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Obituary: CMU Professor Lester Lave Was
A Leading Environmental Economist
He Analyzed Risks That Affect Millions of People
PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University Professor Lester B. Lave, one of the nation’s leading environmental economists, died at his home in Pittsburgh today, May 9, 2011, after a four-month struggle with cancer. He was 71.
Lave was a University Professor — the highest distinction a faculty member can achieve at Carnegie Mellon — the Harry B. and James H. Higgins Professor of Economics at the Tepper School of Business,
professor of engineering and public policy
, director of the Green Design Institute
and co-director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center.
“Lester Lave was an icon at Carnegie Mellon, where he had achieved the highest plateaus in scholarship and friendship,” said Mark S. Kamlet, provost and executive vice president at Carnegie Mellon. “His work transcended many fields, most notably in areas of risk, the environment and economic decision making. The world has been changed by his work; a claim that not many can make. A multitude of friends worldwide are left behind but his work continues through these same colleagues and friends, as well as his former students.”
“Lester was a remarkable professor, researcher and colleague,” said Robert M. Dammon, dean of the Tepper school of Business. “He was a beloved teacher and a prolific scholar, admired by his students, academic peers and policy-makers. He created a body of meaningful research, placing him among the world’s most respected thought-leaders on global energy issues and public policy.
“He was a trailblazer at Carnegie Mellon, deepening and expanding collaboration across the university campus. His work brought together outstanding individuals from many different academic disciplines and is an inspiration to his students and colleagues,” Dammon said.
Lave spent most of his career at Carnegie Mellon applying tools developed in economics and risk analysis to problems that profoundly affect the lives of millions of people. Lave first came to international prominence in the 1970s when, together with his student Eugene Seskin, he used statistical methods to demonstrate that air pollution in American cities was causing a significant increase in death rates. While these results were vigorously contested by industry when they first appeared, the findings have been widely supported by subsequent research, and they served as a key early basis for EPA regulations to improve air quality.
Lave had an outstanding ability to choose important problems, perform careful analysis, and present results that questioned conventional wisdom. Much of Lave’s research focused on the problems of balancing environmental and other risks with economic and other social objectives. Global climate change, dam safety, truck drivers who have diabetes, and the environmental effects of fuel additives were but a few of the topics addressed in research by Lave and his students.
“Throughout his career, Professor Lave has made substantial contributions to advancing environmental science, policy and regulator approaches in the United States and worldwide,” said David A. Dzombak, the Walter J. Blenko Sr. Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and faculty director of Carnegie Mellon’s Steinbrenner Institute of Environmental Education and Research.
“In addition to using his powerful intellect, creativity and communication skills to make research contributions, he has used these same gifts to bring research developments and new thinking about environmental stewardship to the public realm.”
In the 1990s Lave, and colleagues Chris Hendrickson and Francis McMichael, analyzed California’s plans to require the adoption of electric cars that would use lead-acid batteries. Their life cycle analysis found that in recycling the batteries from such cars, more lead would be released into the environment than if the cars burned leaded gasoline. While vigorously disputed, these results were ultimately vindicated, and helped California and the rest of the United States move toward better polices for clean cars.
Lave did his undergraduate work in economics at Reed College in Portland, Ore., where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He earned his Ph.D. in economics at Harvard University. He often collaborated in research on health care delivery with his wife, Judith — also a Harvard-trained economist —who is a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh.
In 1982, in recognition of his many contributions to environmental and public health, Lave was elected to the Institute of Medicine (one of the three arms of the National Academy of Science). He served on, and chaired, numerous study committees of the National Academies, and most recently chaired the academy report “Real Prospects for Energy Efficiency in the United States,” which demonstrated large opportunities for saving energy by improving buildings. At the time of his death he was chairing an academy committee on whether and how to make motor fuels from biomass.
For the past 15 years, Lave has devoted much of his attention to two problems: green design and restructuring and improving the electricity system. He helped to found and served as director of Carnegie Mellon’s Green Design Institute
which has focused on finding environmentally acceptable ways of manufacturing, using, disposing of, and recycling products.
With colleagues Chris Hendrickson, Scott Matthews and Mike Griffin he helped to build an economy-wide approach (EIO/LCA) to “life cycle analysis.” With colleagues Granger Morgan, Alex Farrell and Jay Apt, he founded and built Carnegie Mellon’s Electricity Industry Center
, which today is the largest interdisciplinary group of its kind working on all aspects of the electric power industry. With Marija Ilic he pioneered a course that brought together MBAs and engineers to study how best to improve the power system.
A greatly loved teacher, he counted among his students CEOs of some of the nation’s best-run companies. He also was the primary mentor of 40 doctoral students who have gone on to successful academic careers.
With the exception of five years at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Lave spent his entire professional career at Carnegie Mellon, where he published or contributed to 28 books and more than 400 professional and other publications.
He served for eight years as the head of Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Economics. His academic appointments spanned the Tepper School of Business
, the Department of Engineering and Public Policy
in the College of Engineering
, and the H. John Heinz III College’s School of Public Policy and Management
Lave is a past president of the Society for Risk Analysis and has served on many committees of the National Academies of Science and Engineering, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, and the Office of Technology Assessment. He also is a founding member of Pittsburgh’s Group Against Smog and Pollution.
In 2010, Lave received the Prestigious Richard Beatty Mellon Environmental Stewardship Award from the Air and Waste Management Association. The award is given to an individual whose contributions of a civic nature have aided substantially in pollution abatement and for developing increased interest for the cause of air pollution control and waste management for the betterment of the environment.
Lave is survived by his wife, Judith, their two children, Jonathan M. Lave of Washington, D.C., and Tamara R. Lave of Miami, Fla., and two grandchildren. The family asks that in lieu of flowers contributions be made in his name to a charity such as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Funeral arrangements are not yet complete.