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Course Information

Instructor Info:Helen Scharber
Office Extension x5397
Term: 2014S
Meeting Info: Monday Wednesday
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 103
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 103

How much environmental degradation is too much? How should we value intangible goods like environmental quality? Who wins and who loses from environmental degradation? In this survey course, we will examine how the theories of neoclassical, ecological and political economics have been used to answer these questions. Using these economic lenses, we will analyze a range of issues related to pollution and natural resource use, with special attention to climate change. We will also consider the policy prescriptions of these economic approaches and compare them to existing and proposed environmental policies. This theory-based survey class is appropriate for Division II students with some background in environmental and/or economic issues, though formal training in economic theory is not required. Some assignments will have a creative option and quantitative reasoning will be assessed through a student-led cost-benefit analysis of environmental goods.

Course Objectives:

By the end of the course, you will be equipped to

  1. Compare the ways in which ideas and theories from various economic schools of thought are used to explain the levels and distribution of pollution and resource use
  2. Assess how these economic theories are employed, explicitly or implicitly, by environmental organizers and policymakers
  3. Apply these theories to existing environmental problems and analyze the prescriptions suggested by them
  4. Interpret and critically analyze quantitative information and statistics, from cost-benefit analyses in particular

Throughout the course, you can expect

  • A supportive classroom community in which to explore ideas
  • To be intellectually challenged—by the questions, material, and class discussions—and to build confidence in working through these challenges
  • To work an average of 6-8 hours outside of class per week

In the classroom, you will be expected to

  • Contribute thoughtfully to discussions with classmates, having read the assigned material outside of class
  • Be mindful that our goal is to investigate questions together and sometimes challenge one another, but not to win arguments or be right
  • Aim to use clear and logical reasoning when speaking and writing
  • Generally help to create a safe, supportive and intellectually stimulating classroom environment
Evaluation Criteria:

Assignments will be designed to help you think critically and deeply about the issues and theories presented in the course.  Details about all assignments will be handed out in class and made available on Moodle.

  • An Environmental Organization Comparison Paper in which you will compare and critique two environmental organizations that are working on an environmental issue of your choice. (~1000 words; due Feb 3)
  • Three quantitative reasoning assignments in which you will critique, use and analyze two important tools of environmental economists: non-market valuation and statistical regression analysis. No previous experience with these techniques is necessary, though an openness to working with quantitative information is necessary. These assignments will culminate in designing and carrying out a study and writing a paper describing the results (Due dates: Feb 13, Mar 13 and Apr 10)
  • A creative piece in which you will depict and critique neoclassical/environmental economics and at least one other school of thought.  This assignment will include a written interpretation of the work and a showing in class. (Due Feb 24)
  • A final paper and presentation in which you will evaluate the initiative of an environmental organization from the perspective of two lenses or authors that we discuss in class (Presentations April 23 and 28; Paper due April 30).
  • Small assignments (including worksheets and Moodle forums) will be assigned throughout the term to help you engage with the course topics and materials

Attendance is required, both for your benefit and that of the classroom community.  If you do need to miss a class, please let me know in advance, submit any assignments when they are due and consult a classmate to find out what you missed.

Since keeping track of late work is cumbersome, I reserve the right to not evaluate assignments that are handed in past their deadlines. Such assignments will not count toward your final evaluation and may result in a 'no eval'.

Incomplete evaluations will not be given.

Final evaluations will be based on your

  • Regular and active class participation, in class and online
  • Timely completion of assignments
  • Demonstrated thoughtfulness and quality of analysis in assignments
  • Ability to interpret and analyze quantitative information
  • Ability to make clear and well-supported arguments in writing
  • Ability to make connections to your own experiences and other work
  • Progress over the semester

In order to receive an evaluation, you must

  • Have no more than three absences.
  • Be sufficiently involved in the class to give me a basis for writing an evaluation.  This includes thoughtfully completing required assignments on time, attending class, and engaging in discussions and activities. 

If you are at risk of not meeting these conditions for an evaluation, I will give warning before the end of the semester.

Additional Info:

Required text: Cato, Molly Scott. 2011. Environment and Economy. London: Routledge. ISBN: 978-0-415-47741-3.

The Cato textbook is available at the Hampshire bookstore.  Most other readings will be made available on Moodle (

Academic honesty is expected. All Hampshire College students and faculty, whether at Hampshire or at other institutions, are bound by the ethics of academic integrity. The entire description and college policy can be found in Non Satis Non Scire at under Academic Policies/Ethics of Scholarship. Plagiarism is the representation of someone else’s work as one’s own. Both deliberate and inadvertent misrepresentations of another’s work as your own are considered plagiarism and are serious breaches of academic honesty and integrity. All sources used or consulted in the process of writing papers, examinations, preparing oral presentations, course assignments, artistic productions, and so on, must be cited. Sources include material from books, journals or any other printed source, the work of other students, faculty, or staff, information from the Internet, software programs and other electronic material, designs and ideas.
     All cases of suspected plagiarism or academic dishonesty will be referred to the Dean of Advising who will review documentation and meet with student and faculty member. Individual faculty, in consultation with the Dean of Advising, will decide the most appropriate consequence in the context of the class. This can range from revising and resubmitting an assignment to failing the course. Beyond the consequence in the course, CASA considers first offenses as opportunities for education and official warning. Multiple or egregious offenses will have more serious consequences. Suspected instances of other breaches of the ethics of academic integrity, such as the falsification of data, will be treated with the same seriousness as plagiarism and will follow the same process.

Feel free to contact me to discuss matters related to class, the universe and everything.  But please keep in mind that, like many of you, I often get more emails than I can reasonably respond to quickly.  Do not assume that I will respond within 24 hours (though I often will), at nights or on weekends.  Also, fair warning: I will be inclined to ignore requests for material that can be easily obtained from Moodle or a classmate (e.g., what was covered during a missed class, my office hours, assignments, the number for Sibie's, etc.)