Sustainable Development: Environment, Economics and Society

Bowdoin College
Brunswick, Maine

Instructor: Vail, David
Subject area: Economics
Department: Economics
Course number: 18
Year taught: 1998
Level: Undergraduate

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




This semester we will explore relationships between economies and ecosystems, especially between the economy's production, distribution consumption, and disposal activities and the ecosystems' long term carrying capacity. A central focus will be the environmental impacts of capitalist economic development in advanced industrial societies and on a world scale. You will become familiar with the ecological economist's way of thinking about issues like scarcity, efficiency, well-being, fairness, technological innovation, irreversible changes, uncertainty, risk, discounting the future, and effective policy. Even so, an economics background is not required for the course and mastering economic analysis is not its main purpose. Three core goals are to understand how the economy is embedded in and co-evolves with natural systems; to consider how ecological insights and moral principles can improve economic thinking; and to explore innovations in our economic and political institutions that could facilitate the transition to sustainable economic development.

Topic Outline
A. Ecological Literacy: Why We Are Here
B. Capitalism, Industrialization, Globalization and Environment: A Systems Perspective
C. Introduction to Ecological Economics
D. Sustainable Development: Meanings, Moral Obligations and Operational Guidelines
E. Acting Globally: Three Transboundary Issues
F. Acting Locally: America - sustainable agriculture
Maine - sustainable forest management
Toward a sustainable Bowdoin College



Foster = John Bellamy Foster, The Vulnerable Planet
EE = Robert Costanza, et al., An Introduction to Ecological Economics
SM = Sustainable Maine Primer
Numbered items are handouts (also available on library reserve)

A. Ecological Literacy: Why We Are Here (1 week)
1. Ecological Literacy and liberal arts education
David Orr - Earth in Mind, Chapters 1-3 [ 1 ]
University Presidents for a Sustainable Future - "The Talloires Declaration" [3]
EE - pages 17-22
SM - pages 2, 5,
2. Writing to Learn
William Zinsser - On Writing Well (excerpt) [2]

B. Capitalism, Industrialization, Globalization and Environment: A Systems Perspective (2.5 weeks) Foster - all EE - pages 33-35 David Korten - "Economic Globalization" [4] Fred Smith - "Reappraising Humanity's Challenges, Humanity's Opportunities" [5] Stephan Schmidheiny - "The Business of Sustainable Development" [6] Tom Athanasiou - "The Age of Greenwashing" [7]

video: In the Name of Progress

C. An Introduction to Ecological Economics (2 weeks) EE - Chapters 2 & 3 (selections) William Baumol and A. Blinder - Microeconomics (selections) [8] Roger Lewin - "It's a jungle out there" [9]

D. Sustainable Development: Meanings, Moral Obligations and Operational Guidelines (2.5 wk.) SM- all EE Chapters 1 and 4 (selections), review p. 62 and Chapter 3 review Foster 130-133 D. Vail - "All Sweden Shall Live: Reinventing Community for Sustainable Development" [10] Robert Solow, "Sustainability: An Economist's Perspective" [11] Alan Durning - "Asking How Much is Enough" [ 12] Kenneth Arrow, et al. - "Economic Growth, Carrying Capacity and the Environment" [13] Steven Moore, "The Coming Age of Abundance" [14] Indur Goklany - "Richer is Cleaner" [15]

video: Affluenza

E. Sustainable Food Systems: Acting Globally, Nationally and Locally (3 weeks)

1. Overview Lester Brown, "Facing the Prospect of Food Scarcity" [16] Vail, et al., "Agricultural Policy Crisis in the Industrial Nations" [17]

2. The Population Connection
EE pp. 109-111
Brown, review pp. 33-3 5, 37
Herman Daly, "A Formula for the Post-Kyoto Era" [ 18]
Nicholas Hildyard, "Too Many for What?" [ 19]

--6 April Discussion #6 - Food, Population and Hunger

10 April Field trip to Hidden Valley Farm, Alna, Maine (Bambi Jones - farmer, Russell Libby Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assn.) - organic farming and community supported agriculture.

3. The two-way Connection to Climate Change Robert Kates, "Climate Change 1995 - Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation" [20] Rosenzweig and Hillel, "Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture and Food Supply"[2 1 ] Peter Bunyard, "Industrial Agriculture: Driving Climate Change?" [22] review Herman Daly [18]

--9 April Discussion # 7 - Climate Change and Agriculture

4. Securing Food Supplies Charles Mann, "Reseeding the Green Revolution" [23] Jules Pretty et al., "Regenerating Agriculture" [24]

5. An Affirmative Vision for Advanced Industrial Societies World Resources Institute, "Growing Green" [25] Vail, et al., "Universal Greening: International Patterns" [17] Vail, "Suburbanization of the Countryside and Revitalization of Small Farms" [26] Bambi Jones, "Community Supported Agriculture " [27] Organic Farming File [28]

--16 April (7 pm) - Video: To Feed the World 17 April (note - Friday) Discussion #8 - A Vision for Sustainable Agriculture

F. Acting Locally (2 weeks & reading period)

Case 1 - Sustainable Forest Management in Maine William Hancock, "The Maine Woods: A Future Up for Grabs" [29] D.Vail - "How to Tell the Forest from the Trees: Forest Management and Logging Systems in Sweden and Maine" [30] Roger Sedjo, "Using Forest Plantations to Spare Natural Forests" [31] William Sugg, "Low Impact Forestry is Gaining Ground in Maine" [32] packet: Regulating Industrial Forest Management [33] packet: Preserving Maine's Wildlands [34]

--24 April (note - Friday) Discussion #9 To Clearcut or not to Clearcut in Maine's Industrial Forest?
--25 April Field Trip to Mel Ames' "low impact" commercial forest operation, Atkinson, Maine

Case 2 - Greening Bowdoin College
Review Orr [1] chapter 1
Review "The Talloires Declaration" [3]
Dartmouth College, ES 50 (1996) - "It's Not Easy Being Green - an audit of five New England Schools" [35]
Bowdoin College, ES 101 (1992) - "An Institutionalized Recycling Plan for Bowdoin College" [36]
The Campus Earth Summit (Yale 1994) - "Recommendations", Blueprint for a Green Campus [37]

--27 April Guest speaker: David Orr - greening the Oberlin campus.