Earth Institute Profiles

Scott Barrett

Lenfest-Earth Institute Professor of Natural Resource Economics; Department of International and Public Affairs

Scott Barrett

Scott Barrett, the first Lenfest-Earth Institute Professor of Natural Resource Economics, remembers the exact day when he became interested in researching and creating theoretical models about major issues that require global cooperation for their resolution. It was September 17, 1987, the day of the adoption of the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of a number of ozone-destroying substances. Barrett remembers being shocked to learn that it had actually been adopted.

“The training I had in economics up to that point had taught me that cooperation like that didn’t happen,” says Barrett. Immediately afterward, he spoke with economists and found that most were still skeptical and said the agreement would probably fall apart. But the global support for and adherence to the Montreal Protocol has proven the skeptics wrong. This prompted Barrett to begin carefully reading treaties, and where possible, to speak to members of the negotiating teams and other primary witnesses to various treaty negotiations.

The major issues Barrett concerns himself with include the eradication of polio, climate treaties and other large global behavioral changes that need to be carefully choreographed if they are going to happen at all. “I am kind of like a magpie. I use what is out there that I can use.” From his careful reading, interviewing and application of game theory, Barrett works to evolve theoretical models to describe how global cooperation on these big issues can happen.

Barrett enjoys teaching as well as the new challenges and the wide range of issues that his theoretical models lead him to consider. Recently he was approached by the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations to offer consultation about overfishing and problems with tuna, a totally new area of study for him. Because tuna migrate very long distances, they go into the high seas. According to Barrett, the institutions that exist to regulate fisheries dealing with tuna are inadequate. Another one of his interests is nuclear proliferation, which he has studied for many years.

In addition to his membership on the Earth Institute faculty and his teaching, Barrett plays a leadership role at the School of International and Public Affairs, where he serves as vice-dean. Prior to joining Columbia in the fall of 2009, Barrett served on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Barrett taught at London Business School for over a decade before teaching at Johns Hopkins University and was a distinguished visiting fellow at the Yale University Center for the Study of Globalization in 2006. Barrett has been an advisor to many organizations, including the European Commission, the International Task Force on Global Public Goods, the OECD, the World Bank and the United Nations. He was a lead author of the second assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and was previously a member of the Academic Panel of Environmental Economists to the U.K.'s Department of Environment. Barrett is the author of Environment and Statecraft: The Strategy of Environmental Treaty-Making, published in 2005. His most recent book, Why Cooperate? The Incentive to Supply Global Public Goods, was published in September 2007. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the London School of Economics (1989); an M.A. in economics from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver; and a B.S., summa cum laude, in resource economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1979).