Teaching Modules on Social and Environmental Issues in Economics
These modules are designed for use as stand-alone supplements in undergraduate or graduate-level courses, and are available as PDFs free of charge. Modules developed at the Tufts University Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) are offered here, and the module series will be continued and updated by the Economics in Context Initiative. The modules range from 25-60 pages, and most include discussion questions, glossary, references, and exercises. Instructor notes and exercise answers are available for many modules; contact us with proof of instructor status to receive access to these materials.
Environmental Issues in Economics
- Land Economics and Policy [New in 2020]
- Alternatives to Growth-Centric Development [New in 2020]
- Green Macroeconomics: Growth & Distribution in a Finite World [New in 2019]
- The Economics of Global Climate Change [Updated 2017]
- Energy Economics and Policy [Updated 2021]
- Environmental Justice: Income, Race, and Health
- Forests and Climate: Economics and Policy Issues [Updated 2022]
- Microeconomics and the Environment [Updated 2019]
- Macroeconomics and the Environment [Updated 2019]
- Trade and the Environment [Updated 2021]
- Water: Economics and Policy [Updated 2021]
Economics in Context Modules
- Social and Economic Inequality
- Consumption and the Consumer Society
- Macroeconomic Measurement: Environmental and Social Dimensions
- Growth and Sustainability
Topical Modules on Contemporary Issues
- Comparative Economic Systems [New in 2021]
- The Power of Capital: An Introduction to Class, Domination and Conflict [New in 2020]
- Behavioral Economics in Context: Applications for Development, Inequality & Discrimination, Finance, and Environment [New in 2020]
- Debt and Deficits: Economic and Political Issues [Updated 2020]
- Taxes in the United States: History, Fairness, and Current Policy Issues
- Public Goods in Everyday Life
- Corporate Power in a Global Economy
Environmental Issues in Economics
Land Economics and Policy
by Ekaterina Gnedenko
This module provides an introduction to some of the key concepts and policy discussions on land economics. It presents an overview of economic theory on land management and considers some of the key environmental impacts of current land-use practices. It also delves into questions, such as are markets for land economically efficient, and are land resources distributed equitably. The role of institutions and property rights in allocation of land resources are explored and current policies on land-use are discussed.
Alternatives to Growth-Centric Development
by Erin Lennox and Rebecca Hollender
This module considers the problems of environmental degradation and inequality in relation to growth-centric development. Perspectives on alternatives to growth along with related policies, practices, and challenges are discussed to explain the need to limit economic activity to within the biophysical limits of the planet. The module features extensive case studies on alternative approaches in both the global North and South.
This 53-page module is suitable for several weeks of class time.
Green Macroeconomics: Growth and Distribution in a Finite World [New in 2019]
by Eric Kemp-Benedict
This upper-level module presents the study of “green macroeconomics,” viewing the economy as embedded in society, which is embedded in the environment. The module takes a pluralist approach, contrasting neoclassical, post-Keynesian, and classical theory, but uses classical models for illustration. Topics include climate mitigation and adaptation, renewable resources, and energy return on energy invested. An explicit green macroeconomic model is developed over the course of the module to explore the consequences of shifting from a fossil-based economy to one based on renewables.
This 69-page module is suitable for several weeks of class time.
Download PDF | Download PowerPoint file with figures and tables
Instructor notes and exercise answers are available for this module.
Contact us with proof of instructor status to receive access to these materials.
The Economics of Global Climate Change [Updated in 2017]
by Jonathan M. Harris, Brian Roach, and Anne-Marie Codur
This module, based on chapters 12 and 13 of Harris and Roach’s textbook, Environmental and Natural Resource Economics: A Contemporary Approach, discusses the scientific evidence on climate change, including recent projections on temperature and sea-level rise. It then evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of economic analysis of the issue, including discussion of valuation of environmental damages, carbon taxes, tradable permits, and current policy issues. It has been updated to include the latest science and policy developments, including the 2013/2014 reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and new information on carbon storage in soils and forests.
