UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Three essays on environmental and development economics Madhok, Raahil


This dissertation presents three essays on Environmental and Development Economics. The first studies how economic activity erodes biodiversity and the role of decentralized institutions for achieving sustainable development. The second explores how structural change affects the geography of agriculture. The third focuses on legacies of coal power plant investments. This blend of short-term, spatial, and long-term analyses produces a comprehensive body of work that helps deepen our understanding of how economic activity shapes the environment. Chapter 2 documents biodiversity loss triggered by infrastructure expansion in India. Combining new data on infrastructure-driven deforestation with one million birdwatching diaries, and exploiting within-birdwatcher travel for identification, I find that infrastructure development drives 20% of total species loss and that species diversity does not recover in the medium run. Fortunately, species loss is more than halved when local institutions empower marginalized communities who are excluded from project planning. Informed consent by tribes is a key mechanism, underscoring the importance of grassroots institutions for balancing development and conservation. Chapter 3 studies the land use implications of internal migration in India. Using household microdata and a shift-share instrument for migration, we document sharp declines in crop production among migrant-sending households. Guided by a spatial equilibrium model, we find that non-migrant households living in the same village, as well as in more remote villages, contrastingly expand farming and adopt technology. Over half of aggregate production losses are cushioned by these spillovers, leading to a spatial reallocation of food production from urban to remote areas. Chapter 4 quantifies the long-run health effects of India’s coal power plants. Using an atmospheric dispersion model to compute an exogenous measure of cumulative exposure to power plant pollution, we find that a one standard deviation increase in this measure increases child mortality by 1.3 per 1,000 births. These effects are largely driven by exposure in utero, as well as exposure to private power plants built between 1992-2005. We find no evidence of differential economic development between more and less exposed districts, underscoring pollution as the main mechanism.

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