Energy and natural resources drive many University of Wyoming research, including in the economic field, with one professor has contributed to creating a great program.
Ed Barbier has been at UW for 16 years in the department of economics and finance, and is known internationally for his work and knowledge in environmental and resource economics. He was recently named a Fellow by the Association of Environmental and Resource Economics.
“It’s a great honor because it means I’ve been recognized for my contribution to this incredibly important field by economists around the world, and that my work has had an impact on other researchers, on policy and on students,” he said.
Barbier is now the third Fellow in the department, following Jason Shogren and Tom Crocker.
“It shows we’re a strong program in this particular field,” Crocker said. “It’s certainly unusual for a department our size to have three Fellows.”
Because of the faculty, Barbier explained the environmental and resource economic program has gained international acclaim.
“I was invited to a policy session by a United Nations agency,” he said. “At that meeting, I ran into colleagues from the University of Maryland, a top research institute in Costa Rica and a top business school, the University of Lisbon, in Portugal. All three said to me, ‘We sent our best student to your Ph.D. program to study environmental economics, because we know you’re the best in the world.’”
Barbier came to Laramie in 2000 from the University of York in England for a couple of reasons, he explained.
“A big reason why I came is just to have colleagues that do something similar to what I do,” he said. “I like the state of Wyoming — it’s a great state and great quality of life. My kids have all grown up here.”
Barbier’s career is full of book and journal publications, allowing him to get his ideas across the world.
“I wrote probably the first book on natural resources and environmental development that has proven to be very popular and has had an impact,” he said “Also, I’m extremely proud of my citations. I have something like 35,000 citations, which is very high for anybody. My work seems to be quite exciting to both economists and people in other fields.”
While being a great economist is important, being able to accurately and easily present research to others is difficult, Crocker said.
“(Barbier) is an excellent communicator,” he said. “Economist are not well know of translating technical material to settings such that they’re accessible to the broader public, and he’s really good at getting his point across.”
In the state, Barbier worked with former Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s task force for enhanced oil recovery and was on the committee that helped establish the School of Energy Resources. However, Barbier’s true passions lie overseas in developing countries.
When growing up, Barbier split his childhood between living in the states and living in Southeast Asia, which sparked his interest in the international aspect of his economic research.
“I just became very much aware at a young age that there was a huge difference in standards of living,” he said. “In places like Southeast Asia in those days, there was a huge amount poverty, and I became fascinated with how do natural resources contribute to the developing countries. I also came to realize that, even countries that are rich have big questions in terms of managing natural resources.”
Future water problems are a current interest to Barbier.
“I think the way all countries, rich or poor, handle water is going to become a major issue in the coming years,” he said. “Water scarcity and water quality and how we manage water for different uses — those three issues are huge, and we’re going to start grappling that soon.”
While water usage is normally overshadowed by fossil fuel pollution and global warming, it is going to become a problem even before natural energy reaches a critical point, Barbier said.
“It is creeping up on us very fast,” he said. “Eventually, we’re going to find out we don’t have enough, and we’re going to have to make some tough decisions and sacrifices.”
But like all faculty, Barbier has a true passion for teaching.
I enjoy teaching environmental resource economics to undergrad students who have just a little bit of economics because I like to show them how economic thinking can help influence policies and decision-making — get them thinking about how to get economics to solve and think about environmental resources,” he said.