O’Neill Associate Professor Jerome Dumortier is looking into the future. Not through a crystal ball, but through practices rooted in science and data.
Dumortier says he wants to help society overcome sustainability challenges ranging from food production and environmental degradation to climate change and energy use. Using simulation models, he can look at those topics through the lens of future economic impact.
His most recent research examined the effects of the war in Ukraine on climate change, crop prices, and food shortages. The findings can help leaders create policies now that could help offset those future consequences, especially for vulnerable groups. He’s now working on a new project to see how increased electric vehicle use in the United States will impact farmers who produce corn for ethanol and the ripple effects that will have for American consumers.
Having that kind of far-reaching impact is what attracted Dumortier to O’Neill in the first place. He says O’Neill gives him the chance to educate the next generation of leaders while also doing applied policy research in an interdisciplinary environment.
“My professor once said that research should be to the benefit of society,” he explains. “Here at O’Neill, that’s exactly what we are doing.”
Dumortier shares his take on why sustainability matters, how O’Neill helps prepare students to take on those challenges, and why he enjoys the combination of research and teaching at O’Neill.
How do you define the field of sustainability?
“There are many environmental challenges related to water use, pollution, and climate change. Regarding sustainability, I’m really thinking about finding solutions for those issues, which also take the livelihoods of people into account. We know that we have to address those issues, but we have to be very careful to incorporate the needs and incentives of people in the sense that we cannot just look from a top-down approach. There are also people involved whose lives depend on their profession. If they’re in a profession that contributes to climate change, you cannot simply say, ‘you need to stop that profession.’ As a public affairs and sustainability scholar, I’m really trying to make the incentives to change align for everyone.”
Why is sustainability important to the public?
“Right now, people underestimate the effects of climate change in the future. It is a very slow-moving process. And it’s not only climate change but also things like air pollution and water quality. These issues are health-related, they can have financial implications for people in the future. Once we realize that something needs to be done, it’s going to be too late.”
What drew you to working at an institution where you could do research and teach?
“It is actually very satisfying to teach students about current topics and be able to provide context to them. Many students are not big fans of economics and statistics. But when you look at the news right now, you think about food prices, inflation, energy prices. With COVID, there was this huge increase in interest in statistics. For example, what does it mean to be 94% effective for the vaccine? Those topics are important—despite the fact that many people don’t like them—and I really enjoy providing a little bit of knowledge within a current context to students.
What do you enjoy about teaching students?
“It can be very difficult sometimes to evaluate the impact you have on students. You rarely see that at the end of a class. Success of students occurs often after graduation. But I really enjoy when I see that they’re getting the big picture. When they tell me, ‘Oh, that piece of information was actually mind-blowing’ or ‘I had a misconception about a particular issue.’ That’s what I really enjoy.”
Why do you think students should come to O’Neill?
“The Pew Research Center released a list of the biggest problems facing the country. That list included affordability of health care, violent crime, gun violence, federal budget deficit, climate change, quality of public, a trade school, immigration, racism, and the conditions of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. Those are all topics that are on the mind of Americans. At O’Neill, we can address all of them. That’s why students should come to public affairs. At the O’Neill School, we can answer or help them understand an answer a lot of those issues. The O’Neill School, as a whole, is where we can address all of those. We really are at the center of what is on the mind of Americans. And we can offer an education about it and solutions to those issues.”