Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Matthew Burgess

Research Interests

I am an Assistant Professor in Environmental Studies, with a courtesy appointment in Economics. My research focuses on economic growth futures and their impacts on the environment and society, mathematical modeling of human-environment systems, and political polarization of environmental issues. I use a combination of mathematical and computer modeling, data synthesis, and collaboration with stakeholders, in order to make conceptual advances and link them to practice.

Current Research

My current research focuses on three broad questions:

(1) How can we improve forecasts of 21st-century economic growth, and better understand the implications of future growth for the environment and society?

GDP per capita is highly connected to many important measures of societal being, including poverty rates, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and capacity for adaptation, to name three. The range of expert projections of world GDP per capita in 2100 spans nearly an order of magnitude, and authoritative forecasts have often over-projected growth and under-projected inequality in the past. With this much uncertainty, how can we adequately plan for future climate change and other societal challenges? My lab is working on developing new approaches to forecasting economic growth, improving projections of GHG emissions, and anticipating societal challenges that may arise under various future economic growth trajectories.

(2) How can we best manage complex human-environment systems with limited data and governance capacity?

Environmental management is caught between conflicting pulls toward complexity and simplicity. On one hand, human-environment systems are becoming increasingly understood as complex, multi-scale, and interconnected, suggesting a need to manage them holistically. On the other hand, the complexity of management is in practice heavily constrained by the limits of available data, and capacity for monitoring, administration, and enforcement. Thus, a key challenge is to find management approaches that are robust to complexity—including complexity that is not fully understood by the manager—and that are also feasible with commonly available data types and governance capacities. My lab is approaching this challenge using mathematical and computational models, and other tools from complexity science.

(3) How can we reduce political polarization of environmental issues, especially climate change?

In the U.S. and some other developed democracies, political polarization might be the single biggest obstacle to widespread and long-lasting action to address climate change. My lab is working to understand how we can move past this polarization, by examining past success in bipartisanship at the state level and trends in public opinion polls, and by convening dialogs among politically diverse community members.



