Monday, May 16, 2016

What are we going to study in natural resource economics?

What are we going to study in natural resource economics?  
 
Students new to economics or new to environmental studies may be unsure about how these topics come together.  

Generally speaking, economists try to solve problems using a combination of theory, empirical analysis (data, statistics, math), and intuition. For example, macro economists try to address issues such as how to keep an economy growing without significant inflation.  Micro economists might try to find the best way to maximize profit for a particular firm or industry. Natural resource economists try to solve problems associated with scarce natural resources. 

Some examples from my work include:  
 
  
 
 
 
 
Obviously, these are complex issues that require interdisciplinary effort. One of the things that I really love about what I do is that I work side-by-side with biologists, policy makers and resource users to address these problems. 

It should also be obvious is that these are potentially contentious issues. It is easy to get caught up in the emotion that surrounds any debate about environmental issues. Please remember that an economists job is to provide objective analysis (i.e. without personal opinion or bias). In short, our job is to search for the truth, or as close to it as we can get.

Below are links to an overview of environmental economics and two excellent essays that provide a nice perspective on the economic view of the environment.  The second essay covers non-market valuation, which we will cover in
detail later in the summer. It makes a good read now however, as it sets the stage for much of what we're covering at the beginning of the class (e.g. the economic view of value).
 
What is environmental economics?  (The Economics Network at the University of Bristol) 

How do Economists Really Think About the Environment (Fullerton and Stavins, RFF, 1998)
 
Economic Values without Prices (Loomis, Choices, 2005)

What are your thoughts on economics and the environment?  At the beginning of the course, do you see a role for economics in the environmental policy debate? 

11 comments:

Logan Plummer said...

Throughout this summer course, as a class we will cover controversial topics, most regarding the interaction between the environment and economic markets. We will also address the tradeoffs between taking a more economically driven action over an environmental action and vis versa. During this class we will see the correlation between government policy and environmental well-being. These policies and actions will show a variation of outcomes, proving that economist are not always looking for a market-growing solution and that they do take everything into consideration (including science) when producing a potential solution.

Casey Moore said...

I believe economics and the environment to be directly related. Economics is the study of how people, firms, and society deal with the scarcity of resources, and currently many environmental resources are becoming scarce from improper overuse. I believe it is important to understand that even though some resources are considered to be unlimited, humans will eventually impoverish the supply if we continue at the rate of destruction we are on now. Economics helps control the supply and demand, as well as being able to put a price on resources. It shows what that source is worth and why it is important to preserve what we have to protect future generations.

Pierce Volkmar said...

Economics and the environment are interrelated. I am very interested in topics such as pollution in China and sustainable and/or clean energy sources. Natural resource and environmental economics are more important to geopolitics and international relations than ever before. As some states move away from fossil fuels, other states whose main good produced is that very non-renewable fossil fuel will feel the effects. A country such as the KSA (Saudi Arabia) might even find itself in the middle of regime change and revolution due to the fact that oil revenue can not provide government jobs for young people anymore. The aforementioned topics are very interesting and that is why I decided to take this course.


Pierce Volkmar

Lexie Dempsey said...

Economics and the environment are connected in a way that prior to this class I had given little thought. Economics are essential in policy making to ensure that the most efficient options are utilized when resources are scarce. To progress towards sustainability requires putting environmental situations into economic terms. Policy making regarding the environment requires mediators between scientists and decision implementers for the "best" results. When scientists can't provide the worth of preservation in the monetary terms that the government responds best to, they tend to lose against corporate interests.This is where the economists come in and put value in dollars on environmental resources, weigh social costs and benefits, and compare options to optimize governmental resource use. This topic is important in today's society as global warming looms and scarcity continues. Corporations are also becoming more powerful in getting their way (capitalizing on the environment for private profits) by using lobbyist to influence government decision makers. Grasping the tools to interpret between policy making and enviro science is essential to choosing the most efficient courses of action for each specific situation.

Marc Monace said...

It's amazing how natural resources and the environment goes hand and hand with economics.I always thought of economics as a pure business/mathematics discipline. I love business but I also love earth science and am concerned about the health of our planet so this class is a win win for me!

Evan Schillmoller said...

