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University of Rhode Island — Environmental & Natural Resource Economics
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EEC 105 - Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
Course Information

Professor: Dr. Thomas Sproul
Semester: Fall
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None

Catalog Description: Application of microeconomic principles to selected resource problem areas. The market mechanism and its alternatives are examined as methods of resolving contemporary resource use problems.

Course Goals & Outcomes

The goal of the class is to prepare you to participate in the environmental policy debate of the 21st century. We will study the insights that economics provides into human behavior to better understand why these categories of natural resources tend to be overused. We will study how market forces operate, and how they contribute to environmental degradation. But we will also study why other approaches to managing environmental goods may also fail to wisely use these resources. We will study the design of environmental and natural resource policies to understand how environmental policies can help make things better (or not).

To do so, we will study the ongoing policy debate regarding how to develop a society that is sustainable and that supports a high standard of living. Numerous laws, existing and proposed, take different approaches to protecting the environment. We will examine these different approaches, and use the lens of economics to assess advantages and disadvantages. There is no claim that economics is the end-all-and-be-all. Only that economics provides insights that are not often appreciated by those without economics training.

By the end of the semester students will be able to:

  • Identify economic principles of real world situations, especially as they relate to environmental issues
  • Identify how incentives bring about specific environmental problems, and how policies can be designed to improve incentives
  • Analyze the likely effectiveness of environmental policies in achieving their intended goals
  • Assess some likely unintended consequences of environmental policies
  • Develop basic strategies for addressing environmental problems based on decision points
  • Identify barriers to change
  • Present a case clearly and succinctly
  • Analyze new environmental issues from different perspectives
Course Syllabus

Class topics:

  • How Economists Think
    • Money Makes the World Go ‘Round: Is Money the Root of All Evil, or the Greatest Invention of All Time?
    • But Now You’re Comparing Apples To Oranges!
    • Does Efficiency Really Matter?
  • Wait a Second: Isn’t Environmental Economics a Contradiction in Terms?
    • Why Are Markets Like Gravity?
    • Why is the Environment a “Problem”?
    • But Managing Resources is REALLY about Managing People
    • Behavior of Firms
  • The Climate Controversy
    • Hockey Sticks and Climate
    • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  • Pollution: The “Dead Zone”
  • Fueling the Economy
    • Energy from the Long Dead, Recently Dead and the UnDead
    • Bio-fuels
    • Wind, Waves and Solar
    • Renewable Energy Policies
  • Fish, Trees and Other Living Things
    • Ecosystem Services
    • Habitat
    • Fisheries
    • Forestry
  • Materials Flows and Conservation
    • Reduce, Reuse & Recycle
About The Professor

Dr. Dr. Thomas Sproul
Assistant Professor
Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
220 Kingston Coastal Institute
Office: 401.874.2471
Fax: 401.782.4766

Dr. Sproul is an environmental economist specializing in microeconomic theory. His current research interests include:

  • Disaster insurance policies
  • Design of crop insurance programs
Reasons To Take This Course

Have you ever wondered why humans have caused widespread ecological impacts, depleted fisheries and forests, and polluted waters and atmosphere? No, it’s not because humans are evil or greedy. Nor is it simply because there are too many of us. Natural assets like the oceans and atmosphere have properties that lead to a tendency for overuse and depletion. This course will help you understand why these categories of natural resources tend to be over utilized by studying human behavior through economic lenses.

This course is a requirement for environmental and natural resource economics majors and a prerequisite for several other upper level courses.

Other students who find the course of interest may include those whose majors involve environmental science.

Cool Links
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) - The U.S. EPA is a governmental organization responsible with the implementation and enforcement of rules and regulations targeted at protecting the health and environment of our nation. You can read more about several interesting topics linked to this course on EPA’s Website, here and here.
  • U.S. Energy Information Administration (US EIA) - The U.S. EIA is one of the most comprehensive and reliable sources of information on various topics on energy resource and related environmental issues like climate change. Here you can find out what types of renewable and alternative energy sources are available, how they work, and how much of our energy comes from these sources. Also, check out the interesting statistics about the non-renewable energy resources like coal and natural gas.
  • Basic – Check out this source of basics in economics
  • New Scientist - This international science online magazine covers news from the scientific community with frequent features on hot environmental debates like climate change.
  • OSU Global Environmental Change Organization – This is a Website housed by Oregon State University dedicated to providing knowledge on various aspects of global change.