YSE Economist Plays Key Role in Newly Finalized Guidance on Accounting for Ecosystem Services

How do proposed projects such as logging or new pipelines affect the benefits people derive from parks, wetlands, forests, and other natural resources? Until now, there have not been any specific federal guidelines directing agencies on how to assess ecosystems impacts. Eli Fenichel, Knobloch Family Professor of Natural Resources Economics at YSE, played a critical role  in a new first-of-its kind guidance finalized by the White House in February, which provides a blueprint to assess how ecosystem services can be enhanced or diminished by federal rules.

Fenichel helped develop the guidance while on leave in 2021 to serve as assistant director for natural resource economics and accounting at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The agency, along with the Office of Budget Management (OBM) was tasked by President Biden with modernizing regulatory reviews to incorporate the assessment of natural assets.

“This is an avenue for real change. We’ll have more consistency in rulemaking and regulation around how we think about environmental services. Agencies will take a clearer and more deliberate view of how different rules or different programs create or alter the services people get from the environment and ecosystems,” Fenichel said.

While the value of ecosystems has sometimes been included in federal assessments in the past, there has never been a government wide directive or guidance for all federal agencies to account for costs and benefits of actions that impact natural resources. This omission has led to the “under-valuing and erosion of our natural resources,” said Arati Prabhakar, director of OSTP, and Richard Revesz, administrator for Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB.

Agencies now must identify direct and indirect impacts on how their proposed actions might affect ecosystem services and establish a no-action baseline and explore alternative options.

Eli Fenichel

Knobloch Family Professor of Natural Resource Economics

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New Initiative Foces on Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Computer Systems and AI

Yuan Yao, assistant professor of industrial ecology and sustainable systems, will be part of multi-institutional research initiative aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of the lifecycle of computers.

The project, funded by a $12 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, focuses on reducing the carbon footprint of computing by 45% within the next decade. It will pursue three main goals: create standardized protocols to measure and report carbon costs over the lifetime of a device; develop ways to reduce the carbon footprint of computing; and explore ways to reduce the carbon emissions of fast-growing applications such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality systems. The five-year initiative is one of three projects chosen by the NSF as part of its Expeditions in Computing program.

Yao will lead efforts on carbon modeling, accounting, and validation of semiconductors and computer systems, covering both embodied and operational emissions.

“Artificial Intelligence is advancing rapidly and holds the promise of fostering a more sustainable future. However, it also poses significant environmental challenges, such as the generation of greenhouse gases and waste from the manufacturing and disposal of chips and devices, as well as the impact associated with energy consumed during operations. This project will help support the sustainable development and application of AI,” Yao said.

The team is being co-led by Harvard Professor David Brooks and University of Pennsylvania Professor Benjamin Lee, and includes researchers from California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University and The Ohio State University.

 

 

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Former YSE Dean Peter Crane Awarded Darwin-Wallace Medal

Peter Crane, former dean of the Yale School of the Environment (then the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies), has been awarded the Darwin-Wallace Medal for his work in advancing evolutionary biology.

Crane, who served as dean from 2009-2016, was recognized by The Linnean Society of London for his groundbreaking contributions in the field of living and extinct plant diversity. He will receive the medal May 24, 2024, during the anniversary meeting of the society at Burlington House in London. He is one of nine Linnean Society medal and award winners honored for working to protect the natural world.

His research on plant life focuses on understanding plant evolution and the diversification of flower plants. He is co-author of the highly-cited “The Origin and Diversification of Land Plants” and has published more than 200 articles and essays.

“Professor Sir Peter Crane FRS stands as a world leader in evolutionary biology, globally acclaimed for his groundbreaking contributions to the field of plant diversity, both living and extinct. His extensive body of work spans from the origin and fossil history of plant life to its current state, encompassing themes of conservation and practical utility. His palaeobotanical discoveries, combined with phylogenetic analyses of morphological data, have profoundly altered our outlook on early angiosperm evolution,” the society said in a news release.

Crane  is currently president of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation and served as director of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Chicago Field Museum.

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Peter Crane

Peter Crane

Two YSE Faculty Members Selected as USC Wrigley Institute 2024 Storymakers

Two Yale School of the Environment scientists were selected to participate in a program that focuses on enabling researchers to share their work through storytelling.

Nyeema Harris, Knobloch Family Associate Professor of Wildlife and Land Conservation, and Narasimha Rao, associate professor of energy systems, and will travel to the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Santa Catalina Island, California, for the USC Wrigley Institute for Environment and Sustainability 2024 Storymaker fellowship this summer. The program aims to help researchers develop new ways of thinking about their research, its place in the world, and how to share it.

“Given the relationship between science communication and professional impact, such training opportunities help academics build their capacity to connect their scholarship with diverse audiences,” Harris said. “I am particularly excited about leveraging the wealth of expertise from leading innovators and engagement specialists to help me develop a new wildlife media project.”

Rao said he is excited to have the opportunity to learn storytelling tools to share his research.

“A lot of my research identifies ways that a clean energy economy can improve lives, reduce inequalities,” Rao said. “I would like to get these messages out to a wider non-academic audience. I am excited that the Storymaker program will help me kickstart this process by teaching me creative communication tools to make my work more widely accessible.” .

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Nyeema Harris

Knobloch Family Associate Professor of Wildlife and Land Conservation

Narasimha Rao

Associate Professor of Energy Systems