2011 Awards

Throwing the Baby out with the Drinking Water: Unintended Consequences of Arsenic Testing in Bangladesh

Erica Field, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Social Science, Department of Economics
2011-12 award: $39,067

The 1994 discovery of arsenic in ground water in Bangladesh prompted a massive public health effort in2000 that convinced nearly one-quarter of the population to switch to arsenic-free drinking water sources, a switch widely believed to have saved numerous lives. We investigate the possibility of unintended health consequences of the wide-scale abandonment of shallow tube wells due to higher exposure to fecal-oral pathogens in water from arsenic-free sources. Our initial estimates provide novel evidence of a strong association between drinking water contamination and child mortality, a question of current scientific debate in settings with high levels of exposure to microbial pathogens through other channels. While child mortality rates were similar among households with arsenic-contaminated and arsenic-free wells prior to public knowledge of the arsenic problem, post-2000 households living on arsenic contaminated land have 27% higher rates of infant and child mortality than those not encouraged to switch sources, implying that the campaign doubled mortality from diarrheal disease. Over the coming year we hope to extend our results in two directions: First, by collecting a new round of drinking water samples and testing them for the presence of E-coli, we hope to provide direct evidence that the abandonment of shallow tube wells we associated with an increase in water-borne illness. Second, by collecting an additional round of survey data on drinking water collection and storage, we hope to distinguish the mechanism through which the increase in mortality risk is occurring. Understanding the nature of the relationship between infant mortality and drinking water sources is critical in formulating policy for providing safe and potable water in Bangladesh.


Field, Erica, Reshma Hussam and Rachel Glennerster. 2011. Throwing the Baby out with the drinking water: Unintended consequences of a national arsenic mitigation campaign in Bangladesh. Working Paper.

Climate Change Policy as Sustainable Development: Putting The Copenhagen Accord into Action by Giving Developing Countries Emission Targets that won’t Derail Growth

Jeffrey Frankel, James W. Harpel Professor of Capital Formation and Growth, Kennedy School of Government
Valentina Bosetti, Senior Researcher, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, Milano
2011-12 award: $20,000

The grant continues our research on global climate policy. Sustainable development in this context means simultaneously protecting the global environment and allowing poor countries to achieve economic development. Previous research proposed formulas to set quantitative emission targets that would bring developing countries inside the post-Kyoto system. The grant research for 2010-2011 updated the analysis to reflect developments associated with the Copenhagen Accord of December 2009 and the Cancun meeting of December 2010. More countries have adopted targets, especially some important developing countries. Forestation, bio energy with carbon capture, and other means of mitigation now need to be factored in. The parameter estimates, emission targets, and associated implications for environmental and economic goals are all being updated. In addition we now use the Nash concept of sustainable cooperation as the basis of our criterion when measuring a country’s costs (the costs to complying with an agreement, versus defecting). The goal of the 2011-2012 grant is to allow for century-long uncertainty in economic growth, technology, and climate understanding. Hitherto we have acted as if these paths are known with certainty, as do other modelers. But, in fact, unforeseen future developments could render a given set of numerical emission targets far more (or less) costly in terms of either the economy or the environment than is estimated ahead of time. We wish to generalize the emissions formula approach so as to make it more robust with respect to uncertainty, by building in periodic renegotiation of parameters within the formulas framework and by indexing decade targets to income. We now hope to show that the proposed formulas approach works well even if the cost of achieving a given reductions in emission turns out in the future to be substantially less (or more) than economic models project today, due for example to unpredictable technological breakthroughs.


Bosetti, Valentina and Jeffrey Frankel. 2011. How to agree emissions targets at DurbanVoxEU, November 28.

Bosetti, Valentina and Jeffrey Frankel. 2011. Politically Feasible Emission Target Formulas to Attain 460 ppm CO2 ConcentrationsReview of Environmental Economics and Policy(Oxford University Press) Winter 2011-12, doi: 10.1093/reep/rer022; Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Working Paper Research Working Paper11-016, Feb. 2011. Revised from Global Climate Policy Architecture and Political Feasibility: Specific Formulas and Emission Targets to Attain 460PPM CO2 ConcentrationsNational Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 15516, Nov. 2009 and Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements Working Paper 09-30, Sept. 2009.

Bosetti, Valentina and Jeffrey Frankel. 2011. Sustainable Cooperation in Global Climate Policy: Specific Formulas and Emission Targets to Build on Copenhagen and Cancun, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 17669, Dec. 2011, Cambridge, MA; Harvard Program on Climate Agreements Discussion Paper No. 46, Sept. 2011; and Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei Working Paper 66, Sept. 2011.

Updated 2012.02.09

New Directions: The Philosophy of Sustainability Science

Mathias Risse, Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government
2011-12 award: $34,500

Risse will begin a new research project in the area of the philosophy of sustainability science. His focus will be on inter- and intragenerational equity issues that arise around the idea of sustainability. But he will also pursue the broader goal of exploring what philosophical issues are raised through the emerging area of sustainability science. Presumably, these issues will be primarily questions pertaining to ethics, but quite possibly questions pertaining to the philosophy of science will also arise. While this research is exploratory, it neatly connects to the research captured in two chapters of Risse’s forthcoming book, The Grounds of Justice: An Inquiry about the State in Global Perspective, which is scheduled to be published by Princeton University Press in 2012. One of these chapters deals with obligations to future generations, and one with issues of distributive justice arising from climate change. The envisaged products of this new research include the following: five lectures on global environmental justice in a course called The Just World for the Ethical Reasoning section of the General Education curriculum; a new course taught in the general education curriculum and called One World: Environmental Justice and Philosophy of Sustainability Science; a new course taught at the Kennedy School on The Ethics of Sustainability. Once available, the syllabi and other supporting materials of the courses will be made available on the web.


Risse, Mathias. 2012. Environmental justice. Global Political Philosophy. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 119-143.