Faculty Spotlight: Malin Pinsky

Malin Pinsky

By: Carol Peters, EOAS Communications

Malin Pinsky
Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded EOAS faculty member Malin Pinsky and collaborators from Princeton University $1.3 million in funding for the project “Climate Change, Resource Reallocation and Great Power Competition.” The funding stems from the DoD’s FY2021 Minerva Research Initiative, which awarded a combined $28.7 million in grants to 17 university-based faculty teams.

Describing the aims of the three-year project, Pinsky, who is a co-principal investigator, said, “We are analyzing the extent to which natural resources within countries are changing as a result of climate change, both historically and in the future. We are particularly interested in the extent to which countries are exposed to multiple resource shocks, or whether declines in one resource might be offset by increases in another.”

The project’s principal investigator is Kristopher W. Ramsay, professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. Ethan Kapstein, professor in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University, will also serve, in addition to Pinsky, as a co-principal investigator. At Rutgers, Pinsky will conduct research with postdoc Aurore Maureaud.

An associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and the director of the Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution, Pinsky is an ecologist focused on marine communities and molecular tools. Much of his research, he said, strives to integrate theory, population genetics, and field ecology to understand the population dynamics of coastal marine species. Central research questions he and his Rutgers lab asks are, “How are we as a society impacted by and impacting marine species? What choices can we make to alter these impacts and benefits? What will the oceans look like in a decade or a century?”

In our Q&A below, Pinsky tells EOAS more about the cutting-edge work their research team will conduct with the support of the DoD funding.  

What is the research focus of the project “Climate Change, Resource Reallocation and Great Power Competition?” 

Climate change is having dramatic impacts on agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and other important parts of national economies around the world. We are studying the extent to which large countries are exposed to these changes and how these changes will reshape conflict and cooperation globally. In other worlds, how will climate change alter the balance of power globally and their international relations?

Why are you conducting this research?

We are increasingly seeing conflict break out among countries as some lose and some gain access to natural resources. Fisheries have been a particularly dramatic case in recent years, with trade wars and fractured international relations appearing even among close allies. We want to understand why this conflict arises and how it can be avoided. Most research on climate change and conflict up until now has focused within countries, on civil unrest, rather than on relations among countries.

How are you conducting the study?  

These problems require a wide diversity of expertise, so we have assembled an interdisciplinary team of biologists, economists, and political scientists to study these issues. We are analyzing global climate models to understand resource changes, assembling case studies on conflict that has already or is likely to break out, and calibrating a model of international relations that will help predict whether conflict or cooperation is more likely.

How will this work be impactful?

Climate change is upending the world order as we know it, but we’re flying into this new world blind. This research will start to show society and governments around the world where climate impacts across economic sectors are likely to be concentrated, where conflict is likely to arise among countries, and how to best avoid it. 

Who will benefit from this work and why?

The U.S. Department of Defense is funding this research because they want to ground their strategic planning in an understanding of the potential for international conflict and cooperation in the decades ahead. We hope this work will also be highly relevant for all diplomats, countries, and businesses involved in international trade around the world.