Advanced Topics in Environmental Economics

Colby College
Waterville, Maine

Instructor: Tietenberg, Tom
Subject area: Economics
Department: Economics
Course number: ECON493B
Year taught: 1996
Level: Undergraduate

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

Course Overview:
This is a senior undergraduate seminar for economics majors. It is limited to 16 students. Most of the students also have a minor in environmental studies. This course meets once each week for 2 and 1/2 hours with a 15 minute break half way through the period.

This course is designed as a seminar in which all participants are expected to contribute to group learning, not merely to absorb material passively. Two topics (sustainable development and global warming) which lie on the frontier of environmental economics provide the focus for our inquiry. Both demonstrate the large contributions that economic analysis can make in understanding the nature of the problems and in providing guidance on solutions, but they also raise fundamental questions about the appropriate domain for economic analysis. You will be exposed to both the emerging insights and the controversies and given ample opportunities to develop your own perspective.

Each topic will be examined using both discussion and presentation formats. The early sessions for each topic will follow a discussion format. Having read the background readings, each participant will be expected to contribute to a discussion that extracts the major insights in the readings and assess their validity and import. My role will be to ask leading questions and to probe the responses. The concluding sessions will involve student oral presentations.

The grades in this course will be based upon: (1) class participation (quality and consistency of contributions-zeros are assigned for each missed class) ), 20%, (2) papers (content, analytical depth, organization and style), 50% (25% for sustainable development reports and 25% for global warming report), (3) oral presentations (organization, content and delivery), 30% (15% each).

Each student will be expected to have set up an email address and to check it regularly. I will use email to communicate with participants in the intervals between classes.

Research Project and Oral Presentation Assignments:

The Internet Project: The first assignment involves creating material (two case studies) to be put on a new sustainable development home page created here at Colby for the World Wide Web. Using a prescribed format (I will supply a template) each student will write two reports on the application of the principles of sustainable development and conventional economic analysis to one particular environmental problem (air pollution, fisheries, agriculture, energy, deforestation, etc.) in two particular geographical and cultural settings. Having selected two specific case studies (see the bibliography on the General Server for some evidence on what's out there), the author will review (and write a short report on) each of these studies. Each report will attempt to condense down to no more than two pages the major conclusions to be taken away from that case study. (These are to take the form of Boxed Inserts in a typical Text). The objective is to make available to a world wide audience, brief but revealing summaries of the application of economic principles to sustainable development. (If we pique their interest, they can get the details from the original article.) Both a hard copy and a computer disk containing the reports should be handed in. Your disks will be returned. Alternatively the reports can be forwarded to me as attachments to an email message (using the "Attach Document" feature of Eudora.) A topic proposal which lists the two case studies and why you chose them is due in the third week of class.

Proposed Topics Due: Monday, February 18.

Reports Due Date: Wednesday, March 20

Some World Wide Web Sites of Interest
For general information on Environmental and Resource Economics, including available graduate programs see:

International Institute for Sustainable Development:

Environment, Ecology and Sustainable Development:

United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development:

Earthpledge Links:


Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development:

United Nations Development Program:

United Nations Environment Program:

Sustainable Forests Directory:

And finally when only humor will do, check out economist jokes at:

Let me know if you find some good sites not on this list.

First Oral Presentation: The first oral presentation (12 minutes) will involve a summary of the two case studies, the conclusions from each, and any more general conclusions that can be drawn by comparing the two case studies. Unlike the two reports, which are designed to be separate studies, this presentation is designed to integrate them. After a brief summary of the cases, the presentation should assess the success of these applications. What were the strengths and weaknesses of the chosen approach? What problems in implementing these principles were encountered? What more general lessons might we draw from this experience? This oral report requires original, critical analysis; it is not a simple description of what the authors said.

Second Project: The second project will involve choosing a topic in the area of global warming and conducting research on an economic aspect of that topic. Possible topic areas include: intertemporal optimization, discounting, assessing the damages, the costs of control, international aspects of finding cooperative solutions, the choice of policy instruments for achieving some resolution of the global warming problem, strategies for Research and Development as implied by the value of information under uncertainty literature, renewable energy sources, the quest for greater energy efficiency, etc. Naturally the research topic would have to be much more narrowly focused than these broad areas. Each student will pick a specific focus within one of the broad topic areas and summarize what we know about the relevant economic issues in that area. Each seminar participant will write a 12+ page paper and give an oral presentation of 15 minutes each on their selected topic. First paper proposals due at the beginning of class during Session #10. One-page proposals must contain the focus for the report, and some general background on the study.