Teaching Modules

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

Economics in Context Modules

Topical Modules on Contemporary Issues

Environmental Issues in Economics

The Economics of Renewable Energy
by David Timmons, Jonathan Harris, and Brian Roach

This module covers issues that are central to the transition to renewable energy, including the potential of solar energy, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydropower, and other low-carbon energy sources. It stresses the crucial role of energy efficiency in facilitating a transition to renewables, and discusses issues including electrification, energy variability, and battery storage. It presents a systems approach to optimizing renewable energy deployment and approaching the goal of 100% renewables.  A section on government policy reviews energy taxes and subsidies, renewable energy portfolios, removing regulatory barriers, and special issues of developing renewable energy systems in low- and middle-income countries. The module is written at an introductory level, but more technical material on levelized costs of energy, cost of conserved energy, and energy capacity factors is included in boxes.

Download PDF| Download PowerPoint file with figures and tables
Older 2014 module: Download Spanish Translation

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.
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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.
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Green Macroeconomics: Growth and Distribution in a Finite World
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 
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.

This 67-page module is suitable for several weeks of class time. 
Download PDF | Download PowerPoint file with figures and tables
Download French Translation


Energy Economics and Policy 
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.
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Agriculture and Climate: Economics and Policy Issues [updated 2022]
by Anne-Marie Codur, Jonathan M. Harris and Kayleigh Fay

There is increasing evidence that ambitious goals to mitigate climate change, such as those set for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cannot be met without a substantial contribution from increased absorption of CO2 by soils, forests, and wetlands. This module focuses on the agricultural sector, while a companion module deals with forests and wetlands. Soil plays a crucial role in the global carbon cycle. Approximately 2,000 Gigatons of carbon is stored in the world’s soils. There is more carbon stored in soil than in plants and the atmosphere combined. But there is also significant potential for further carbon storage in soil, which could have a major effect in reducing net emissions of carbon to the atmosphere. While the global agricultural system is now a major net contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, it could be transformed into a climate solution through the adoption of regenerative agricultural techniques, including restorative grazing. This module offers a detailed analysis of the role of the potential for transforming agriculture, including the “4 per 1000” initiative to capture carbon as a climate change mitigation strategy, at the same time enhancing soil fertility and agricultural yields to address global food security.

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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.  
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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. 
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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.
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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.
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Older 2015 module: Download PDF | Download PowerPoint file with figures and tables | Access French Translation

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.
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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 5th 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.
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Consumption and the Consumer Society [Updated in 2023]
by Brian Roach, Neva Goodwin, and Julie A. Nelson

This module presents material drawn from chapter 8 of Microeconomics in Context 5th 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.
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Macroeconomic Measurement:
Environmental and Social Dimensions
[Updated in 2023]
by Pratistha Rajkarnikar, Neva Goodwin, and Brian Roach

This module, drawn from the fifth 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.
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Growth and Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century [Updated in 2023]
by Jonathan M. Harris, Brian Roach, Pratistha Joshi Rajkarnikar, and Neva Goodwin

This module, based on Chapter 17 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.
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Topical Modules on Contemporary Issues

Comparative Economic Systems
This module introduces the study of comparative economic systems, which is concerned with analyzing differences in economic institutions across societies. It defines different types of economic systems, considering how economic decisions are made and who owns productive assets. The two main types of economic systems—capitalism and socialism— are discussed in some detail along with the historical context in which these systems emerged. Examples of the United States, Sweden, China and the Soviet Union are discussed to provide an overview of the different systems. The final section turns to some of the key issues of the twenty-first century, including economic inequality and environmental sustainability, and their relation to the different economic systems. The overall goal of the module is to provide students with a good understanding of the various ways in which economies are organized and how they influence social, economic and environmental outcomes.
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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.
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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.
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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. 
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Taxes and Tax Policy [Updated in 2023]
by Brian Roach

Tax policy is one of the most debated, and often misunderstood, issues in politics and economics. This module provides students with critical tools to understand how taxes work and how they are essential for the government’s functioning. It first introduces the U.S. tax system, including the historical development of tax policies, and then presents an overview of tax systems in other countries along with an international comparison of tax data. An analysis on current tax debates is presented, focusing on issues such as the distribution of tax burden among different groups and the relationship between taxes and economic growth.
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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.
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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.

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