'Nerds for Humanity' Show Invites Professor Erik Nelson to Chat about the Economics of Nature

By Rebecca Goldfine
Tom Leung ’96 hosts the YouTube show and podcast Nerds for Humanity, inviting thought leaders to have long-form conversations about politics and policy.

Leung, who works at Google, relies on "data, charts, and authentic conversations" to drive his show's content. He recently hosted Erik Nelson, an associate professor of economics at Bowdoin, to speak about Nelson's research on the "economics of nature" and to discuss topics like climate change policy, infrastructure, and whether people should have to pay for the environmental impacts of personal decisionslike driving gas-guzzling trucks versus more fuel-efficient vehicles, including electric cars.  

Before they launched into a wider-ranging conversation, Nelson briefly described his current research projects. One is to determine the economic cost of designating land as critical habitat for endangered species. Once this land becomes federally protected, human activity is limited on it to promote the survival of struggling animals. But these restrictions often stir up controversy, particularly with land developers and miners.

Nelson is also analyzing social media posts featuring lakes to see if he can determine how important water quality is to people's recreational choices. "Does cleaner water attract more visitors? Or is it other facilities, like boat launches or beaches, that attracts people to lakes?" Nelson asked.

And he is researching the conservation policies for migratory species, like monarch butterflies and right whales. "What conservation needs do those species have and how do we cost-effectively create conservation policies that allow us to help the species in their migratory process but do the least amount of disruption to the economy?" Nelson said.

"If you can create conservation that doesn't cost much or is smart, there will be less opposition to it," he added.