Environmental Economics Course Bridges Studies Across Campus

September 27, 2021
Students realize impact of addressing sustainability and environmental issues through economics

“I want my students to understand that environmental problems have strong economic roots. And, although it seems to be the popular belief among students that economic gains can only be achieved at the expense of environmental quality, I try to highlight that that is no longer the mainstream way of thinking about the environment-economy relationship and environmental stewardship can go hand in hand with economic development.”

Binish Rijal, assistant professor of economics, is helping students understand pollution as an economic phenomenon and apply the “economic way of thinking” to understand the cause of major environmental problems and in providing policy prescriptions through his course Environmental Economics.

The course attracts students from across campus in their interdisciplinary studies. “The mix of the students brings contending perspectives on how environmental problems ought to be dealt with and the regulatory stringency with which we ought to address the various types of environmental problems, so it makes way for some really exciting classroom discussions,” shared Rijal.

Taylor Coleman, ’22, plans to pursue a master’s degree in marine biology after UR and credits this course of making the connection with the realm of the social sciences. “It has allowed me to branch out from my background and comfort zone in the natural sciences and acquire new knowledge and perspectives that only serve to reinforce my understanding of the complexity that characterizes the human-environment dynamic relationship,” Coleman said.

During the semester, students delve into stationary source air pollution, vehicular emissions, climate change, water pollution, land pollution, and toxic waste, among other environmental issues, and learn about the real-world policies that have been implemented to address them.

“Having a strong base of knowledge on the intersection of the environment and economics will help aid me in understanding what steps I can take to help protect the environment through legislation, teaching, etc. I wanted to understand how economics can be used to preserve the natural world,” said Zazi Halla, ’24, who hopes to use her environmental and Chinese studies to explore environmental management or teaching overseas.

A major assignment in the course tasks students with exploring a contemporary environmental problem and reflecting how what they learned might have led them to gain a deeper understanding of the issue and its proposed solution.  “I have been impressed with students’ interest in a wide variety of issues ranging from municipal level localized pollution hotspots to global issues such as plastic pollution and climate change,” said Rijal.

Mikkel Sager is an exchange student from Coppenhagen Business School and says the course is a must-have for any sustainability-related role. “Environmental issues are a great passion of mine. I acknowledge that we’re facing some serious challenges and that we need to adapt our ways of thinking economics and societal structures to these challenges,” Sager said. “If utilized properly, the alternative perspectives learned in this course can serve as part of a solution on how to distribute resources, structure society, and measure economic welfare in the future.”

Rijal designed the course to also address environmental justice and sustainable development which are often sidelined in a typical environmental economics syllabus. “Learning the theoretical reasons why environmental issues are prevalent has been a highlight,” said Anthony Lawrence, ’22, who studies accounting. “It has made me want to know more about what practical things we can do as economics, or even regular people, to break the theory and change the norm for the betterment of the environment.”