SESYNC Welcomes Joe Maher

October 20, 2015
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Communications Coordinator

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) is pleased to welcome to our Annapolis center Dr. Joe Maher, a Computational Postdoctoral Fellow. Get to know our newest researcher:

Name: Joe Maher
PhD: Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Maryland
SESYNC Project: Valuing Forest Benefits & Policies across Multiple Spatial Scales: From Urban Shade Trees to Amazon Protected Areas

How would you describe your primary field of study?

Environmental economics.

What does that mean in terms of the broad questions you’re interested in studying?

I use data to understand how policies shape people’s incentives to behave differently, and I apply that to issues that have environmental significance—such as, for example, energy use and conservation.

Can you briefly describe your proposed SESYNC postdoctoral project?

Mine is a two-part project: the first investigates the potential energy savings from shade trees. In warm climates, trees provide natural air conditioning by shading homes, which at least anecdotally decreases energy generation. But do shade trees provide measurable and verifiable benefits that are comparable to engineering-based policy solutions? I will be working to address quantitatively whether energy savings vary across tree species, shade intensity, and house characteristics to determine whether urban forestry is a cost-effective policy tool for managing energy demand.

The second part of my project investigates the makings of effective protected areas. In an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation and degradation and enhance forest carbon stocks, governments in tropical regions are establishing vast networks of protected forest areas. However, the link between protected area designation and avoided deforestation is widely debated. My project will investigate tropical forest conservation policies and how protecting a piece of land that has forest on it augments the deforestation rate from what would have occurred otherwise without the protections. I’ll also investigate whether the incentives of various government agencies influence protected area effectiveness in reducing carbon emissions.

Is there anything about your work that the general public might find surprising?

To a lot of people, “environmental economics” sounds made-up or contradictory. I’m not an environmentalist advocating for any particular economic policies—rather, I evaluate whether environmental policies are effective or efficient, and how the benefits measure up to the costs of implementation.

To learn more about Dr. Maher and his work, click here.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.

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