In the weeds: distinguishing organic farmers who want information about ecological weed management from those who need it

The benefits of farming organically in the USA are increasingly known; however, organic farmers also encounter considerable risks, especially from weeds. Without herbicides, organic farmers can rely only on crop rotations, mechanical cultivation, manual weeding, beneficial insects and other cultural practices, termed ecological weed management (EWM), to control weeds. Despite promising results and the many ways in which EWM can be employed, it remains poorly adopted by the organic community. Organic farmers resist research and recommendations from University scientists and Extension, instead preferring to rely on local family and friends and their own experience to guide decisions. Here we investigate fac- tors that may lead organic farmers to recognize that they need additional information about EWM and to seek that information out. Using a national survey of organic farmers (n = 554) and a risk-information seeking and processing model, we show that farmers’ risk and benefit perceptions, worry, social norms encouraging seeking out information, and farmers’ own per- ceived knowledge gaps, particularly with respect to their most problematic weed, influence information-seeking behavior. Identifying characteristics that may distinguish those organic farmers who need and want additional information, we provide recommendations to Extension and University scientists about how best to communicate, build trust and provide decision support to the organic community with respect to EWM.


Engaging attribute tradeoffs in clean energy portfolio development

Governments and privately-held utilities will have to drastically reduce their carbon emissions to mitigate climate change. Such reductions will require transitioning electrical infrastructure to rely on cleaner fuels and power-generation technologies. Despite the myriad factors influencing both the process and eventual outcome of these transitions, it is typically transitions’ cost and individuals’ willingness to pay (WTP) for them that dominate both strategic planning and political discourse. Studies used to calculate the public’s WTP however often rely on vague policy options, ignore important social and environmental attributes, and fail to provide individuals means for engaging tradeoffs. Here we report on three studies that provided individuals multiple choice tasks for evaluating real-world portfolio options across key social and environmental attributes. Our results show that individuals placed high importance on minimizing costs, yet also consistently ranked strategies highest that reduced both greenhouse gas (GHG) and air particulate emissions, even when those portfolios require considerable cost increases. When provided an opportunity to construct their own portfolios, participants again constructed costly portfolios that significantly reduced both GHG emissions and air pollution. Using multiple choice tasks, we demonstrated individuals’ WTP for low-emission energy strategies to be higher than previous studies relying on contingent valuation suggest.


• GHG and air particulate emissions, jobs created, land use and innovation all key energy attributes.
• Individuals deemphasize cost when shown portfolio performance across additional attributes.
• Individuals consistently reject status quo energy options in favor of costly, low-emission options.
• Individuals’ WTP between $44 and $65/month to eliminate GHG and air particulate emissions.


The social, economic and environmental benefits of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in Michigan.

DISCLAIMER: I’m an applied decision researcher and professor for energy systems at Michigan State University.  My research focuses principally on helping people to identify their values, concerns and objectives and then engage the trade-offs between those values, concerns and objectives and the many options available.

The trade-offs between purchasing and operating a conventional gasoline vehicle and a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) in particular are considerable and complex.  Not surprisingly, most of the the US public misunderstands the basic functions of a PEV, doesn’t know their local and state PEV policies, and misinterprets a PEV’s fuel and maintenance savings.  Those that do follow the evolution of PEVs more closely tend to focus on either PEVs’ purchase price or their “return on investment” with regard to the size and capacity of the PEV’s battery.

And yes, the retail price of a PEV, for example a Chevrolet Volt or Tesla Model 3, is considerably higher than that of a conventional gasoline vehicle, typically 10-50% higher–though the US Government does offer a $7500 tax credit.  However, driving a PEV has numerous other benefits; some of which accrue to the vehicle’s owner, with many others accruing to society and Michigan more broadly.

For instance, driving a PEV is far less expensive than driving a conventional vehicle (once the vehicle is purchased of course).  Driving 100 miles in a PEV costs between $3.00 and $4.00 in electricity, whereas driving a conventional vehicle that same distance requires about $14.00 of gasoline.  Additionally, because a PEV has no transmission, does not require oil changes and uses a regenerative braking system—thus not needing its brakes replaced as often, a PEV’s maintenance costs are far lower.  Driving a PEV also generates less smog and soot in urban air, can generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions than driving a conventional vehicle, and can also improve the country’s economic security in the event of an interruption to oil production in the Middle East.

