What I Do

Tim Waring, assistant professor School of Economics, Sustainability Solutions Initiative, University of Maine

I am an evolutionary ecologist who studies 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 identity and meaning.  Culture therefore 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
If cooperation is a key component of sustainable resource management, we need to understand the forces that guide human cooperation.  My research in southern India examines the influence of ethnic/caste diversity and hierarchy on a traditional cooperative irrigation system.  The results corroborate the standard conclusion that ethnic diversity negatively affects the provision of public goods such as public schooling, policing, and environmental management.  But I also found that social stratification, or ethnic hierarchy is more damaging to cooperation in the public goods context than is ethnic diversity itself.

Evolution of Sustainability
Human culture evolves, but it also 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.  The appropriate tool for modeling such a system is a co-evolutionary model of resources and institutions.  I am working on developing theory and models about this process.

Keywords
Sustainability, Cultural Evolution, Cooperation

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