Grant McDermott bio photo

Grant McDermott

Assistant Professor
Dept. of Economics
University of Oregon

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Fields: Environmental and natural resource economics. Applied econometrics and data science. Uncertainty and Bayesian learning.

Interests: Energy markets and climate change. Water management. Fisheries policy. The impact of environmental quality on market outcomes.

Working papers

“The Blue Paradox: Preemptive Overfishing in Marine Protected Areas.” With Kyle C. Meng, Gavin G. McDonald and Christopher J. Costello. Revised and resubmitted, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Most large-scale conservation policies are anticipated or announced in advance. This risks the possibility of preemptive resource extraction before the conservation intervention goes into force. We use a novel high-resolution dataset of satellite-based fishing activity to show that anticipation of an impending marine protected area (MPA) undermines the policy by triggering an unintended race-to-fish. We study one of the world’s largest MPAs, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), and find that fishers more than doubled their fishing effort once this area was earmarked for eventual protected status. The additional fishing effort resulted in an impoverished starting point for PIPA equivalent to 1.5 years of banned fishing. Extrapolating this behavior globally, we estimate that if other MPA announcements were to trigger similar preemptive fishing, this could temporarily increase the share of over-extracted fisheries from 65% to 72%. Our findings have implications for general conservation efforts, as well as the methods that scientists use to monitor and evaluate policy efficacy.

“Sceptic priors and climate policy.”

How much evidence would it take to convince climate sceptics that they are wrong about global warming? I explore this question within a Bayesian framework. I consider a group of stylised sceptics and examine how these individuals update their beliefs in the face of current and continuing climate change. I find that available evidence in the form of instrumental climate data already tends to overwhelm all but the most extreme priors. The resulting posterior distributions of climate sensitivity correspond closely to existing estimates from the scientific literature. The updated beliefs of most sceptics are thus consistent with a carbon price that is substantially greater than zero. However, belief convergence is a non-linear function of prior strength, so that it become increasingly difficult to convince the marginal sceptic. I conclude by discussing the general conditions for consensus formation under Bayesian learning, its relevance to our current policy impasse, and offer some remarks about finding common ground in the future. (Link to paper. Link to code.)

“Hydro power. Market might.”

Hydropower is the world’s foremost source of non-fossil fuel energy. It is also characterised by a unique set of production features that have the potential to greatly simplify economic questions related to firm behaviour and output. I demonstrate this principle using a novel data set of Norwegian hydropower firms, reservoirs and electricity flows. Pairing these data with quasi-experimental variation in local market power—due to market reconfiguration and binding transmission constraints—my empirical setting is sufficiently detailed to derive generalizable insights about firm behaviour without the need for additional structure or model restrictions. I show that increased market power causes firms to withhold production during inelastic demand periods, thereby yielding higher profits and driving up consumer prices. A larger takeaway is that even our most advanced markets may be susceptible to price distortions and welfare losses under fairly common conditions. (New version available soon.)

Selected works in progress

“The value of bulk information in the age of search engines.” With Christopher J. Costello and Michael B. Ward.


“Protecting marine mammals, turtles and birds by rebuilding global fisheries.” With Matthew G. Burgess and others. Published in Science, 359 (6381) 1255–31258, 2018. (Link to paper. Link to code. Blog post and media coverage here.)

“Five rules for pragmatic blue growth.” With Matthew G. Burgess and others. Published in Marine Policy, 87 (2018) 331–339, 2018. (Link to paper.)

“Resolving disputes over ocean calamities.” With Matthew G. Burgess. Published in BioScience, 65(12), 1115-1116, 2015. (Link to paper.)

“Electricity prices, river temperatures and cooling water scarcity.” With Øivind A. Nilsen. Published in Land Economics, 90(1), 131-148, 2014. (Link to paper. Ungated version here. Blog post and media coverage here.)

Report chapters

“South Africa Compliance Analysis.” With James Morrissey and Davina Mendelsohn, in “Governing Global Climate Change: St Petersburg Compliance Report for the ‘G8 Plus Five’ Countries”, Maria Banda and Joanna Langille (eds.), G8 Final Compliance Report 2007, Oxford: G8 Research Group Oxford, 1 June 2007. xiii + 190 pp. (Link to report.)

“The Current Status of the EPWP (Infrastructure) in the Western Cape.” With Anna McCord, Kim Adonis and Lisa van Dongen. Prepared for the Western Cape Provincial Treasury & Department of Transport And Public Works CAPE. Public Works Research Project, SALDRU, UCT, 24 March 2006. (Link to report.)