categories.

When real-world materials or equipment fails in some way (e.g., a desktop computer stops working or a component from a third-party vendor delivers substandard performance).

When people make mistakes or fail to complete required tasks (e.g., an employee fails to perform regular maintenance on a piece of equipment, causing it to break down).

A breakdown in a system, process or policy people use to make decisions (e.g., a company fails to train team members on cybersecurity protocols, leaving the company vulnerable to cyberattacks ).

Organizations can conduct root cause analyses for a range or reasons, from commonplace email service disruptions to catastrophic equipment failures. Regardless of the nature or scope of the issue, performing root cause analysis should include the same fundamental steps.

If you have decided to conduct a root cause analysis, your department or organization is likely experiencing some sort of acute issue, or at least looking to make substantive improvements to a particular process. Therefore, the first step of the root cause analysis process should be identifying and defining the problem you want to address. Without a clearly defined problem, it is impossible to correctly identify the root causes.

When the department has a clear idea of the problem, it’s time to draft a problem statement spelling out the issue for everyone who will help with the RCA.

Once the issue is identified and clearly articulated to all involved parties, leadership should create a project charter, which will assemble a team to complete the analysis. The team should include a facilitator to lead the team through the analysis and any team members with personal and/or professional knowledge of the systems, processes, and incidents you will investigate.

Data collection is the foundation of the problem-solving process. It is vital, at this stage, to find every piece of information that can help you identify contributing factors, and ultimately the root causes of the issue. This can include collecting photographs and incident reports, conducting interviews with affected parties, and reviewing existing policies and procedures. Some questions you may want to ask during data collection:

  • When did the problem start and how long has it been going on?
  • What symptoms has the team observed?
  • What documentation does the organization/department have to prove an issue exists?
  • How will the issue affect employees and other stakeholders?
  • Who is harmed or otherwise affected by the existence of this problem?

This is the most important step in the RCA process. At this point, the team has collected all necessary information and starts to brainstorm for causal factors. Effective root cause analyses require openness to all potential underlying causes of an issue, so everyone on the RCA team should enter the brainstorming stage with an open mind. Avoid attempts to determine root causes until every possibility is identified and vetted; starting the incident investigation process with preconceived notions may bias the results and make it more difficult to determine the real root cause.

Once the RCA team has an exhaustive list of possible causes and contributing factors, it is time to determine the root causes of the issue. Analyze every possible cause and examine the actual impact of each one to figure out which possibilities are the most problematic, which ones have similarities, and which ones can be altogether eliminated. Be prepared for the possibility that there are multiple root causes to the issue.

After the team narrows the list of possibilities, rank the remaining potential root causes by their impact and the likelihood they are the root cause of the problem. Leadership will examine and analyze each possibility and collaborate with the RCA team to determine the actual root causes.

Once the team settles on root causes and has laid out all the details of the issue, they must start brainstorming solutions. The solution should directly address the root causes, with consideration for the logistics of executing the solution and any potential obstacles the team may encounter along the way. These elements will comprise the action plan that will help the team address the current problem and prevent recurrences.

While all RCAs will include the same basic steps, there are myriad root cause analysis methods that can help an organization collect data efficiently and effectively. Typically, a company will select a method and use root cause analysis tools, such as analysis templates and software, to complete the process.

The 5 Whys approach is rooted in the idea that asking five “Why?” questions can get you to the root cause of anything. 5 Whys implores problem solvers to avoid assumptions and continue to ask “why” until they identify the root cause of a problem. In the case of a formalized organizational root cause analysis, a team may only need to ask three whys to find the root cause, but they may also need to ask 50 or 60. The purpose of 5 Whys is to push the team to ask as many questions as is necessary to find the correct answers.

A failure mode and effects analysis is one of the most rigorous approaches to root cause analysis. Similar to a risk analysis, FMEA identifies every possibility for system/process failure and examines the potential impact of each hypothetical failure. The organization then addresses every root cause that is likely to result in failure.