It has been interesting to learn about how exactly natural resources and the environment corrolate with the study of economics. As I read through the lecture notes, I frequently notice things that I never think about as having economical side effects. This course has already forced me to ask questions about environmental issues that I had not considered before, even as a student majoring in environmental studies. I also appeciate that this course forces me to look at issues from an impartial standpoint, rather than allowing my personal preferences to cloud my view of things that I thought I had already figured out!

Nathan Smith said...

When I first started at UNCW I knew I had an interest in economics but never imagined the amount of environmental factors that play into economics. I took environment economics and it changed my whole perspective. Many things from the amount of pollution that can be taxed has to do with economics, all the way to environmental policy and how money has to do with the amount of resources that are conserved by are nation. Economics plays a large role in environmental policy because again money controls how much of the environment that we can help conserve. Conservation takes funds and people that know how to control them which is where economics comes into play.

Nicole Ruest said...

Before starting this course,I had not really thought a lot about how economics played a role in environmental issues. I am passionate about the environment and promoting sustainability and good stewardship in my own life, but I didn't really give much thought to how economic transactions affected the planet. There are some obvious ways that economics is intertwined with the environment, such as what products we chose to buy (like choosing to buy organic foods, or supporting brands that use sustainable means of production). But past consumer economics, I hadn't really made the mental connection between environmental studies and economics. It has been eye opening to see all of the different ways economics affects the environment and vice versa, and I am excited to learn more about it, so that I can think more critically about how money impacts environmental issues.

Dennis Mburu said...

Economics in general has been and always will be part of my life. As a student who really values the environment, I have always been at the forefront of trying to make sure that wherever I step foot, I make sure that that particular area is clean and pretty to the naked eye. For instance, I detest seeing litter lying around the road and my immediate response is to dump it at the appropriate place. Many a times I have seen people carelessly throw litter everywhere without thinking much about the impact it would have on the environment. These and more reasons have certainly made perfect sense of why I see natural resource economics as an important subject as it gauges the costs and benefits of doing certain things in relation to our environment, so yes, personally it will help me be able to understand how to protect and conserve our immediate surroundings and to impact that knowledge on others. As Thomas Fuller once said, "we never know the worth of water till the well runs dry." The environment can be treated as such.

Austin McGrayne said...

I think environmental economics is tremendously important and a required field of study for todays world. I say this because we have now been in the industrial era for about 200 years, which has created a complex global economy that has many positive and negative externalities associated with it. Many of the negative externalities (caused by industrial economies) are environmental in nature and can be harmful to humans and our planet as a whole, so society needs a valid technique to manage them. That is where environmental economics comes in.

I personally think the area of study is progressively minded because it does not hide from the truth:
Speaking mainly about the U.S. because it's the only perspective I know, we all live in a first class society that has many negative externalities associated with it (which didn't come to light to the general public until the early to mid 1900s), and as a society I think most people realize that needs to change, but we don't want to give up that first class way of life not only because we really really don't want to, but it would be irrational for society to do so all at once.

Let me explain further, I say it would be irrational because, as I said earlier we've been in the post-industrial era for about 200 years now and (for examples sake lets say it started exactly in the year 1816) and once that era began, as time went on technologic innovation grew at a very high rate bringing us further and further away from pre-industrial living standards. So when negative externalities of industrial economies started to be realized, lets say in 1925, living standards had risen exponentially by a MAGNITUDE OF 113, way higher then they've ever changed in human history, and today in 2016 you could say living standards have risen by a magnitude of 200. So I say it would be irrational for our society to completely change our behavior to get ride of negative externalities because it would crash our society, plain in simple. But if we wayne ourselves off of our current path (we have to do A LOT of wayning) of population growth and fossil fuel technology and explore sustainable energy practices, I believe humans and the planet can find an optimal amount of negative externalities as to not damage the planet for the future, but still provide society with the amenities it needs to live a first class life today. That is where environmental economics comes in, finding that balance.

Ryan Grim said...

This course interests me because I may go into this field, going out and studying the economic interaction between humans and the environment and how we measure the impact is important. We will also study how government policy is important to our interaction with the environment. Having recently taken environmental economics I expect this course to focus on many of the same concepts of efficiency in regards to how we change our environment through natural resource use.