Logan’s log: A research internship in 10 weeks
Logan Richardson was IPE’s Furman University Research Intern in the period from May to July 2017. This is Logan’s record of her work at IPE, focusing on the sustainability indicators project that was her primary responsibility, but including other IPE activities as well. Logan’s supervisor was Mladen Domazet, and you can learn more about her here.
Week 1: May 8-12
The primary objective of my research is to develop a framework to measure the biophysical and social sustainability levels of Croatia and then to define targets the country must reach in order to become more sustainable. I have been working on this project since this past semester. Our original plan was to design a framework based on O’Neill’s (2015) research. Unfortunately, we have been unable to replicate his original research, so we do not feel comfortable proceeding in advancing with this framework. I have also been researching some important sustainability-related factors such as ecological footprint and energy production to understand Croatia’s current status.
I have been in Zagreb, Croatia for a week now working at the Institute for Political Ecology. The first part of the week, we had day-long meetings so that everyone could get on the same page about our research. Since we have been unsuccessful thus far in replicating O’Neill’s framework, we have started to design our own sustainability framework based on Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics model where she defines a “safe and just operating space for humanity” that meets certain social foundations without exceeding the planetary boundaries. For the remaining of the week, I worked independently to understand the process of designing indicators and degrowth economics. Next week I plan to collaborate with the office in obtaining different data sets to better measure Croatia’s sustainability levels.
Week 2: May 15-19
This past week, I have been mainly focusing on reading papers and books about degrowth economics and building sustainability frameworks. These readings have helped me gain background information on the overall goal of this project and how to best structure my framework to measure Croatia’s sustainability levels. I contacted a colleague of O’Neill’s that used a similar framework to the one we had originally planned to replicate, and he responded with promising reassurance that our methodology is correct thus far, so we are planning on incorporating some of these aspects into our framework. I hope to continue learning about various existing indicators and frameworks so that we are able to structure ours based on the positive and negative aspects of existing ones. Additionally, I will begin to collect data for the indicators we have already specified. I also hope to learn how to aggregate all of this information and learn how it can best be communicated to make change in Croatia in the future.
Week 3 and 4: May 22-26 and May 29-June 2
These past two weeks, I have been focused on gathering data for the 50 indicators we have specified thus far. These indicators include a wide variety of important aspects to consider when analyzing the sustainability level of a country both in terms of the biophysical capacity of the Earth and social foundations of the citizens. I have learned that gathering data takes a lot more time than expected and have run into numerous problems. One major problem is that even though my main focus is on Croatia, we are attempting to collect data for five other countries for future research, so it is sometimes difficult to find data from the same database for all countries. Additionally, we prefer time series data to understand the sustainability trends, but data since 1980 is often difficult to find for many indicators and countries. Some indicators I have been successful in gathering data for include democracy (percent of voter turnouts for either a presidential or parliamentary election) and the energy import dependency ratio (the percent of energy imported by a specific country as compared to the total energy). Other indicators that I am still working on include air transportation and hours worked. We want to gather information for the average number of hours worked by employee for each country to understand the value of leisure time, but so far, the database has been quite confusing in relaying this information.
Additionally, I have been introduced to the social survey data. This social survey data will help us understand how the beliefs and opinions of citizens differ from the current situation of a country. I will continue to work with this data in the next couple of weeks and analyze the frequencies of the specific questions we have chosen to include in our research. In the future, I hope to have this analysis complete and write descriptions for each indicator so that the data eventually becomes more of a story. Also, I hope to transform this data into a framework that specifies specific targets that must be reached for sustainability.
Week 5: June 5-9
I have finalized most of the data for the indicators we were still working on last week such as hours worked, soil quality, and gender wage gap. My main focus this week was to compile the social survey data from the European Values Study (EVS) surveys. I first met with my supervisor about which questions would be best to include when focusing on degrowth and sustainability aspects. Once we decided on the specific questions to incorporate, I extracted this data for Croatia and used a new statistics software called SPSS to compile the frequencies for these questions. I also did this for Estonia, Germany, and Spain because we plan to focus on other European countries in future iterations of this research. Later in the week, we had a meeting to discuss and decide on a set of degrowth questions for the next survey that will be released in Croatia within the next few weeks. This process of structuring questions proved a lot more difficult than I imagined. For starters, we were creating the questions in English but knew that eventually they would be translated to Croatian, so it was important to think strategically about word choices. Also, we didn’t want to include too many questions, so it was important to structure them so that they were holistic of our goals but also fairly simple to answer. Even though creating these questions is not directly a part of my research, I really enjoyed better understanding this process and may even be able to use the results of the survey in the future.
