Ferraro’s research focuses on building a credible evidence base about the environmental and social impacts of public and private programs. Combining the approaches of epidemiologists, with their naturally occurring data, and clinical trial health scientists, with their randomized controlled trials, Ferraro seeks to identify the causal links between the actions we take to improve our world and the impacts of those actions. For example, he has tried to quantify both the impacts of environmental regulations on the poor and the impacts of anti-poverty programs on the environment.
At Johns Hopkins, Ferraro aims to work across divisions to clarify how societies can best address the increasing scarcity of clean water. As part of that effort, Ferraro has brought to Johns Hopkins the USDA Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research, which he co-directs with Kent Messer, a professor at the University of Delaware. By running randomized controlled trials within USDA programs, CBEAR seeks to improve the effectiveness of conservation programs intended to help both farmers and the environment.
Starting his career as an ecologist, Ferraro came to economics after a chance encounter with an economist in the southeastern rainforests of Madagascar, where he was studying the ecology of the forest to aid biodiversity conservation efforts. “This economist claimed that environmental problems were not ecological problems but human behavior problems, and if I wanted to help solve the great environmental issues of our day, I should be studying human behavior,” Ferraro says. “Determined to prove him wrong, I went back to graduate school in economics.” Ferraro ended up being a convert. “I still think ecology is important, but now I make the same claim about environmental problems being human behavior problems to every natural and physical scientist I meet.”
Because these research areas are multidisciplinary and applied, Ferraro collaborates with fellow experts from a range of social, natural, and physical science disciplines, as well as with practitioners in the field. He has published in economics, political science, ecology, and multidisciplinary science journals, and has been a Science Fellow at the World Wildlife Fund and a science adviser to the Global Environment Facility.
Ferraro joined Johns Hopkins from Georgia State University, where he was Regents’ Professor of Economics at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Duke University and a PhD in economics from Cornell University. Previous awards include the Humanitas Visiting Professor of Sustainability Studies from the University of Cambridge, the National Academy of Sciences Cozzarelli Prize, and a Fulbright Scholars award.