Of course, there are also real costs to driving a PEV, costs not easily measurable in dollars.  PEVs tend to have a shorter range than conventional vehicles.  They take far longer to recharge—particularly compared to the time it takes to fill a conventional vehicle’s gas tank.  They have less locations available for recharging—though they can be charged at home unlike conventional vehicles.  They also have uncertain battery life and high battery costs—though most PEV manufacturers provide long battery warranties.  For example Tesla provides an 8 year/100,000 mile battery warranty for its Model 3.

In addition to PEVs’ costs and benefits to owners and the environment, increasing the number of PEVs on the road may also have dramatic impacts on Michigan’s job market and the state’s energy system.  Michigan’s economy has historically relied heavily on automobile and automobile parts manufacturing.  And already, Michigan has multiple manufacturers producing PEV batteries (for example, LG in Holland and General Motors in Brownstown Charter Township).  The Chevy Bolt is assembled in Orion Township, Michigan, and the Chevy Volt is manufactured in the Detroit-Hamtramck plant.  GM’s Brownstown plant provides 100 advanced technology jobs, and the LG plant will house 600 employees once its latest addition is complete.

It is not a stretch to presume that the more PEVs are purchased, the more PEV jobs will become necessary.  And due to both Michigan’s history and proximity to current vehicle manufacturers, and the state’s favorable tax climate, we are likely to attract–and recruit–additional battery and PEV manufacturing jobs.  The extent to which these jobs will replace conventional vehicle manufacturing jobs remains to be seen however.

Additionally, far more people purchasing and driving PEVs could have dramatic effects on Michigan’s energy system.  Most people charge their PEVs at night, when the cost and demand for electricity is low.  Those vehicles and their batteries can then be used (when properly equipped) to “feed in” or provide electricity back into the electrical grid during the day when demand for electricity—and its cost—is highest.   The PEV’s owner would receive payment for that electricity—further reducing the cost of operating their PEV.  This not only reduces the cost of electricity to all consumers–not just PEV owners, but this leveling out of demand eases the incorporation of additional intermittent renewable sources, like wind and solar, into Michigan’s energy system.


Interested in studying energy sustainability? Join me in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University.

The Department of Community Sustainability (CSUS) at Michigan State University is an interdisciplinary department addressing contemporary issues of sustainability in agriculture, recreation, natural resources, and the environment. Recently the department expanded that focus to include energy!  Specifically, the department hired an assistant professor of sustainable energy systems.  This person–hint, it’s me!–is tasked with researching sustainable fuels and power-generation systems, investigating and encouraging sustainable energy transitions, and developing sustainable communities and community energy solutions.

If you are interested in studying energy sustainability, perhaps you should join me in CSUS!!  –you really should!–  Consistent with its mission to assist in the development of sustainable communities, CSUS offers three undergraduate majors linked by a common core in community sustainability. These three majors – Environmental Studies and Sustainability (ESS); Sustainable Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SPRT); and Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Education (AFNRE) – share a set of courses centered on community sustainability.

The CSUS graduate program offers two graduate majors: Community Sustainability (MS and PhD) and Sustainable Tourism and Protected Areas Management (MS and PhD). In both undergraduate and graduate programs, CSUS embraces international as well as domestic applications, engagement, and opportunities.

Please feel free to email me at or call my office at 517-353-0803 and ask questions about both my own research and or the research of my colleagues in CSUS.  You might also follow me on twitter @dlbessette to get a flavor of the kind of questions and concerns we’re asking here in CSUS.

Ohio Deer Management Plan Stakeholder Engagement Process

The ODNR Division of Wildlife is working with a diverse group of stakeholders to develop a Deer Management Plan that will provide a 10-year framework for managing huntable deer populations based on historical perspectives, stakeholder interests and science-based management. Using a process known as Structured Decision Making (SDM), representatives from stakeholder organizations are helping the Division produce a framework to manage a dynamic deer population in order to provide stable, high-quality hunting opportunities with effective and easily understood regulations. Over the course  of 12 months, I’m facilitating five two-day workshops to help deer management stakeholders work through the five critical steps of the SDM process outlined below:

Step 1. Elicit values, concerns and objectives
Step 2. Devise performance measures that capture those values
Step 3. Develop options that perform well across those measures
Step 4. Engage trade-offs between options, values and objectives
Step 5. Make and implement decisions, learn and evaluate process *

*Recommendations will be submitted to the ODNR Ohio Division of Wildlife for consideration. Supported recommendations that require changes to Ohio Administrative Code will be proposed to the Ohio Wildlife Council for consideration and vote.