Pareto charts combine the features of bar charts and line charts to understand the frequency of the organization’s most common root causes. The chart displays root causes in descending order of frequency, starting with the most common and/or probable. The team then addresses the root cause whose solution provides the most significant benefit to the organization.

An impact analysis allows an organization to assess both the positive and negative potential impacts of each possible root cause.

Change analyses are helpful in situations where a system or process’s performance has changed significantly. When conducting this type of RCA, the department looks at how the circumstances surrounding the issue or incident have changed over time. Examining changes in personal, information, infrastructure, or data, among other factors, can help the organization understand which factors caused the change in performance.

An event analysis is commonly used to identify the cause of major, single-event problem, like an oil spill or building collapse. Event analyses rely on quick (but thorough) evidence-gathering processes to recreate the sequence of events that that led to the incident. Once the timeline is established, the organization can more easily identify the causal and contributing factors.

Also known as a causal factor analysis, a causal factor tree analysis allows an organization to record and visually display—using a causal factor tree—every decision, event or action that led to a particular problem.

An Ishikawa diagram (or Fishbone diagram) is a cause-and-effect style diagram that visualizes the circumstances surrounding a problem. The diagram resembles a fish skeleton, with a long list of causes grouped into related subcategories.

DMAIC is an acronym for the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control process. This data-driven process improvement methodology serves as a part of an organization’s Six Sigma practices.

This RCA methodology proposes finding the root cause of an issue by moving through a four-step problem solving process. The process starts with situation analysis and continues with problem analysis and solution analysis, concluding with potential problem analysis.

An FTA allows an organization to visually map potential causal relationships and identify root causes using boolean logic.

Barrier analyses are based on the idea that proper barriers can prevent problems and incidents. This type of RCA, often used in risk management, examines how the absence of appropriate barriers led to an issue and makes suggestions for installing barriers that prevent the issue from reoccurring.

Companies that use the RCA process want to put an end to “firefighting” and treating the symptoms of a problem. Instead, they want to optimize business operations, reduce risk, and provide a better customer experience. Investing in the root cause analysis process provides a framework for better overall decision-making, and allows an organization to benefit from:

Continuous improvement : Root cause analysis is an iterative process, seeking not only to address acute issues, but also to improve the entire system over time, starting with the underlying cause. The iterative nature of root cause analysis empowers organizations to prioritize continuous process improvement.

Increased productivity : Preventing downtime, delays, worker attrition and other production issues within an organization saves employees time, freeing up bandwidth to focus on other critical tasks.

Lower costs : When equipment breaks down or software bugs cause delays, organizations lose money and workers get frustrated. Root cause analysis helps eliminate the cost of continually fixing a recurring issue, resulting in a more financially efficient operation overall.

Preventing product defects : When companies fail to address underlying issues, they can inadvertently affect the quality of the end product. Addressing persistent problems before they snowball protects the organization from revenue and reputational losses associated with product defects down the line.

Reducing risks : Improving business processes and systems keeps equipment running safely and helps workers avoid safety hazards in the workplace.

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IBM research proposes an approach to detect abnormality and analyzes root causes using Spark log files.

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Downer and IBM are using smart preventative maintenance to keep passengers on Australia's light and heavy rail systems moving safely, reliably, comfortably and more sustainably.

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How to keep junk snail mail out of your mailbox forever

research paper on the environmental problems

In June, I began tracking the junk mail I was receiving. A plea to embark on Princess Cruises. Preapproved credit card offers from banks I’d never heard of. A furniture catalogue from Lulu and Georgia. Some weeks, more than a dozen pieces of unsolicited marketing mail — a.k.a. junk mail — clogged my mailbox.

I’m not alone. Mail volumes in the United States peaked in 2011 , but junk mail has continued almost unabated. Last year, roughly 63 billion catalogues, postcards, credit card offers and coupon booklets arrived in America’s mailboxes. That’s 62 percent of all U.S. household mail, reports the U.S. Postal Service.