Energy Economics and Policy [Updated in 2021]
by Brian Roach and Jonathan M. Harris
This module provides thorough coverage of the issues involved in shifting from dependence on fossil fuels to renewable energy. This module presents: the potential for renewable energy; economic issues including costs, externalities, and subsidies; and policies for a renewable energy transition.
Environmental Justice: Income, Race, and Health
by Rachel Massey
Data and case studies are presented illustrating how minority and low-income communities often bear a disproportionate share of environmental costs. The uses and limitations of economic analysis are explored, including the topics of valuing human life and health and the difference between efficiency and equity. The module addresses issues of environmental justice both in the United States and internationally. Suggestions for more equitable environmental policies are presented.
Forests and Climate: Economics and Policy Issues [updated 2022]
by Anne-Marie Codur, Jonathan M. Harris and Maliheh Birjandi Feriz
Deforestation and degradation of forests and wetlands is a major contributor to climate change. At the same time, forests and other ecosystems have immense capacity to store carbon and to contribute to balancing global cycles of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases. Policies to reduce emissions and store carbon under REDD+ (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) have attempted to take advantage of this potential for forests to mitigate global climate change. But institutions to promote forest preservation and effective reforestation are often lacking. This module analyzes the causes of deforestation and degradation, both in the Global North and South, as well as the potential for reversing these trends to achieve protection and expansion of forests and wetlands. It discusses national and international policies, including country case studies, and includes a section on the impacts of biomass production on deforestation.
Download PDF | Download PowerPoint file with figures and tables.
Download Spanish Translation of older 2011 module: “Forests, Agriculture, and Climate: Economics and Policy”.
Macroeconomics and the Environment [Updated in 2019]
by Erin Lennox, Jonathan M. Harris, & Anne-Marie Codur
This module presents an expanded circular flow analysis that takes the biosphere into account. It reviews critiques and alternatives to GNP/GDP, emphasizing natural resource and environmental as well as social sustainability, then discusses the implications of long-term growth of population and economic output, contrasting the goal of economic growth with the goal of sustainable development. It has been updated to include new material on ecosystem limits, alternatives to GDP, and “green” growth, as well as updated data and figures.
Microeconomics and the Environment [Updated in 2019]
by Brian Roach, Erin Lennox, & Anne-Marie Codur
This module provides an introduction to the economic analysis of environmental issues, providing broader perspectives on sustainability as well as standard environmental economic techniques such as valuation. Applications include fisheries management, sustainable agriculture, and global climate change. It has been updated to include the latest data and policy applications.
This 60-page module is suitable for several weeks of class time.
Trade and the Environment [Updated in 2021]
by Brian Roach and Jonathan M. Harris
This module, based on chapter 19 from Harris and Roach’s Textbook, Environmental and Natural Resource Economics: A Contemporary Approach, presents an analysis combining trade theory with the theory of externalities to show how the basic principles of gains from trade must be modified in a real world with many environmental complications. The institutional and policy issues involved in considerations of sustainable trade and “greening” global environmental institutions encourage the student to place the theoretical issues in the context of real-world policy.
Older 2004 module: Download PDF
Water: Economics and Policy [Updated in 2021]
by Brian Roach, Anne-Marie Codur, and Jonathan M. Harris
This teaching module discusses the science, economics, and policy of sustainable water management. It presents current data on water stress and water scarcity around the world, and introduces the concepts of virtual water and water footprints. The module explains how economic instruments can be used to allocate water resources, including bloc pricing that is designed to be socially equitable, setting water prices low for basic needs consumption, but higher for larger and wealthier water users. Non-price policy mechanisms include effective institutions for water governance that foster sustainable practices. The module concludes with an assessment of projected increased global water demand and impacts of climate change.
Economics in Context Modules
Social and Economic Inequality
by Brian Roach, Pratistha Joshi Rajkarnikar, Neva Goodwin, and Jonathan M. Harris
This module, based on Chapter 10 of Microeconomics in Context 4th edition, provides an overview of some of the key issues on economic and social inequality, looking beyond income measures to explore inequalities based on education, health care, and discrimination in the labor market. It begins by presenting the definitions and measurements of inequality. Empirical data on inequality in the United States and other countries, along with trends in global inequality are presented next. The module then focuses on what is known about the underlying causes of inequality, and discusses possible policy solutions.