Deer Stakeholder Process Participants

  • Ohio Forestry Association
  • The Nature Conservancy in Ohio
  • OSU Extension
  • Ohio Farmers Union
  • Ohio Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus
  • Ohio Wildlife Council
  • Ohio Department of Agriculture
  • Private forestry consultant
  • Whitetail Deer Farmers of Ohio
  • Ohio Conservation Federation
  • Ohio Bowhunters Association
  • Outdoor Writers of Ohio
  • Whitetails Unlimited
  • Quality Deer Management Association
  • Ohio Farm Bureau
  • Buckeye Big Buck Club
  • Buckeye Firearms Association
  • social media
  • League of Ohio Sportsman

Both the ODNR Division of Wildlife and I greatly appreciate the time, energy, and dedication representatives from the stakeholder groups are committing to this process.

Materials from Workshop #2

Slides: Workshop #2 Day Two

Slides: Workshop #2 Day One 

Karns_Bruskotter (2016) Ohio HD Pow-Wow 

Karns et al 2016 Explaining Hunting Participation in Ohio

Corn and Soybean Crop Depredation by Wildlife

PA Game Commission: Fewer Deer, Fewer Hunters: Are they related?



Preferences and perceptions of green infrastructure: Blueprint Columbus

In 2015, Columbus, Ohio submitted a Wet Weather Management Plan to the Ohio EPA entitled “Blueprint Columbus,” which would eliminate 28 miles of sanitary sewer overflow tunnels in favor of green infrastructure (GI) improvements including rain gardens. The mayor of Columbus has argued Blueprint Columbus would not only bring the city into EPA compliance, but would be cheaper, faster, greener, and more innovative than a plan based on gray infrastructure, and the plan’s website argues it will improve water quality, provide critical habitat, improve property values and stabilize neighborhoods.

Few if any of these goals have been well quantified however, particularly those involving the potential social, psychological and physical benefits of GI. While contact with nature has been shown to reduce stress, and increase activity, pro-social behavior and place attachment, natural areas that are overgrown or aesthetically unpleasing may decrease social interaction, community pride and subjective well-being.

Dr. Jeremy Brooks and I are currently working on, i.e., distributing and analyzing the data from,  the first of three surveys distributed before–during and eventually after the–installation of specific GI projects in Blueprint-targeted areas. The surveys are intended to measure changes in residents’ pro-environmental and pro-social behavior, as well as residents’ preferences and perceptions regarding anticipated and completed GI projects, as well as the quality and quantity of outreach and information provided by the city.

I will be presenting results from this work at the Sustainability and Social Science Research Symposium at the University of Michigan May 17th-19th.

Assessing non-market loss and damage in the context of climate change

This spring a group of twenty-four scientists from Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, United Kingdom, United States, and South Africa (Table 1) came together across disciplines to explore how loss and damage (L&D) is understood and experienced by particular groups of people in various geographic settings.

We conducted a workshop in Perth, Australia, between 18th and 21st of April 2016 to share our particular disciplinary insights and explore how these can inform the development of new methods to approach L&D in the context of climate change. Our work pays particular attention to the types of L&D that cannot be easily assessed or quantified (the non-market and intangible losses and damages, or N-M L&Ds) but are equally if not more important in sustaining people’s lives and livelihoods.

Our preliminary investigation followed a series of motivating questions:
1. What are the domains of L&D under climate change?
2. What is a meaningful baseline for determining loss?
3. What methodologies and approaches exist or need to be amended to best assess harm, in monetary and non-monetary terms?
4. What is the basis for estimating and allocating reparation and compensation?

The attached white paper, together with a series of conference presentations and journal articles outlined on page 31, presents the findings from our workshop and follow-up conversations. Here, we offer an overview of current N-M L&D assessment methods, followed by our own approach to assess N-M L&D.  We propose a new analytical framework based on people’s values and the trade-offs they are willing or forced to make when facing current and potential future losses brought upon by events related to climate change.


  • ƒCreate a better understanding of the types of losses, both economic and non-economic (also referred to as non-market), that people may experience due to climate change;
  • Understand and make visible what people in specific places value most in their daily lives, what they consider worth preserving, and how these aspects are affected by climate change;
  • Highlight what people do to prepare for possible losses in order to minimise people’s suffering in case these losses become reality;
  • Address the urgent need for appropriate methods to assess non-market loss and damage (N-M L&D) in the context of climate change;
  • Develop an interdisciplinary approach for assessing N-M L&D that is flexible and reflexive to respond to how people’s values and priorities are relational and change over time (in accordance to new understandings of risk, adaptation options, and likely impacts, embedded in a broader context of social and cultural change);
  • Make new understandings and approaches to N-M L&D available and accessible to different stakeholders (e.g. policy makers, scientists, local communities) via academic and nonacademic outlets (website);
  • Integrate N-M L&D assessments into decision-making processes for climate change mitigation  and adaptation.

