Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

My annual review 2017

By David Zilberman

This year moved very quickly, and it was relatively quiet on a personal level, which is good. I really enjoyed playing with my grandchildren as they grow up. Our sons and daughters-in-law are doing well. Leorah is enjoying her retirement, and maybe one day I’ll join her. She is really creative with her knitwear and writing, and all our family benefits from it. We had a great time with Eyal and Beth in East Lansing, and Shie and Leigh in Seattle, and each of us visiting with Aytan and Davina in NY. But the best is when the children and their families are here, and Angela and Enzy are visiting too.

This year I turned 70, which I always considered ‘old age’ even though it is not. It’s amazing that life expectancy has increased by about 3 months ever year during much of my life. So I guess I’ll be around for a while. I tried to escape celebrating it, but my colleagues at the ICABR conference and Mars and my family in Israel surprised me.

I also became president-elect of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) after four runs. Normally three times is a charm, but I take longer as evidenced by taking me five attempts to pass my drivers’ license test in Israel (in the US, I passed the first time). My kids suggested that the tester in both cases should be fired for letting me through.

I am really grateful for every passing year where the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program ( Beahrs ELP ) and the Masters of Development Practice ( MDP ) continue to be viable and effective. For me, sustainability is continuing existence with small adaptations, and I thank our committed donors, and George, Lauren, Christopher, Mio, and Kelsey for running the show and making me look good. The political turmoil affected the Beahrs ELP this year. We weren’t able to get visas for some of our participants, and others were reluctant to even try given the extra regulation. I don’t see how we can make America great by denying our potential friends to contribute and learn with us. The growing isolationism and detachment from the world are demoralizing to our MDP students who are interested to enhance global collaboration and progress. The US disengagement with the Paris Agreement will not make the world better nor Americans stronger. I am really glad that California is taking its own route and policies, and emphasizing in our research and education programs that moving to a renewable, high-tech economy will actually provide economic, social and environmental dividends.

This year we had our second agrifood supply chain workshop , with great conversations on how food systems are continually changing. I realized I am living many of the changes we discussed in abstract a few years ago – the Impossible Burger tasted as good as any burger and we enjoy Blue Apron. Now we are analyzing the economics of driverless cars, and perhaps I’ll own one before I need a new drivers’ license. I started as an agricultural economist working on water and waste problems of farmers, but over the years I got to understand that farming goes beyond the farm-gate and a big challenge is to understand the agrifood system. This is becoming a big priority of the AAEA, and I hope we are starting a tradition of education and research on supply chains and agribusiness at Berkeley. We are planning another agrifood workshop in April , and we took part in workshops in Berlin and Peru .

My undergraduate supply chain course continues is improving as well. I present students background lectures on the economics of supply chains with case studies, and then ask them to prepare their own. I learned how capable Cal students are once you let them loose. We had balanced presentations on the prospects of Tesla as well as Bitcoin, and an insightful comparison of Ali Baba, Amazon and Wal-Mart.

This year I completed a long-awaited co-authored book on Climate Smart Agriculture . [1] We have many case studies from developing countries and we included testimonies of policymakers. I learned that changes in climate are already happening, that many developing countries are having a hard time adjusting to it, and while adaptation is important, dealing with poverty and food security is more pressing, and combining these considerations together in research and policy is a major challenge. I also see how California farmers are adapting to climate change by using different techniques to modify the micro-climate around trees and change water use. This suggests to me that with climate change, the gap between the developed and developing regions will expand with possibly dire consequences. When I see the terrible fires we are going through, I gain more appreciation the challenges we, and especially less fortunate regions, will face in the future.

I also finished a second volume on biofuels with Madhu Khanna. I think that biofuels have a role to play in reducing emissions, and in particular in a renewable bioeconomy. They will be more beneficial if we remove some of the unreasonable restrictions on biotechnology and take advantage of our scientific knowledge. I think that electric cars, and in particular driverless cars, will have a bigger impact than biofuels. Actually, I predict that in the long-run, we’ll have even more cars if we don’t need to drive, and we’ll have to worry about emissions even more.

I hope everyone has a great holiday season and a wonderful year. And I hope that the Warriors will win another championship.

[1] I worked with Nancy McCarthy, Leslie Lipper, Giacomo Branca, and Solomon Asfaw at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.