Consumption and the Consumer Society
by Brian Roach, Neva Goodwin, and Julie A. Nelson
This module presents material drawn from chapter 8 of Microeconomics in Context 4th edition, to explore the various motivations behind consumer behavior. The historical development of the “consumer society” is summarized, including a discussion of the institutions underlying mass consumerism. The relationship between consumption and well-being is surveyed, as well as the ecological impacts of consumption.
Environmental and Social Dimensions
by Pratistha Rajkarnikar, Neva Goodwin, and Brian Roach
This module, drawn from the sixth chapter of Macroeconomics in Context, presents an overview of innovations in national accounting related to measuring well-being. The module describes satellite accounts for the environment, methods of counting household production, and the construction of well-being indicators such as the Genuine Progress Indicator, the Better Life Index, and the Human Development Index.
Growth and Sustainability
by Jonathan M. Harris, Brian Roach, Pratistha Joshi Rajkarnikar, and Neva Goodwin
This module, based on Chapter 18 of Macroeconomics in Context, discusses the future of economic growth in an era of ecological limits. It includes analysis of population growth, resources and pollution, and the climate crisis. Policies for a transition to sustainability and a “green” economy are evaluated in the context of global development.
Topical Modules on Contemporary Issues
The Power of Capital: An Introduction to Class, Domination and Conflict
by Alejandro Reuss
This module presents an overview of economic class, class power, and class conflict. It addresses some aspects of economic power in capitalist societies today, highlighting relations that are not considered “power relations” in mainstream economics. It explores the unequal power relations between different economic classes in the workplace, and the political sphere, and discusses how conflicts between classes in both workplace and political sphere can change these power relations.
Behavioral Economics in Context: Applications for Development, Inequality & Discrimination, Finance, and Environment
by Anastasia C. Wilson
This module critically examines the assumptions of rationality in the neoclassical model and presents an in-depth discussion of behavioral economics and its applications to fields, such as economic development, social and economic inequality, financial instability, and climate change and environmental sustainability. A basic toolkit of concepts, insights and methods from behavioral and experimental economics are presented. The module explores how behavioral insights can be used to design policy solutions that account for economic, social, and psychological aspects of everyday life.
Debt and Deficits: Economic and Political Issues
by Nathan Perry
Debt and deficits have been a major news topic, and the source of much economic and political controversy. This module clarifies the issues for students, reviewing the essentials of budgets, the history of surpluses and deficits, and the role of the national debt. It relates the facts about deficits and debt to classical and Keynesian theories on the impacts of deficits, discussing issues such as crowding out and endogenous money. A balanced assessment of arguments about the impact of debt will help students to develop informed opinions. The module has been updated to take account of the impact of the 2017 tax cuts on recent and projected deficit increases.
This 45-page module is suitable for several weeks of class time.
Taxes in the United States: History, Fairness, and Current Policy Issues
by Brian Roach
Tax policy is one of the most debated, and often misunderstood, issues in U.S. politics. This module provides students with an overview of the U.S. tax system, including the historical development of tax policies. The difference between progressive and regressive taxes is explained and current data are presented showing how the tax burden falls on different groups.
Public Goods in Everyday Life
by June Sekera
This module offers a framework for understanding “public goods” as a concept in economics and as real-world goods and services. The framework builds on the “historical school” public economics theory. The module provides a pragmatic understanding of public goods, enabling students with or without a background in economics to consider and appreciate public goods in the context of their daily lives. The module is suitable for use in courses in economics, sociology, political science, public law, social history and related fields.
Corporate Power in a Global Economy
by Brian Roach
Standard economic theory fails to address the economic and political significance of modern multinational corporations. In this module explanations of firm growth based on economies of scale and scope are supplemented with a discussion of the transnational mobility and influence of large corporations. The social and environmental responsibilities of multinationals are considered, with an emphasis on externalities and the need for a “triple bottom line.” The module concludes with a discussion of ways to encourage large firms to adopt goals that are aligned with the broader goals of society.