This takes a heavy environmental toll. The typical American receives about 41 pounds of junk mail each year, according to the Center for Development of Recycling at San José State University, and much of it ends up in landfills . While recent numbers are hard to come by, the Sierra Club estimates that 80 million to 100 million trees are cut down each year to print junk mail, while cities and counties spend $1 billion a year to collect and dispose of it.

So after years of ignoring or recycling it, I finally set out to get my mailbox as close to zero junk mail as possible. Services now promise to take care of the problem, and I tried several. After bracing for an extended battle against marketers unseen, it took less than half an hour of work to get rid of most of my junk mail.

You can do it, too.

Why Americans get so much junk mail

The story of direct mail begins in 1835. Attempting to sway religious and civic leaders in the South, the American Anti-Slavery Society mailed out numerous anti-slavery newspapers and pamphlets in what is thought to be the first direct-mail campaign, according to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum . The reaction to it, not unlike today’s unsolicited mail, was “swift, widespread, and hostile.”

But it took decades for businesses to figure out how to use direct mail profitably. The advent of the typewriter finally allowed retailers to send out cheap blasts of advertisements. Americans were soon flooded with fliers, postcards and catalogues. The Postal Service estimates these “third-class” mailings swelled from 301 million pieces in 1880 to more than 6 billion pieces by 1930. In 2005, marketing mail eclipsed first-class mail (what people tend to use for letters) for the first time.

Today, junk mail is a lifeline for the post office. In 1970, Congress withdrew taxpayer dollars for the agency, passing a law directing it to act like a business by covering its costs. But Congress still required the Postal Service to cover inherently unprofitable parts of running a nationwide system delivering to far-flung, often rural parts of the country without taxpayer dollars . Desperate for money, the Postal Service opened the floodgates by granting marketers preferential access to your mailbox at one-third the cost of standard mail.

Today, marketing mail generates $16 billion — 20 percent of the agency’s revenue — and represents the majority of mail sent in the United States. This diminishes any chance the United States, unlike the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Canada , will move to restrict junk mail anytime soon.

The second reason your mailbox is stuffed with advertisements? They work.

People have little choice but to sort through their mail. The Postal Service estimates two-thirds of households read or scan their junk mail, while 11 percent say they respond to mailers. “Given the large increase in advertising mail volumes since 1987,” states the post office in its 2020 household diary study , “it seems clear that U.S. households read more advertising mail now than in the past.”

That has prompted businesses to spend about $225 per person in the United States on direct-mail advertising a year, according to a 2023 analysis of direct-mail advertising by an industry research firm. Junk mail earns a better return than email, social media or digital display ads, estimates the Association of National Advertisers .

You can now choose to opt out of all this paper waste. New technology and do-not-mail registries have made it easier than ever.

Three ways to stop junk mail

Ultimately, stopping most of my junk mail took me less than half an hour over a few months. Here are the three steps to do it.

Stop most advertisements : Check out the Association of National Advertisers’ . This service lets you stop delivery of catalogues, magazine offers and other junk items from charities, banks and national brands.

DMAchoice says this will stop 80 percent of promotional offers since marketers would rather contact people willing to receive their mail. You can register online for $4, or by mail for $5, to stop deliveries for 10 years. There are options to stop mail for a deceased relative and even electronic spam . The process took me about five minutes.

Stop credit card and insurance offers: Never want to see another prescreened credit or insurance offer in the mail? Such solicitations can put you at risk for fraud — but you can opt out. The 1996 Fair Credit Reporting Act led to the creation of . The website allows you to opt out for five years online or by calling 888-567-8688.

To stop offers forever, you’ll need to sign and return the Permanent Opt-Out Election form . The entire process takes a few weeks to complete, but it only took a few minutes to fill out the form.

Stop mail from specific businesses: For that, I turned to services able to take my name off mailing lists of individual retailers, marketers and charities. Companies you’ve done business with in the past few years may still be allowed to contact you, charities may sell your name, and some just slip through the cracks. is a nonprofit organization that has a list of 10,000 businesses and charities. It lets you automatically send an opt-out request to specific companies. Just search the website’s pre-populated company list, and a seamless click of the mouse sends a request on your behalf. Best of all, it’s free.

