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Five Questions for David Simpson

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SIS professor David Simpson.

SIS is fortunate to have a large and accomplished faculty working at the forefront of their fields. Here’s the latest in our getting-to-know-you series with new SIS faculty.


Q: What are your areas of expertise, and why are you interested in these topics?

Most of my work as an environmental resource economist has been on what is often classified as the “green side” of the issues—conservation, biodiversity, ecological assets, and ecosystem services.

Why am I interested in these areas? Well, the earth is changing, and it’s important to take account of the changes and try to mediate them in such a way that we hand down a world to our kids that’s as good—or better—than the one we’ve been given.

Q: Where were you before coming to the School of International Service?

For most of the last couple of years, I was doing a project looking at how the maintenance of land cover, vegetation, and farming in Nepal’s and Pakistan’s watersheds affected erosion and sediment delivery to hydroelectric dams. We ended up thinking that, perhaps, some of our most important findings weren’t related to the dams at all, but what was happening with landslides.

On average, more than 100 people a year are killed by landslides in Nepal. While you think of that as being caused by earthquakes, it’s actually more often associated with very heavy rainfall. So, one of the things that really stood out was that maintaining the vegetation on slopes to keep it from sliding is saving farms, saving homes, and, most importantly, saving lives.

Before that project, I served as director of ecological economic studies at the National Center for Environmental Economics at the Environmental Protection Agency and taught full time for a couple of years at Johns Hopkin’s SAIS program and University College London. Before that, I was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future—a Washington, DC, think tank.

Q: Which courses are you teaching or planning to teach at SIS?

This term, I’m teaching an undergraduate course on sustainable economic development, which I’ve had lots of fun with so far. Next semester, I’m teaching an international economics course. Next academic year I’ll probably teach project design, monitoring, and evaluation—I can draw from my own work for this course.

Q: What’s a fact about yourself that students might find surprising?

I’m an unsuccessful mountain climber—I have scars all over the back of my head from an adolescent mountain climbing accident. I’ve also built a couple of kayaks.

Q: What book(s) are you currently reading?

The most recent book I’ve read is The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer. I’ll also be reading a lot of international economics texts in the near future.