Investigating the Dynamic Intersections Among Economic Development, Urbanization, and Forest Degradation

This project will investigate how economic and environmental changes affect the relationships among urban energy demands, urban and rural livelihoods, and the health of ecosystems that urban residents rely on for critical resources. The project will focus on issues associated with the complex ways in which human responses to changing demographic, economic, and environmental conditions lead to local-level decisions that can have significant impacts on the ways in which urban areas and the resource systems on which they depend function. The project will help develop new theoretical insights into what incentivizes human behavior regarding natural resource use under rapidly changing economic, demographic, and environmental contexts, and it will enhance methodological capabilities to identify changes in ecosystems in locales that traditionally have not been subject to ongoing monitoring. The project also will improve capabilities to forecast patterns of resource supply and demand related to changing socioeconomic and environmental conditions. The project has the potential to benefit society by informing policies that aim to combat environmental degradation and facilitate sustainable urban growth. The project will yield valuable data that will be made readily accessible through institutionally maintained archives, thereby facilitating future research, and it will provide special graduate student education and training opportunities. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.

Recent scientific research has identified poverty, environmental degradation, and extreme weather as key drivers of urbanization in Africa and in many other parts of the developing world. Although only 30 percent of the African population lived in urban centers in 2000, this percentage is projected to double by 2050, with the majority of growth occurring in small- to medium-sized cities. Given the heavy reliance on charcoal as an energy source in African cities, rapid urbanization likely will increase forest degradation. This project will investigate interactions among urban and rural livelihoods and the health of the Miombo woodland ecosystems. Miombo woodlands are the most extensive forested ecosystem in Africa, covering 2.7-million square-km throughout eight southern African countries. The researchers will investigate how local-level decisions regarding charcoal production and consumption in changing economic and environmental contexts influence rates of forest degradation in Mozambique's Miombo woodlands. They will examine the charcoal trade in Tete, a mid-sized but rapidly growing city, to analyze how simultaneous economic and environmental change impact the well-being of people and the landscapes in which they live. They will integrate socioeconomic analysis and ecosystem modeling to better understand forest degradation in poorer regions that are rapidly integrating into the global economy. The results of the socioeconomic analyses will enable the refinement of an ecosystem model that accounts for consumer and producer preferences in charcoal production systems and their impact on forest degradation rates. The model will be used to simulate charcoal-driven forest degradation under various social, economic, and environmental scenarios in order to identify patterns that could compromise the sustainable use of Miombo woodlands and the well-being of urban and rural residents. Although focusing on a specific case study in Mozambique, many facets of the analysis will be of value in understanding coupled natural and human system dynamics in other nations and ecosystems.




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