Smith Fellows
Smith Fellow


Competition for land in an increasingly crowded world is leading to over-extraction of resources, biodiversity loss, climate change, and reduced climate resiliency. Meeting many sustainable development goals--climate change mitigation, energy for all, biodiversity preservation, and food for all--requires a way to reconcile and avoid land use conflicts. There are inherent trade-offs in land use decisions, and achieving consensus or compromise among diverse stakeholders requires a framework for quantifying these trade-offs and identifying optimal solutions. Such a cross-sector framework for land use is currently lacking. In collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, I propose to identify targets and develop a “backcasting” method for designing sustainable land use pathways for the United States that meet biodiversity, climate mitigation, and agricultural production goals by 2050. While forecasting predicts probable futures beginning with the present, backcasting begins with a vision of a desirable future and is primarily concerned with determining the best ways, or “pathways,” to enable that future. The pathways themselves are combinations of policy, technology, or management decisions necessary to simultaneously achieve multiple land use goals. I will combine top-down integrated assessment modeling and bottom-up spatial optimization methods driven by available land use and land cover, biodiversity, crop suitability, forestry, and carbon sequestration datasets and process models. The results will provide decision makers across multiple land use sectors with a shared vision that illustrates the best solutions for simultaneously achieving societal and conservation goals.

Field photo credit: Sharada Prasad