This upcoming week, I will be helping the Institute create a poster of previous research and of more current survey research for the European Society for Ecological Economics Budapest conference in a couple of weeks. I have been in preparation to better understand this research and will continue to make graphs and gather data to help in this presentation.
Week 6 and 7: June 12-June 23
These past two weeks, I have taken some time away from my direct research project and instead prepared for and attended a conference in Budapest, Hungary. I first helped the Institute create a poster to present at the conference, which primarily focused on previous research my boss and his colleague had completed, but I was also able to incorporate some of my recent findings on social research data. The premise was to show that the Affluence Hypothesis, the assumption that more affluent countries care more for the environment, is not necessarily valid because many questions used to develop this hypothesis were based on a willingness to pay. So, we looked at different survey questions related to environmental care and compared those to an inequality-adjusted income index. We found mixed results from this research.
This past week I attended the European Society for Ecological Economics conference. This was a great opportunity for me and my research because ecological economics is the topic I am interested in further pursuing, and there is much more discussion about it in Europe than in the United States. I was probably the youngest person at this conference since it was largely Ph.D. students and scholars in the field, but I was able to learn a great deal from various research projects. I also used this conference to gain further knowledge and ideas for my research project. Unfortunately, Daniel O’Neill did not attend this conference as expected, so I was unable to ask him questions about his work. But we did collect different ideas from various research presentations and will further pursue them next week. I am glad that I had the opportunity to attend this conference and to be exposed to the possibilities of research and a career in ecological economics.
Week 8: June 26-30
This past week was my first week back from the Ecological Economics conference, so I spent the majority of the week debriefing from this conference. I read papers from the presentations I found most interesting and useful for my research. The most useful set of papers I have found discuss transforming the planetary boundaries to a national scale so that they are applicable to decision-makers. From the original paper at the conference, I have found other frameworks attempting to transition these planetary boundaries to a national scale by creating limits and understand the country’s current level of sustainability, which is my goal for Croatia. After reading these papers, we are expanding my research to include both O’Neill’s basic framework and the boundary calculations of the planetary boundaries at the national level. I had a meeting with my boss at the end of the week to discuss this process and develop a plan to complete everything before the end of the summer. Even though we have faced some setbacks with this research thus far, I am hoping this new plan will help guide us towards a strong sustainability framework for Croatia. I am a little nervous about completing everything by the end of the summer, though, because we also aim to look at social attitudes in combination with the social survey data we have for Croatia, which will also take some time developing that framework.
Week 9 and 10: July 3-14
I have been very busy these past two weeks attempting to execute our planning of developing biophysical and social indicators and thresholds for our proposed doughnut model. The previous week I focused on calculating biophysical thresholds for the planetary boundaries, primarily following the methodology of three papers. These three papers all focused on transforming the planetary boundaries into regional thresholds so that they can be better functional for policy development, but they differed in their methodology and indicator selection. I attempted to use the best method for each of the planetary boundaries. I faced some complications with this process, though, because of unit conversions and data availability. Additionally, I ran a regression analysis on some of the major variables we are studying such as population growth and carbon dioxide emissions to understand the rate of change of these variables over time following the methodology of O’Neill (2015). I found that for Croatia, there is relatively little change in the variables over time, which honestly will not be very useful in developing a story for this country. In the future, I will run regressions for other variables and maybe during a different time period to see if there are major differences.
This week I have been focusing on the social foundation data. At the beginning of the week, we had a meeting about developing a set of attitude indicators from survey data to understand not only the current conditions in Croatia but also where people think we are and how they feel about it. We decided upon a combination of social and environmental attitude behaviors in different categories such as job satisfaction and renewable energy support. I then gathered the necessary data from these surveys. Additionally, I tried to compile a list of social foundation topics that would be important to include from available sources such as Raworth’s doughnut model and the Sustainable Development Goals. I then matched these topics with the data we currently have and attempted to develop threshold values for these. Some thresholds are simple to define such as stating 100% of the population should have a sufficient diet, while others are more complex such as determining how many years of schooling is “good.” I will continue to work on developing and justifying these thresholds in the future. I can’t believe that my research is almost complete. In the future, I plan to finalize and clean some of the major spread sheets we have been using and developing goals for my research in the fall.