For convenience, I wanted a smartphone app. So I bought an annual subscription to PaperKarma for $24.99. You can also buy a monthly plan for $3.99. You take a photo of the mailed item, then algorithms try to identify the sender based on the brand or logo on the envelope. You can manually correct any errors, and you can instantly send the advertiser an opt-out request via the app.

The 15-person company says it has 100,000 businesses in its database so far. “PaperKarma is more like a concierge service,” says Jeff Treichel, the company’s CEO. “We’re adding thousands of new mailers to our database every month. If you’ve got a problem, we’re phoning or emailing these people directly on your behalf.”

How did it work?

Not all my junk mail stopped. I’m still getting a trickle of mailings from businesses. Rather than junk mail every day or so, it’s closer to once or twice a week. I expect it will be a few more months before my various opt-out requests take hold.

And some junk mail will continue: Local mailings such as coupons and grocery fliers addressed to “Current Resident,” as well as political candidates’ campaign materials (protected by the First Amendment), are not blockable.

Reducing the waste of paper was easier than I imagined. I’ll never stop the junk mail altogether, but my only regret is I didn’t try years earlier.

A previous version of this article incorrectly described how long you can stop marketing mail deliveries permanently through DMAchoice by mail. The article has been corrected.

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University of Tennessee Baker School expands national security, energy research

research paper on the environmental problems

The new Baker School of Public Policy and Public Affairs has expanded two of its programs into full-blown research centers that study and advise on matters of national importance.

The Baker School , a new college at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, celebrated the Center for National Security and Foreign Affairs and the Center for Energy, Transportation, and Environmental Policy with a research symposium Sept. 29.

These research centers are the newest additions to the Baker School, which officially launched in July. Located at 1640 Cumberland Ave., the school focuses on developing Tennessee's future leaders in government, public policy and public service. It's the first and only school of its kind at any public university in the state.

The Center for National Security and Foreign Affairs will provide insight on national and international security as well as solutions to foreign policy. Areas of research include human rights, wars, terrorism, maritime disputes, foreign policy and more.

The center aims to educate university students and the general public on these topics, with a heavy focus on Indo-Pacific security, specifically the relationship between the U.S. and Japan.

“The creation of NSFA will help us build broader partnerships with experts in a wider range of issue areas that are key challenges to U.S. national security and foreign policy, especially the ever-increasing tensions in the Indo-Pacific region,” Center for National Security and Foreign Affairs director Krista Wiegand said in a press release.

The Center for Energy, Transportation, and Environmental Policy creates policies for life improvements related to energy, transportation and the environment. Its list of partners includes not only UT scholars but also individuals from every level of government, the nonprofit sector, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee Valley Authority and industry representatives.

Its research focuses on natural, social and physical sciences within water pollution, renewable energy, nuclear energy and climate change.

“CETEP will expand the Baker School’s role as a nationally recognized hub, convener and knowledge generator,” the center's director Charles Sims said in a press release. “We’ll educate and train a new generation of bright and talented undergraduate and graduate students for careers in environmental, transportation and energy policy."

The two centers were formerly known as the Global Security Program and the Energy and Environment Program, respectively, when the school was still the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

"Our purpose in becoming centers is really to expand our work, what we can do, in terms of policy engagement, policy relevant research, grant funded research and engaging more with scholars, units on campus, people off-campus, other partners," Wiegand said. "We were very small when we were working here as programs for many years."

"Now, we are growing as centers and we'll have a lot more ability to promote policy, relevant research and engagement outreach and education," Wiegand said.

The Baker School is hiring multiple faculty to fulfill these research missions.

The Baker School is one of three new colleges this year , joining the College of Music and the College of Emerging and Collaborative Studies.

Keenan Thomas is a higher education reporter. Email  [email protected] . Twitter  @specialk2real .

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