What I Do

Tim Waring, School of Economics, Mitchell Center for Sustainable Solutions, University of Maine

I study human culture and cooperation in relationship to the environment. I propose that cooperation is required for meaningful sustainability.  But cooperation between people and groups responds to cultural forces that create and sustain patterns of behaviors and beliefs.  Culture  lies at the heart of economic and ecological outcomes.  I study how social norms, traditions, institutions and societies evolve, and how they are influenced by ecological forces in order to learn how to better build durable, sustainable and just institutions.  I use experimental economics and agent-based modeling to explore these connections, and work with lot of wonderful people.

Cooperation Dynamics
Cooperation is a key component of fair and sustainable resource management.  We therefore need to understand the forces that guide human cooperation.  My research has explored the dynamics of human cooperation in traditional irrigation systems in southern India, in university-citizen relationships, and in the laboratory.  Cooperation in environmental dilemmas, as in all things, depends on human beliefs, identities, perceptions, and the institutions and traditions that bind us.  That is, cooperation depends on culture.

Evolution of Sustainability
Human culture evolves, and co-evolves with the environment and the resources that people depend on.  Our institutions develop in part in response to our resources but our resources depend upon how our institutions manage them.  So we have a “chicken and the egg” problem in our quest to understand how sustainable societies arise. I lead a national network for the application of evolutionary science of culture and cooperation to the study of social-ecological system sustainability.  Our group is working to build new co-evolutionary models of human behaviors and institutions with environmental change. I am working to apply related insights to the fields of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and other natural resource sectors that benefit Maine and the world.