Understanding the True Cost of Land-Use Projects

Update: My team’s paper earned the coveted Outstanding rating! Further, our paper won the Rachel Carlson award, which “is presented to a team selected by the Head Judge of ICM Problem E for excellence in using scientific theory and data in its modeling.” Over 4,800 collegiate teams from around the world were competing in Problem E, so I am honored that our work was recognized as the best! Here are the results.

BLUF: My team of two other college sophomores competed in an academic competition involving 99 hours of modeling and paper writing. This post presents our work.

We ended up cranking this paper out: “Ecological Services Valuation Model: Understanding the True Cost of Land-Use Projects”

Intro: Our team was hired to tackle one of the greatest problems remaining in the 21st century: how do we prevent the “tragedy of the commons?” Specifically, our task was to “create an ecological services valuation model to understand the true economic costs of land use projects when ecosystem services (ES) are considered.” We discovered that answering this question is key for governments to rent land to entities for land-use projects at a price necessary to preserve the value of ES owned by all.

In our pursuit of creating a model, we began by researching the philosophical underpinnings of value. We decided that well-being, based off conscious-subjective experiences, is the only good which is intrinsically valuable. While we maintain a degree of moral uncertainty on this matter, we ultimately decided to base our valuation of ecosystem services from their expected impact on well-being of conscious creatures, most especially humans.

We then explored the economic systems that best support our value-theory, and settled on Georgism, an economic philosophy which asserts that, while individuals ought to own the fruits of their own labor, natural resources are a public good [1]. Then, we researched the possible frameworks we could use to price ecosystem services, and determined the price should reflect the cost of artificially replacing ES. In other words, the value of an ES depends on the price to replace its services. For services that are irreplaceable, we propose a method of converting lost environmental services into Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs), which may then converting into dollars based off the rate of producing QALYs.

We explored preexisting models for pricing the ES affected by land-use projects, and found several highly-developed, but difficult to apply models. To solve for this, we sought to create a model which balances accurate valuation with ease of applicability, while still maintaining our values of maximizing well-being. Thus, we designed a general model with only the most applicable variables.

Check out our paper for the full report.


Piano Songs [Overt Signaling]

I started playing piano in 7th grade and played up through 10th grade. I’ve been able to play here and then since then, and this is what I’ve played recently:

I used to like to play classically difficult songs like Maple Leaf Rag, but now I only make time to improvise and maintain the songs I can already play. Over the last few years, I’ve lost most of my sight reading ability, but I have far improved my ability to play artistically and with nuance.

My Army Train-Up

BLUF: This is a straight up brag (this is my own blog, after all) about how disciplined I was during the second half of my senior year before I enlisted. I want to share how single-mindedly focused I was towards this goal.

Let it be known that while I waited approximately 6 months to ship off for basic training, I stopped driving to school and starting biking about 100 miles per week until I got hit by a car after a few months and my bike got destroyed.

I also almost always got in 20-30k steps a day. My most memorable part of my train-up was several times a week, throwing on my 40lb ruck, putting on ‘altitude’ training mask which strains breathing muscles, and rucking for 1-2 hours while listening to podcasts like SOFREP radio and Freakonomics. Mind you this is all in Florida, much of this during the summer.

As I was training up for dive school as well, I was in the pool nearly everyday, alternating between swimming, finning, treading with weight, and breath holding. I did pushups all throughout the day (even at school), and frequently ended the day with a long pushup/pullup/situp grind.

I also took weight lifting and team sports classes at school, which meant I either lifted or played some sport M-F. During lunch, I often ran on the track which was against the rules, but the school administration tolerated.

This training helped me get meritoriously promoted to E-3 after Basic Combat Training, helped me pass the three week diver selection course, which had an 86% attrition rate for my cycle, and helped me be the honor graduate of my 6-month diver phase 2 class.


Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling Victory (personal post)

In January 2018, I competed in COMAP’s Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling. Over a period of about 100 hours, I worked with my team of two other freshmen on our 20-page report addressing ICM problem D. Essentially, we were looking at how a nation could implement an all-electric vehicle network and had to answer a variety of specific prompts in a cohesive report.

Despite having easily 10 waking day hours taken from us for having to conduct a Saturday A.M. Inspection (a strict barracks room inspection that takes hours to prepare for) and a ruck march for military weekend training, my team was pleased to discover in April that our report got a Finalist rating! In other words, our paper was rated between the top 11 and top 7 of over 3100 reports submitted by collegiate teams from around the world.

I have a team ready to compete again in this January 2019. With another year of study under our belts (and no Saturday military training this year), hopefully we will get the coveted Outstanding rating, win ourselves $10,000, have our report actually influence policy, learn even more than last year, and signal to the world that we can crank out great work in a short amount of time.