By Robert O'Neill

Marcos Barrozo PhD 2024 is using new data and modern methods to help understand how to protect ancient rainforests.

Marcos Barrozo PhD 2024 can’t be completely sure why—he thinks maybe it has something to do with his grandfather being a truck driver in their native Brazil during the country’s economic boom—but he has always been fascinated by how space and wealth interact. Why, he wondered, are some places richer than others, and why do some areas develop economically while others don’t? 

At Middlebury College, where Barrozo learned to study in English and survive the cold Vermont winters, he also became fascinated with the study of the environment. His time at Harvard Kennedy School in the PhD in Public Policy Program allowed him to marry those two interests. 

His research has focused on Brazil’s wild Amazonian frontier, where ancient rainforests are being cut down and turned into mines or pastures. Specifically, he has used the country’s meticulous tracking of cattle movements—designed to avoid outbreaks of diseases—to study the region’s vast agricultural economy, and how unregulated, often illegal cattle ranching is accelerating deforestation. 

As he prepares to join the faculty at DePaul University in Chicago, we caught up with him to ask him about his studies, his experience at HKS, and his research.


When did you realize you were going down the academic route?

From my sophomore year, I knew I wanted to pursue an academic path in economics. I mean, my dad's a professor, my mom was a teacher. I tutored kids since I was 12 or so—my mom taught at a school and tutored on the side, and I started tutoring some of the “spillover” kids. My sister defended her PhD this year also. Education runs in my family. 


What drew you here to HKS?

There is a long tradition of people doing environmental economics here at HKS. And I thought that being here would also give me good connections with the broader Harvard community. That was a big part of my decision. 

One of my advisors is [David Wells Professor of Political Economy at Harvard University] Marc Melitz, and through him I had very close connections to the economics department and presented a lot of seminars there. [Teresa and John Heinz Professor of the Practice of Environmental Policy] Joe Aldy was the faculty member who connected me to policy. He's an environmental economist who also served in the Obama administration, so I think he embodies public service in academia very well. And he was always asking me, “What are the policy implications of this? What are the policy exercises that you can do with this? And how does this economics matter?” 

And then there was [Peter Wertheim Professor of Urban Policy] Gordon Hanson. What always impressed me was the depth and breadth of his knowledge. I would meet with him and he would know stuff about the Amazon, even though he works mainly on American workers being exposed to trade shocks from China. He's just incredibly well read and always has something to say that's very conceptual, which is helpful to you as a doctoral student. He watches you present and you're struggling with how to translate the work that you're doing into one solid, clear message and he sees it right away.


What was the attraction to the PhD in Public Policy Program?

Some people see the PhD in Public Policy Program as the ugly cousin of economics. But I think we could lean a little bit into the fact that the work we do is actually relevant. 

I think sometimes people just try to tinker around the edges of methodological discussions. And then I think here we are, people who care. In my class there is someone who is working on refugees in Jordan, working on urban environments’ exposure to heat shocks—just incredibly relevant things. Everybody here cares. We can lean into that a little more.


Marcos Barrozo PhD 2024 standing outside on a cold spring day.

“Some people see the PhD in Public Policy Program as the ugly cousin of economics... [But] in my class there is someone who is working on refugees in Jordan, working on urban environments’ exposure to heat shocks—just incredibly relevant things.”

Marcos Barrozo PhD 2024

Where do you see your research going from here?

A lot of the broad insights of my work can be extended to other settings. I think if you're thinking about cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo or palm oil in Indonesia, there's a high chance that these things apply. 

For the next couple of years, I’ll be laser focused on the research on Amazon deforestation. But there are a lot of other things I am interested in: How do we think about technology? How do we produce more with less land? How do you get cattle ranchers to get the cattle that they need, that we need to feed people with less land, with less effect on the forest?


You’re headed to DePaul University, where you’ll teach economics. What attracted you to that university?

They have a mission of giving access to low-income students in small classroom settings. So it's kind of halfway between a big research university and the liberal arts college, where I came from, which is really nice for me. And they have this mission of low-income access, and they also have a lot of first-generation Latinos from the Chicago community. It's a really cool place.

Banner image by Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images. Portrait by Lydia Rosenberg

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