View Publications

  • Hegwood M; Langendorf RE; Burgess MG. (Mar 2022). Why winwins are rare in complex environmental management. Nature Sustainability. 10.1038/s41893-022-00866-z
  • Marshall R; Burgess MG. (Mar 2022). Advancing bipartisan decarbonization policies: lessons from state-level successes and failures. Climatic Change: an interdisciplinary, international journal devoted to the description, causes and implications of climatic change , 171(1-2). 10.1007/s10584-022-03335-w
  • Pielke Jr R; Burgess MG; Ritchie J. (Jan 2022). Plausible 2005-2050 emissions scenarios project between 2 and 3 degrees C of warming by 2100. Environmental Research Letters. 10.1088/1748-9326/ac4ebf
  • Langendorf RE; Burgess MG. (Dec 2021). Empirically classifying network mechanisms. Scientific Reports , 11(1). 10.1038/s41598-021-99251-7
  • Burgess MG; Carrico AR; Gaines SD; Peri A; Vanderheiden S. (Nov 2021). Prepare developed democracies for long-run economic slowdowns. Nature Human Behaviour. 10.1038/s41562-021-01229-y
  • Millage KD; Villaseor-Derbez JC; Bradley D; Burgess MG; Lenihan HS; Costello C. (Oct 2021). Self-financed marine protected areas. Environmental Research Letters. 10.1088/1748-9326/ac3439
  • Burgess MG; Ritchie J; Shapland J; Pielke R. (Jan 2021). IPCC baseline scenarios have over-projected CO2 emissions and economic growth. Environmental Research Letters , 16(1). 10.1088/1748-9326/abcdd2
  • Rao A; Burgess MG; Kaffine D. (Jun 2020). Orbital-use fees could more than quadruple the value of the space industry. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA , 117(23), 12756-12762. 10.1073/pnas.1921260117
  • Burgess MG; Plank MJ. (May 2020). What unmanaged fishing patterns reveal about optimal management: applied to the balanced harvesting debate. ICES Journal of Marine Science: journal du conseil , 77(3), 901-910. 10.1093/icesjms/fsaa012
  • Burgess MG; Carrella E; Drexler M; Axtell RL; Bailey RM; Watson JR; Cabral RB; Clemence M; Costello C; Dorsett C. (May 2020). Opportunities for agent-based modelling in human dimensions of fisheries. Fish and Fisheries , 21(3), 570-587. 10.1111/faf.12447
  • Carrella E; Saul S; Marshal K; Burgess MG; Cabral RB; Bailey RM; Dorsett C; Drexler M; Madsen JK; Merkl A. (Mar 2020). Simple Adaptive Rules Describe Fishing Behaviour Better than Perfect Rationality in the US West Coast Groundfish Fishery. Ecological Economics , 169. 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2019.106449
  • Burgess, MG; Fredston-Hermann, A; Tilman, D; Loreau, M; Gaines, SD. (Jun 2019). Broadly inflicted stressors can cause ecosystem thinning. THEORETICAL ECOLOGY , 12(2). 10.1007/s12080-019-0417-4
  • Burgess, M.G., M. Clemence, G.R. McDermott, C. Costello, and S.D. Gaines. (Jan 2018). Five rules for pragmatic blue growth. , 87. 10.1016/j.marpol.2016.12.005
  • Burgess, M.G., G.R. McDermott, B. Owashi, L.E. Peavey Reeves, T. Clavelle, D. Ovando, B.P. Wallace, R.L. Lewison, S.D. Gaines, and C. Costello. (Jan 2018). Protecting marine mammals, turtles, and birds by rebuilding global fisheries. , 359(6381). 10.1126/science.aao4248
  • Burgess, M.G. and S.D. Gaines. (Jan 2018). The scale of life and its lessons for humanity. , 115(25). 10.1073/pnas.1807019115
  • Bailey, R., E. Carrella, R.L. Axtell, M.G. Burgess, R.B. Cabral, M. Drexler, C. Dorsett, J.K. Madsen, A. Merkl, S. Saul. (Jan 2018). A computational approach to managing coupled human-environmental systems The POSEIDON model of ocean fisheries. 10.1007/s11625-018-0579-9
  • Tallis, H.M., P.L. Hawthorne, S. Polasky, J. Reid, M.W. Beck, K. Brauman, J.M. Bielicki, S. Binder M.G. Burgess, E. Cassidy, A. Clark, J. Fargione, E.T. Game, J. Gerber, F. Isbell, J. Kiesecker, R. McDonald, M. Metian, J.L. Molnar, N.D. Mueller, C. OConnell, D. Ovando, M. Troell, T.M. Boucher, and B. McPeek. (Jan 2018). An attainable global vision for conservation and human well#8208being. 10.1002/fee.1965
  • Burgess MG; Fredston-Hermann A; Pinsky ML; Gaines SD; Tilman D. (Aug 2017). REPLY TO LE PAPE ET AL.: Management is key to preventing marine extinctions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA , 114(31), E6275-E6276. 10.1073/pnas.1708147114
  • Burgess MG; Costello C; Fredston-Hermann A; Pinsky ML; Gaines SD; Tilman D; Polasky S. (Apr 2017). Range contraction enables harvesting to extinction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA , 114(15), 3945-3950. 10.1073/pnas.1607551114
  • Jacobsen NS; Burgess MG; Andersen KH. (Mar 2017). Efficiency of fisheries is increasing at the ecosystem level. Fish and Fisheries , 18(2), 199-211. 10.1111/faf.12171
  • Burgess MG; Giacomini HC; Szuwalski CS; Costello C; Gaines SD. (Mar 2017). Describing ecosystem contexts with single-species models: a theoretical synthesis for fisheries. Fish and Fisheries , 18(2), 264-284. 10.1111/faf.12179
  • Szuwalski CS; Burgess MG; Costello C; Gaines SD. (Jan 2017). High fishery catches through trophic cascades in China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA , 114(4), 717-721. 10.1073/pnas.1612722114
  • Williams R; Burgess MG; Ashe E; Gaines SD; Reeves RR. (Dec 2016). US seafood import restriction presents opportunity and risk. Science , 354(6318), 1372-1374. 10.1126/science.aai8222
  • Burgess MG; Diekert FK; Jacobsen NS; Andersen KH; Gaines SD. (Dec 2016). Remaining questions in the case for balanced harvesting. Fish and Fisheries , 17(4), 1216-1226. 10.1111/faf.12123
  • Burgess MG; McDermott GR. (Dec 2015). Resolving Disputes over Ocean Calamities. Bioscience , 65(12), 1115-1116. 10.1093/biosci/biv147
  • Burgess MG. (Jan 2015). Consequences of fleet diversification in managed and unmanaged fisheries. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences , 72(1), 54-70. 10.1139/cjfas-2014-0116
  • Burgess MG; Polasky S; Tilman D. (Oct 2013). Predicting overfishing and extinction threats in multispecies fisheries. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA , 110(40), 15943-15948. 10.1073/pnas.1314472110
  • Burgess MG. (Oct 2009). Sub-optimal pit construction in predatory ant lion larvae (Myrmeleon sp.). Journal of Theoretical Biology , 260(3), 379-385. 10.1016/j.jtbi.2009.05.026