ENVS 141.F09 - Environmental Studies 141 Alan Richards...

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Environmental Studies 141 Fall, 2009 Alan Richards, Professor Emeritus UCSC College Eight Room 240 T/Th 4:00-5:45 PM 1 Environmental Studies 141: Ecological Economics The trouble with the world ain’t ignorance. It’s all the things people know that ain’t so. (Mark Twain) Course Description: This course seeks to enhance students’ understanding of the political economy of environmental issues. It does this primarily through a use and critique of the economic approach to environmental policy questions. We will review, criticize, extend, and develop the basic economic tools which all students of environmental policy must understand. It is equally critical to understand how economics can be used as an ideological tool to protect special privileged interests and to defend unsustainable strategies of “business as usual.” It will turn out that these uses often have little basis in economic theory, and that economic theory, itself, has some serious limitations as a guide to human behavior. But understanding the economic mode of thinking (however you judge its usefulness) is essential for any student of environmental issues. In this course we will explore political and economic aspects of the use and abuse of renewable and non-renewable resources. Given the increasingly serious world-wide human impact on the environment, it is hard to overstate the importance of understanding how and why humans behave as they do in this area. An understanding of the material of this course is a necessary, although obviously not a sufficient, condition for such understanding. Our subject is grim, and, quite literally, vital.
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Environmental Studies 141 Fall, 2009 Alan Richards, Professor Emeritus UCSC College Eight Room 240 T/Th 4:00-5:45 PM 2 Many people (most people?) believe that there is a fundamental conflict between “the economy” and “the environment”. We shall see that this belief falls afoul of Mark Twain’s famous dictum, quoted above. Such viewpoints typically reflect a failure to think sufficiently deeply about fundamental assumptions concerning values, preferences, property rights, and human knowledge (or ignorance). Such views misunderstand what an “economy” is; they are also entirely unconscious about where and how such a misleading perspective arose, why it is so destructive, and whose (short-term!) interests it may serve. Understanding, and deconstructing, this false belief requires us also to take a critical view of much of orthodox economic theory. The perspective of “ecological economics” can contribute to that deconstruction. It is assumed that all students are familiar with the basic supply and demand model of economics (e.g., as taught in ENVS 25 or Econ 1 at UCSC). If you do not already have this knowledge, you should take such a course before enrolling in ENVS 141.
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