Economics, Environment and Community

Hofstra University

Hempstead, New York
Instructor: Christensen, Paul
Subject area: Economics
Department: Economics
Year taught: 1996

Instructor's Email Address:

Please note that the copyright for this syllabus is retained by the instructor.

Discipline: Economics; a university "core" course in social sciences, this course is for non-majors. I structure course to develop a natural science and evolutionary foundation for understanding our history as a species, our economy, and our interaction with environment.

No Prerequisites.

Recommended Texts and Readings:
J. Peet, Energy & Ecological Economics of Sustainability (Island Press, 1992).
P. Harrison, The Third Revolution: Population, Environment and a Sustainable World (1992).

In addition to the Harrison and Peet books, a number of individual readings are assigned on various topics. Our approach is to develop an interdisciplinary approach to environment and economy which integrates a physical and ecological approach (natural science) with a technological and organizational approach to economics. We will briefly cover the standard <neoclassical> market approach to Resources and Environment but this will only constitute a small part of the course. The goal is develop an <ecological and social> approach to economics. We start with the material, energetic, and information basics of physical and biological production systems. We then outline an evolutionary understanding of the natural environment and the development of human cultures and technology. Our understanding of how markets work is developed from this physical and evolutionary approach. Throughout the course we develop an understanding of resource and environmental issues and policies for environmental and social sustainability in terms of this framework.

Homework Assignments, Two Papers (6-7 pp.), Two Exams and Final.

Course Outline:
1. Theories: Ways of Thinking about Nature, Economy, and Society
Peet, Ch 2: "The Scientific World View"
Timothy Ferris, "This is not the Universe", The Mind's Eye.
Gregory Bateson, "Every Schoolboy Knows", Mind and Nature: a Necessary Unity.

2. Scarcity: Limits to Growth or Market Abundance?
Julian Simon, "Pre-Debate Statement," Scarcity or Abundance
Lester Brown, "Nature's Limits", State of the World-1995.

3. Emergence of Global Environmental Problems
M. Oppenheimer, Preface & ch. 1-2: Dead Heat, pp. 1-33.
Harrison, ch. 15, 3rd Revolution

4. Standard Economics: Basic Assumptions and Approach
Peet, Ch. 4: "The Political-Economic World View"
H. Kohler, "Marginal Benefits and Marginal Costs", Economics, pp. 12-15.

5. Market Based Solutions to Environmental Problems
T. Tietenberg, Ch 2&3, "Economics of the Environment" (Sel), Environmental Economics

First Exam

6. Matter, Energy, Information, and Organization: a bio/ecol approach
Peet, Ch. 1: "Energy in Nature", pp. 1-11
Dahl, "ECOSystems as a model for understanding Nature and Economy"
Harrison, ch. 2: "Three Billion Years of Environmental Crisis"

7. A Physical-Organizational Approach to Economics
P. Christensen, ch. 4: "MEITO: A Production Approach to Economics"

8. Exponential Growth: The Problem of Growing Numbers
D. Meadows, Ch. 2: "The Driving Force: Exponential Growth," Beyond the Limits

9. Is Population the Problem? a Problem?
T.R. Malthus, Chs. 1 & 2: selections, Essay on Population
Harrison, ch. 1: "One Part Wisdom: The Great Debate"

10. The New Resource Limits
J. Gever, R. Kaufmann, Chs 1-2: "Carrying Capacity & Declining Resource Base"
Harrison, ch. 3: "The New Limits"

11. The New Environmental Limits
P.&A. Ehrlich, Intro & Ch. 1:"Saving the Planet?" & "Our Life Support Systems"

Second Exam

12. The Problems with Fossil Fuels (Energy and Affluence)
P&A Ehrlich, Ch. 2: "Energy and the Environment"

13. Green Revolutions: Can the World Feed Itself?
L. Brown, "The Vulnerability of Oil-Based Farming"
Patnaik, "Social & Econ Consequences of Growth"
Paarlberg, "Politics of Agricultural resource Abuse", Environment (1994).

14. Destroying and Sustaining Forests
Daniel Orr, "Forests and Trees," Earth in Mind.
Alan Durning, "Redesigning the Forest Economy," State of the World-1994.

15. Bio-Diversity and the Health of Ecosystems
E.O. Wilson, "Is Humanity Suicidal?" NYT Magazine (5/30/93).
P. Harrison, Ch. 4: "The Passing of Biodiversity"

16. Land and Water Pollution
Harrison, chs. 13-14, "Solid Waste" and "Sea of Troubles: Polluted Waters"
VIDEO: "Ocean Planet"

17. Ocean Fisheries
C. Safina, "The World's Imperiled Fish," Scientific American (Nov. 1995), 46-53.

18. Human Health
Ann Misch, "Assessing environmental Health Risks", State of the World-1994.

19. Towards Sustainable Development Possible?
Harrison, chs. 19-20: "Options for Action" & "Towards the Third Revolution"
Paul Elkins, "Making Development Sustainable" in Sachs, ed., Global Ecology.