For completed Sustainable Development projects click here.

Ground-Truthing Sahelian Greening: Integrating Ethnography with Remote Sensing

Colin Thor West–PI. The Sahel of West Africa is a region that suffers from high population densities, frequent severe droughts and enormous stress on natural resources. Because of these challenges, it is the place where the term “desertification” was originally coined. Recently, however, experts have identified large zones of “greening” where the amount of vegetation exceeds what one would expect based on rainfall alone. This pattern is well documented but its mechanisms remain poorly understood. This research will ground-truth Sahelian greening using participatory mapping, linked with high-resolution satellite imagery, to better understand the human role behind regional vegetation trends and its consequences for local livelihoods. It will do so in Burkina Faso where both greening and browning are especially pronounced.

Planning for India’s Urban Century: Urban Innovations and The Search for SMART Alternatives to Business-as-usual Urbanization

Meenu Tewari–PI. India is facing immense urban development challenges, and therefore important and exciting opportunities. During the next two decades India’s urban population is expected to double to 600 million, when this shift is completed nearly 1 in 2 Indians will live in cities. To support this transition, and ensure that economically successful, climate safe and livable cities are fostered as India urbanizes, an extensive body of new research will be needed to influence plans and policy-making. This research proposes to take advantage of advances in geospatial data, and for the first time combine it with on the ground econometric analysis, as well as case studies, to analyze urban growth patterns, their drivers and assess their costs. The research will analyze, assess and maps out the patterns of India’s urbanization and critically analyze the economic, social and environmental costs of business-as-usual urbanization in India. This evidence will provide insights into the benefits of smarter urban development, including proposing innovative approaches towards encouraging more compact and connected urban growth that can support economic development, reduce poverty and cut down carbon emissions.

Chokepoints: A Comparative Global Ethnograph

Townsend Middleton–PI. This project brings together social scientists from anthropology, geography and sociology to examine chokepoints–canals, tunnels, pipelines, geopolitical corridors, etc–from around the world. Chokepoints are sites that constrict–or ‘choke’–the flow of information, bodies, and goods due to their natural and anthropogenic qualities. They are, by definition, integral yet difficult to bypass. These bottlenecks accordingly funnel the movements of capital, commodities and populations in ways that ripple far beyond their immediate surrounds. The project will send six established ethnographers to six corresponding chokepoints to conduct 2-4 months of concentrated research. Fieldwork will be conducted in the summer of 2016, with the team convening for a workshop that will lead to individual and collaborative publications (peer-reviewed journal articles, an edited volume and a website) in 2017 and early 2018. Our mission is to define the problem and intellectual field of chokepoints through rigorous ethnographic and interdisciplinary inquiry. Doing so, the Chokepoints Collective aims to develop analytics of vital interest to a number of scholarly disciplines–and, more importantly, to a range of contemporary global concerns.

Investigating Transitions in Agricultural Livelihoods: Global Change, Response Diversity and Local Food Production in Dominica

Colin Thor West–PI. This project investigates how rural households in the Commonwealth of Dominica continue to cultivate sustainable livelihoods from farming amidst complex dynamics of global economic and environmental change.

Detection of Long-Term Variability in Storm Tracks Using Seasonally Resolved Tree-Ring Isotope Records: Implications for Hydroclimatic Change in the U.S. Pacific Northwest

Erika Wise–PI. This project will use the tools of synoptic climatology and seasonally resolved tree-ring data (based on earlywood and latewood widths and stable isotope composition) and weekly precipitation isotope sampling at co-located sites to reconstruct storm-track position and moisture delivery pathways to the Pacific Northwest in order to: (1) develop a long-term record of storm track using stable isotope dendroclimatology; (2) determine the seasonal signal embedded within the tree rings; (3) delineate controls on spatial drought patterns through time in the Pacific Northwest; and (4) evaluate implications for future climate change. This approach will allow us to characterize the range of variability in the precipitation-delivery system, investigate seasonality issues in proxy data, and delineate the possible impacts of future projected atmospheric changes.

An Institutional Exploration of Urban Competitiveness and Climate Adaptation Through Two Sectoral Lenses

Meenu Tewari–PI. This project is situated at the intersection of three inter-linked challenges that confront city managers in many rapidly growing developing economies today: the challenge of fostering economic growth; of managing a complex urbanization process that is picking up speed; and of simultaneously coping with the new stressors of climate change—rising temperatures, intensified and uncertain precipitation, droughts that might threaten food and water security, urban flooding, storm surges and seal level rise—that are having an increasing impact on local economies and the wellbeing of citizens as evidenced by the growing number of weather related extreme events that disrupted life in so many cities in the past years—from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in the US, to Hurricane Haiyan in the Philippines and the devastating Mumbai and Uttarakhand floods in India. How can cities adapt to these new pressures without compromising on their development and economic growth goals?

To answer these questions we will reframe the old “tradeoffs” debate between growth and climate into one that simultaneously explores synergies between the growth and climate security. We focus on cities in a large, rapidly growing emerging economy, India, where both growth and responsible environmentalism are necessary to secure the livelihoods of millions, provide jobs and economic growth while pulling people out of poverty in a climate safe way. However it is in precisely these contexts, where resources are constrained, data are poor and institutional capacity is under stress that policy makers see investments in climate adaption (or resilience) as taking scarce resources away their developmental goals. Even while their high densities and large vulnerable populations puts a great number of people at eventual climate risk. Our goal therefore is to make an economic argument for motivating climate action, particularly adaptive action.

Planning for India’s Urban Century

Simon Adler-PI. The objective of this project is to contribute to a better understanding of the processes of urbanization and spatial development in India. The first part of the project will describe spatial patterns of development and provide insights into some of the main variables that are correlated with these patterns. The second part will focus on how infrastructure investments have interacted with local conditions to shape India’s urbanization and growth. Researchers will use a combination of satellite imagery, census data, transport networks, and environmental data to describe spatial patterns of development. They will then use this data in an empirical analysis of how infrastructure investments interact with local conditions to influence spatial patterns of urbanization and development. The empirical investigation will rely on a theoretical model and perform both structural and reduced form econometric analysis. The combination of reduced form and structural analysis will allow them to exploit the spatial data in an optimal way in order to gain a detailed picture of spatial development patterns at a high level of spatial disaggregation.