Friends and staff of Resources for the Future (RFF) are saddened to hear of the November 5 passing of Robert Cameron Mitchell, an influential environmental economist and friend to many. He was 87 years old.
Mitchell, a senior fellow at RFF between 1976 and 1987, will be remembered for his quick wit, kindness, and significant contributions to the field of environmental economics. While at RFF, Mitchell worked with scholar Richard T. Carson on their influential book Using Surveys to Value Public Goods, which developed the technique of contingent valuation—a method of using surveys to help monetize damages to health and the environment. In 1998, this book was awarded the prize for Publication of Enduring Value by the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists. Mitchell published dozens of books and papers on contingent valuation and related topics, creating a lasting influence on the field of environmental economics and those who practice it.
He had a profound impact on the lives and careers of his friends and colleagues, and will be missed deeply.
Spending time with Robert always made me feel appreciated and valued, and he energized me to dig deeper in my work and also to enjoy my life—everything we all cherish in a friendship.Jon Krosnick, RFF University Fellow
V. Kerry Smith, an RFF university fellow and one of Mitchell’s former colleagues at RFF, remembers Mitchell for “his infectious smile and the clear twinkle in his eyes. They were usually present when he listened patiently to an esoteric economic argument, knowing full well it did not reflect what real people did,” says Smith. “He taught us that interdisciplinary research was essential to real progress in understanding the values people have for protecting environmental resources.” To Smith, Mitchell’s legacy is both professional and personal.
Other colleagues at RFF remember Mitchell as a great teacher. “I had the good fortune to learn from the master himself,” says Alan Krupnick, a senior fellow at RFF. “My most vivid memory of Robert is when he and I were doing a focus group on mortality valuation at a hospital, interviewing outpatients who had emphysema and other lung diseases. Things were clearly not going well, and, when a patient challenged us about a touchy issue (and one that Robert and I had never discussed), Robert turned to me and said, ‘Alan, why don’t you answer?’ Mother bird, pushing her chick out of the nest.”
Jon Krosnick, also a university fellow at RFF who collaborated with Mitchell, remembers him for his mentorship. “I constantly learned from him in ways that made me an entirely different professional, and also because he was a relentlessly validating and encouraging and nurturing and patient mentor and friend. Spending time with Robert always made me feel appreciated and valued, and he energized me to dig deeper in my work and also to enjoy my life—everything we all cherish in a friendship.”
Mitchell’s influence endures on the field of environmental economics and the researchers with whom he collaborated throughout his career. “His research with Richard Carson transformed environmental economics for the better,” says Smith. According to Krupnick, “their book [Using Surveys to Value Public Goods] was probably the most influential book in the survey tradition in environmental economics.”
Perhaps Krosnick most concisely sums up Mitchell’s personal and professional legacies: “I so enjoy walking on the pathway that Robert laid out for all of us.”