Ohio State Researchers Will Study How Food, Energy and Water Systems in the Great Lakes Region Could Be Impacted by Deglobalization

Sep. 20, 2017
Effects on energy and water demands

Imagine the United States gets ensnared in a lengthy trade war and the fallout undercuts international demand for crops grown in the Great Lakes region. Farmers and other producers would eventually adjust their plans, setting in motion changes that could have pronounced ramifications on how land, water and energy resources are used and are collectively affected for years to come. But what are those ramifications, exactly, and to what extent can they be anticipated?

Those are questions Ohio State researchers will address as they examine the possible effects of deglobablization and model the scenarios that might play out in the Midwest. The work is supported by the National Science Foundation, which on Sept. 19 announced a grant for Ohio State that is expected to exceed $2.4 million over the next three years. The money is provided through Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS), a research partnership between NSF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Elena Irwin, an environmental economist and the principal investigator, said a deeper understanding of potential effects of deglobalization on the interconnected economies of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin is critical given the region’s dependence on agricultural and manufacturing exports and its decades-long integration into the global economy.

“Our goal is to develop a modeling framework that will allow us to project potential futures under different hypothetical scenarios—like a trade war or policies to promote greater energy independence—and assess the environmental and economic consequences,” she said. “These triggers would likely have not just one, but many effects on regional producers and consumers.”

Ohio State researchers will examine a wide sweep of economic, behavioral, and environmental factors, including the diversity of watersheds and possible choices by farmers. To take advantage of the expertise of local and regional actors, and to ensure that the results are useful to decision-makers, researchers will ask policymakers, farmers, environmental organizations, conservation groups, and other key external stakeholders to review the scientific research and help shape the resulting models.

The Ohio State project is being managed by the Sustainable and Resilient Economy program, a Discovery Themes focus area. SRE is jointly led by Irwin, the program’s faculty director and a professor in Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, and Joseph Fiksel, the executive director and a research faculty member in Integrated Systems Engineering.

The work brings together a highly collaborative team with a track record of interdisciplinary research and extensive experience in quantitative and computational modeling. The team involves researchers from three colleges—Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; Engineering; and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs—and includes:

  • Yongyang Cai, an associate professor of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics; integrated modeling of economic and environmental systems
  • Bhavik Bakshi, professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; life cycle modeling, sustainability assessment
  • Jeff Bielicki, a professor with a joint appointment in Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs; energy modeling and policy effects on energy and environmental systems
  • Douglas Jackson-Smith, professor of Environment and Natural Resources; participatory modeling, rural communities
  • Jay Martin, professor of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering; watershed modeling
  • Alan Randall, SRE scholar in residence and an emeritus professor and former chair of the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics; environmental economics and policy
  • Ian Sheldon, the Andersons Chair of Agricultural Marketing, Trade and Policy and professor of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics; international trade and policy
  • Robyn Wilson, an associate professor of Environment and Natural Resources; individual decision-making under risk and uncertainty

About the Discovery Themes

The Discovery Themes initiative is a $500 million investment in the people and resources needed to continuously accelerate discovery at Ohio State. By building on our strengths and prioritizing areas of focus, the initiative addresses complex problems in health and wellness, food and food security, energy and environment, and humanities and the arts. With an emphasis on data science that cuts across all these areas, the Discovery Themes are dedicated to translating knowledge into solutions that serve humanity.