There will be blood: Communicating climate change risk honestly in 2017 and beyond.

Each December my colleagues and I travel to DC or somewhere far warmer like San Francisco or San Diego to meet and discuss the state of risk communication research.  One of the enduring foci of these meetings is climate change, and more specifically how we should go about communicating the risks of climate change and measuring people’s knowledge and perception of the same.  Disclaimer: we all fly in planes, some of us quite a distance, which is not especially climate-change friendly.

Ignoring our own behavior for a moment though, one of the most important–and disturbing–findings consistently coming out of this research is that communicating the risks of climate change rarely leads to a more informed or pro-active public.  Were this the case, we’d be well on our way to a carbon-neutral–or hold your breath, carbon-negative–energy system.  Sadly, neither of these appear to be anything but an environmentalist’s dream, and with the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., a dream that may become a fireable offense.

Some studies have even reported an inverse relationship between climate-change knowledge and concern (and pro-environmental behavior), i.e., the more people know about it the less concerned (and less action) they report!  How could this be?  Well, without writing an entire book on the matter, here are some interesting propositions.  Troy Campbell from Oregon University and Aaron Kay at Duke suggest it may be something called ‘solution aversion.’ Put simply, individuals may deny the existence of a problem because they fear the solution more than the problem itself.  Imagine yourself a coal miner in western Kentucky for a moment; simply believing in climate change might put your own job–and your relationships with colleagues and friends–in far more jeopardy than the results of climate change.

And according to Dan Kahan, those relationships may be the key.  Our beliefs are often important signals of loyalty to key peer groups and these relationships can lead us to process information differently–often in ways thought “incorrect” by scientists, a phenomena Kahan and others refer to as motivated reasoning.  How do we overcome motivated reasoning?  Simple.  We disconnect facts from identity.  Unfortunately the phenomena of “identity politics” is at an all-time high, and disconnecting facts from identity will likely prove as difficult as is separating facts from values.  Spoiler alert: facts can never be separate from values, and according to Dan Sarewitz, knowing more of the former often just reinforces the latter anyway.

So, if people’s beliefs, or reported beliefs–and the two may rarely be the same (at this year’s meeting Nic Pidgeon and Christina Demski presented provocative research examining the measures we use regarding climate-change related beliefs, make sure to bother them both for more information)– are more a function of their relationships or professional status than people’s “true” knowledge, how do we go about raising concern or encouraging pro-environmental behavior?

One way would be for environmentalists, (liberal) politicians, and–perhaps most of all–academics to acknowledge that significantly mitigating emissions and addressing climate change risk requires real, and in some cases downright terrible, trade-offs.  Bottom line: there will be losers.  If it helps, imagine the scene in There Will Be Blood where Daniel Day Lewis murders Paul Dano with a bowling pin; this is the fate I imagine many of the losers fear.  Addressing climate change risk is simply not on the whole a win-win.  Surely, there are more discrete win-win’s available–Joe Arvai at the University of Michigan spends a great deal of time searching them out–and if we think honestly about the earth’s future inhabitants, mitigating emissions seems far less costly and far more beneficial than is currently discussed.  And yes, the world’s mega-rich can certainly afford to lose quite a bit before they’d even notice any loss.  But, for men and women alive today and who are already struggling from paycheck to paycheck, arguing that mitigating emissions is critically important is simply duplicitous and ineffective.

This is especially so because many of those losers will be individuals that have long been ignored by progressive policies and the forces of globalization: think again of our coal-mining friend in western KY.  Ignoring these individuals is what cost liberals the 2016 election, and this ignorance is what will continue to slow any real movement on climate change.  Case in point, the enduring argument that switching to renewables will create thousands of green jobs.  Surely it would, but these jobs would be as unattainable for our friend in western KY as high-tech jobs in Silicon Valley are today.  A single mom of two with a high school diploma is not going to be designing wind turbines, and we all know it.

Is honesty enough?  Of course not.  Supporting–and god forbid elevating–people that have more to lose than to gain requires tough decisions, creative policy measures, and likely a redistribution of resources–and I don’t just mean from the Koch brothers.  Yep, you and I need to chip in too.  And you might be critical of this post as offering little in the way of such measures, and you wouldn’t be wrong.  Solutions are tough.  So much so that they can kill beliefs.  All I’m asking for is a bit of honesty regarding them.  We can’t create, compare and decide upon honest solutions if we ignore they’re even necessary.

More to come…maxresdefault

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