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GDAE Teaching Modules
on Social and Environmental Issues in Economics

Teaching Module GraphicThese modules are designed for use as stand-alone supplements in undergraduate or graduate-level courses, and are available as PDFs free of charge. 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.
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Environmental Issues in Economics

Economics in Context Modules Topical Modules on Contemporary Issues

Environmental Issues in Economics

Macroeconomics and the Environment
by Jonathan M. Harris and 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.
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Microeconomics and the Environment [Updated in 2015]
by Brian Roach, Jonathan M. Harris, and 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.
This 60-page module is suitable for several weeks of class time.
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Trade and the Environment
by 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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The Economics of Global Climate Change [Updated in 2015]
by Jonathan M. Harris, Brian Roach, and Anne-Marie Codur

This module, based on chapters 18 and 19 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.
This 58-page module is suitable for several weeks of class time.
Download PDF | Download PowerPoint file with figures and tables
French translation with PowerPoint

Forests, Agriculture, and Climate: Economics and Policy Issues
by Jonathan M. Harris and Maliheh Birjandi Feriz

Deforestation and agriculture together contribute about 30% of global carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.  Policies to reduce emissions and store carbon under REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and by carbon-saving agricultural practices have enormous potential to contribute to efforts to mitigate global climate change.  But institutions to promote forest preservation, reforestation, and emissions-reducing agricultural practices are often lacking.  This module discusses the causes of deforestation and degradation, and the sources of agricultural emissions, as well as the potential for reduction and the economic and political reforms needed to achieve it.  It includes a section on the positive and negative impacts of biofuels.
Download PDF | Download PowerPoint file with figures and tables.
Spanish 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 of Renewable Energy [New in 2015]
by David Timmons, Jonathan M. Harris, and Brian Roach

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, subsidies, and financing; and policies for a renewable energy transition
Download PDF | Download PowerPoint file with figures and tables.

Water: Economics and Policy [New in 2015]
by Anne-Marie Codur, Jonathan M. Harris, and Brian Roach

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.
Download PDF | Download PowerPoint file with figures and tables.
Access French Translation

Economics in Context Modules

Economics in Context: Goals, Issues, and Behavior
by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, Frank Ackerman, and Thomas Weisskopf

This module draws on the first two chapters of Microeconomics in Context to present the study of economics in a broad social and environmental context. The traditional economic goal of efficiency is presented as an intermediate goal in the pursuit of a final goal of well-being. The module introduces the issues of externalities and transactions costs, and adds the activity of “resource maintenance” to the usual discussion of the activities of production, distribution, and consumption. Finally, the module updates the standard treatment of economic agents by drawing on recent research on motivations and behavior.
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Consumption and the Consumer Society
by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, Frank Ackerman, and Thomas Weisskopf

This module presents material drawn from chapter 10 of Microeconomics in Context 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 Activity in Context
by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, and Jonathan Harris.

This module, which draws on the first chapter of Macroeconomics in Context, presents an introduction to macroeconomic goals and a basic "roadmap" of the most significant events and theories of the last century. We place these subjects, however, into a broader context of concern for well-being. The module defines the three goals of macroeconomics as (1) improvements in living standards, (2) stability and security, and (3) financial, social, and ecological sustainability.
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Useful Macroeconomic Tools and Concepts
by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, and Jonathan Harris.

This module, which draws on the second chapter of Macroeconomics in Context, introduces standard concepts of economic modeling, efficiency, scarcity, opportunity cost, the production possibilities frontier, and the advantages of market systems. It also includes a review of graphing techniques. However, the module sets these into a broader context of concern for well-being by discussing the institutional requirements of markets and the limitations of markets.
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Macroeconomic Measurement:
Environmental and Social Dimensions

by Neva Goodwin, Julie A. Nelson, and Jonathan Harris.

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 and the Human Development Index.
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Topical Modules on Contemporary Issues

Debt & Deficits: Economic and Political Issues [New in 2014]
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. A review of experiences in the U.S. and Europe with stimulus and austerity policies gives current relevance, and recent deficit projections and proposed policy responses are evaluated.
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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.
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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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Corporate Governance and Accountability
Neva R. Goodwin

Some managers believe that they need not concern themselves with social and environmental issues because markets can be trusted to enforce efficiency and make businesses serve the social good. But economists recognize that such beneficial results occur only if certain assumptions hold. In reality, market failures may exist because of numerous factors, including externalities, transaction costs, market power, problems of information, and consideration of equity. This module discusses the issues market failures raise for managers and some of the potential solutions.
The module includes a 14-page background reading, 25 cases illustrating real-world examples of market failure, and numerous references for additional information.
This module is available from

The Gulf Oil Spill: Economics and Policy Issues
by Brian Roach, Jonathan M. Harris, and Adrian Williamson

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Summer 2010 has been called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. The Gulf spill raises numerous questions about energy, economics, and the environment. This module considers various aspects of the spill, including its economic impacts, its implications for offshore oil development, and its lessons for national and global energy policy. The methods for estimating the economic damages from oil spills are described, along with preliminary estimates of the spill's impacts. The module discusses policy making in presence of low-probability high-impact outcomes. The true cost of our dependence on oil is considered. Finally, the module describes various policy options for reducing our dependence on oil.
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