2009 AERE Fellow: Charles D. Kolstad

Charlie’s research record is truly world-class.  To many of us, he is perhaps best known for his work relating to intertemporal dynamics, uncertainty, irreversibility, and learning, but this is only part of what he has contributed.  As one supporter put it:  “Charlie has an uncanny ability to identify and isolate the critical research question and draws on (and often extends) first principles of microeconomic theory to answer it.”  Another states:  “Charlie is a master of neoclassical environmental and resource economics.”


Charlie’s research contributions span both environmental economics and natural resource economics, with applications ranging from exhaustible resource depletion to climate change.  With a PhD from Stanford’s Engineering-Economic Systems Program, it is not surprising that in the early parts of his career, Charlie’s research focused on energy.  For example, his early work examined depletion of exhaustible resources, such as oil and coal, under alternative assumptions about market structure and spatial differentiation.  He quickly expanded this work to look more generally at issues related to industrial organization and market structure, with publications in top general economics journals such as the American Economic Review, the Review of Economic Studies, and the Review of Economics and Statistics. 

In the mid-1990’s Charlie began working on climate change.  He made seminal contributions relating to the role of stock externalities, such as those that arise from the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over time.  This work highlighted the importance of intertemporal dynamics and irreversibility, and, perhaps most importantly, the implications of learning over time, e.g., learning about both the benefits and costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Although many of Charlie’s published papers are primarily theoretical, they are not typically theory for its own sake.  Rather, they use theory to make major conceptual points about environmental policy design.  In this sense, Charlie is not a typical theorist.  In addition, he has served on a long list of advisory panels, including numerous committees for the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Charlie’s work on climate change led to his participation as a senior author on the recent IPCC report on climate change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  

In addition to an outstanding research record, Charlie has also had a lasting impact on the profession through his teaching and service contributions.  He spearheaded the creation of the environmental economics program at the Bren School, and initiated an interdisciplinary graduate training program that combined training in economics and the biophysical sciences.  He served as president of AERE back in 2000-2002, and was a co-founder of the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy.  Charlie was a co-editor of REEP for three years, and is now the editor.  He has also served on the editorial boards of several other journals, and was editor of Resource and Energy Economics from 1998 to 2002.  He has been described as “amazingly helpful to students and colleagues, selfless with his time, and co-operative with his efforts within so many organizations.”


For his numerous research contributions, in both environmental and resource economics, particularly relating to intertemporal dynamics, uncertainty, irreversibility, and learning; his insights into stock externalities, including those that arise in the context of climate change; his extensive service on advisory panels that have sought to improve both our understanding of environmental threats and the appropriate design of policies to control them; and his selfless commitment to graduate education in environmental economics and service to AERE and the profession, we hereby induct Charles D. Kolstad as a 2009 Fellow of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.