Environmental Economics and Policy

Aaron Swoboda
Carleton College


This course explores the economic and political institutions affecting the environment. We will use the tools of economics to analyze several contemporary environmental policy issues ranging from climate change, local land use, agriculture, and water.

Course Size:

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution

Course Context:

Environmental Economics and Policy is one of three required "core" courses for a new major in Environmental Studies at Carleton College (the other two courses are American Environmental History and Ecosystems Ecology). There are no prerequisites for the course and the student body is estimated to be predominantly sophomores considering the major.

Course Content:

We will focus on issues of climate change, land use, water, transportation, energy, population and sustainability. Over ten weeks there will be a mixture of lecture, full class discussion, computer labs, small group work, and student presentations. The economic concepts of marginal analysis, efficiency, market failure, cost-benefit analysis, discounting, and non-market valuation will be covered.

Course Goals:

The primary goal of this course is to learn how to assess environmental policy issues from an economic perspective: to understand the concepts of opportunity cost and incentives. Other learning goals include increased capacity to 1) assemble, organize, analyze and present data in both oral and written form and 2) work in teams to accomplish these goals.

Course Features:

This course has a several week capstone project examining a land use issue in our town. The idea is for students to apply what they have learned in class to an issue that is local in nature for tractability but also "real" to show the inherent complexity of policy issues.

Course Philosophy:

As I have developed this course two ideas have served as my primary guide. 1) Class time is the most precious resource and your higher level learning should take place in the classroom. 2) "Backward Design" of the course. Rather than first deciding on course content and then choosing course assignments, I have chosen a few assignments in which I would like my students to excel, and then designed the course to cover the material necessary to accomplish these assignments.


The primary assessment will come through assignments and the final project. This represents a major shift for me away from exams determining the bulk of the grade. The assignments are designed to lead to class discussion which I hope will lead to 1) immediate feedback for the students, and 2) a chance to raise issues and concepts for future study.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 47kB Sep22 09)

Teaching Materials:

Assignment Descriptions (Acrobat (PDF) 39kB Sep22 09)

References and Notes:

The primary readings for this course will come from "Environmental Economics and Policy" by Tom Tietenberg and Lynne Lewis (6th Edition, Addison Wesley). Supplemental readings will come from academic journals (in both the social and natural sciences) as well as newspapers and blogs.
Team-Based Learning by Larry Michaelsen, et al.