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

  • 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), 207-223. 10.1007/s12080-019-0417-4
  • 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. (2018). An attainable global vision for conservation and human well#8208being. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 10.1002/fee.1965
  • Bailey, R., E. Carrella, R.L. Axtell, M.G. Burgess, R.B. Cabral, M. Drexler, C. Dorsett, J.K. Madsen, A. Merkl, S. Saul. (2018). A computational approach to managing coupled human-environmental systems The POSEIDON model of ocean fisheries. Sustainability Science, 1-17. 10.1007/s11625-018-0579-9
  • Burgess, M.G. and S.D. Gaines. (2018). The scale of life and its lessons for humanity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(25), 6328-6330. 10.1073/pnas.1807019115
  • 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. (2018). Protecting marine mammals, turtles, and birds by rebuilding global fisheries. Science, 359(6381), 1255-1258. 10.1126/science.aao4248
  • Burgess, M.G., M. Clemence, G.R. McDermott, C. Costello, and S.D. Gaines. (2018). Five rules for pragmatic blue growth. Marine Policy, 87, 331-339. 10.1016/j.marpol.2016.12.005