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The economics of environmental change: Essays on climate and water


Many questions of importance for sustained human progress on a planet of finite resources remain unanswered. As environmental change accelerates, there is growing urgency to build an understanding of how the environment and society influence one another. This dissertation mobilizes novel, large-scale datasets in combination with methodological advances in casual inference and original theoretical contributions to study the interdependence between societies, economies, and two of the world's most vital natural endowments: the climate and freshwater. Throughout these essays, I estimate causal, policy-relevant relationships between global-scale processes of environmental change and human wellbeing. The first three essays provide new estimates of the climate's influence over market and non-market outcomes, generating insights in climate impact attribution, climate impact mechanisms, and the estimation of adaptation costs and benefits under anthropogenic climate change. The final essay studies the other direction of the society-environment relationship, measuring how changes in economic systems influence freshwater. This chapter uses satellite data to uncover links between agricultural policies and water depletion at a scale that has been impossible to investigate with standard water monitoring tools. Together, these essays aim to demonstrate that combination of data and methods across physical and social sciences can yield valuable answers to questions that have been discussed, debated, and left unresolved for generations.

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