A sustaining force

Name: David Perkis
Major: Resources and the environment, agricultural economics
Year: Ph.D. candidate
Hometown: Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania

One-word focus: David can sum up his inspiration in a word: sustainability. After earning a degree in chemical engineering, he worked in corporate America for five years. During those years, his understanding of economics grew and he discovered his passion for sustainability.

“Sustainability interfaces with economics through the social, ecological and financial consequences of economic activity,” David says. “Just as engineers work with complex physical systems, the economics of sustainability involves developing policy instruments which foster the long term vitality of complex human systems.”

The right tool for the job: David begins research by asking: “What tool will answer these problems or issues?” His background in policy research has strengthened his belief that if policymakers really want to make positive changes, they must first be familiar with the variety of tools available.

He recently published a paper (with co-authors Tyner and Taheripour) in the journal Energy Policy, on the impacts of a biofuel subsidy that varies with the price of crude oil rather than staying constant. His research found that a variable subsidy could save taxpayers’ money through reduced government costs, while simultaneously reducing private sector risk of investing in biofuel plants.

He also is examining potential impacts of alternative policies to increase energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In searching for the optimal policy set he asks: “What combination of technologies will allow the U.S. to produce target levels of energy from domestic sources at the lowest cost?”

Homing in on what matters: One of David’s earliest inspirations came from Harvard Professor Amartya Sen, who won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory. Sen demonstrated to David that rigorous mathematical tools can be applied to address important problems of social consequence. This focus on applying economic theory to improving real human and business outcomes is what attracted him to the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue.

David’s ongoing research, and what he has already published, speak to key energy policy issues and current debate in our country. As a future researcher and professor, he plans to continue linking engineering principles with energy policy and he looks forward to continuing teaching.

By Anthony Wood