Microeconomics and Policy Analysis I and II
This two-semester course shows students that it is both possible and useful to think about public policy rigorously to see what assumptions work; to understand how formal models operate; to question vagueness and clichés; and to make sophisticated ethical arguments. An important goal of the class is to have students work in groups to apply microeconomic concepts to current public policy issues having to do with urban environmental and earth systems.
The course includes problem sets designed to teach core concepts and their application. In the spring semester, the emphasis is on the application of concepts to analyze contemporary policy problems. Some time is also devoted to international trade and regulation, and industrial organization issues. Students not only learn microeconomic concepts, but also how to explain them to decision-makers. Student groups take on specific earth system policy issues, analyze options through the use of microeconomic concepts, and then make oral presentations to the class.
The course provides an introduction to budgeting and financial control as a means of influencing the behavior of public organizations. Concepts include the budget process and taxation, intergovernmental revenues, municipal finance, bonds, control of expenditures, purchasing, debt management, productivity enhancement, and nonprofit finance. Students learn about the fiscal problems that managers typically face, and how they seek to address them. Students also gain experience in conducting financial analysis and facility with spreadsheet programs.
Case materials utilize earth systems issues as well as other policy issues. A computer lab section is an essential aspect of the course, as it teaches students to use spreadsheet software to perform practical exercises regarding the budgeting and financial management of a hypothetical state environmental agency.
The Environmental Science and Earth Systems Concentration is comprised of both natural and social science courses.
The five natural science courses are:
•Ecology and Biodiversity
The three social science courses are:
• Earth Systems and Environmental Politics, Policy, and Management
• The Economics of Sustainable Development
• Ethics, Values, and Justice
The science component of the concentration is designed to enable students to understand enough science to manage the work of science experts. Our goal is for students to be capable of more than passive consumption or understanding of environmental science. However, we do not expect MPAs to become producers of scientific research. The focus of the environmental science taught in the program is on understanding the ecological processes that directly effect human health and well being.
The policy and management issues our graduates are being trained to address include global change issues such as global warming but more frequently focus on:
• the provision of safe drinking water;
• environmentally-sound sewage treatment and disposal;
• solid and toxic waste management; and
• the control of local sources of air pollution.
The science courses required in this concentration are designed to support global and local environmental decision-making and management.
The course teaches basic techniques for getting to know an environment and understand key chemical processes central to environmental science. Students build an understanding of the key chemical processes related to pollution generation and control. The focuses of this course are the processes that affect the fate and transport of specific compounds that act as contaminants on local- to global-scale levels. The behavior of contaminants is influenced by physical, chemical, and biological processes naturally occurring within various ecosystems. This course describes these processes and the extent to which they affect different classes of contaminants. Students learn how to analyze chemical information they will encounter as environmental managers.
Risk Assessment and Environmental Toxicology
This course will explore the effects of different contaminants on the health of all organisms within an ecosystem, with a particular focus on human health. While toxicologists study a wide variety of toxicants, from naturally occurring poisons (venoms) to synthetic chemicals, this course will emphasize anthropogenic toxicants, in the context of how (and whether) exposure to such toxicants should be controlled: risk assessment. The main goal of this course is to foster an understanding of how environmental scientists think and solve environmental issues and most importantly to develop an expertise in assessing the validity of scientific research and its conclusions.
Students learn how the atmosphere, oceans, and freshwater systems interact to affect climate. Causes of greenhouse warming, energy production and alternatives are studied. A local case study focuses on planning for climate changes on interannual, decadal, and centennial time scales. A goal of the course is to teach an appreciation of uncertainties and predictability in earth systems. A particular emphasis will be placed on the role of humans, in the last centuries, on the perturbation of the natural climate and how these perturbations can be characterized and discerned from natural fluctuations. Other concepts examined include an integrated view of the Earth’s energy budget, structure and circulation of the atmosphere and the ocean, interaction between oceans and atmosphere.
Students are introduced to the hydrologic cycle as well as processes governing water quantity and quality. Students learn how the atmosphere, oceans, and freshwater systems interact to affect the hydrological cycle and climate. This course focuses on basic physical principles (evaporation, condensation, precipitation, runoff, stream flow, percolation, and groundwater flow), as well as environmentally relevant applications based on case studies. Most specifically, students will be exposed to water quantity and issues from global to regional scales and how human and natural processes affect water availability in surface and groundwater systems.
Principles of Ecology
This course facilitates learning about 1) basic principles related to ecological interactions of life on earth and 2) the causes and consequence of changes in biological diversity. For the first portion of this course, we will focus on how organisms interact with one another and with the non-living environment. For the second portion of this course, we will study the effects of biodiversity at the genetic, population, community, and landscape levels. This course aims to give students an understanding of the ways in which biology can contribute to the solution of environmental problems facing human society and to contribute biological perspectives to an interdisciplinary approach to environmental problem solving.
This course facilitates learning about how ecology can inform land use decisions and applied management strategies of natural resources (e.g. water, air, biodiversity), particularly in urban environments. Towards that end, this course covers topics ranging from applied ecology and conservation biology to sustainable development. It uses a cross disciplinary approach to understanding the nature of ecology and biological conservation, as wells as the social, philosophical and economic dimensions of land use strategies. The course will focus on applications and problem-solving in issues related to urban development. The course will give particular attention to developing skills using geographic information systems (GIS). Students will gain a basic, practical understanding of GIS applications using ArcView GIS 9.3.
Earth Systems and Environmental Politics, Policy, and Management
This is the first social science course in the earth systems concentration. Its goal is to take a system-level approach to environmental policy problems. Issues presented include defining the environmental problem; the politics of the environment; environmental agenda setting; pollution prevention; U.S. pollution control through regulation, public works, and market incentives; cross-media and cross national environmental problems; and the response of societies, economies, and political systems to environmental issues. The course also discusses international environmental regime development, conflict resolution, and citizen participation in environmental decision-making.
Sustainable Economic Development
This course builds on the first half of the core microeconomics course and addresses issues of environmental and resource economics. It focuses on the interaction between markets and the environment; policy issues related to optimal extraction and pricing; property rights in industrial and developing countries and how they affect international trade in goods such as timber, wood pulp, and oil. The use of the world's water bodies and the atmosphere as economic inputs to production are also examined. The economics of renewable resources is described and sustainable economic development models are discussed and analyzed. This course is recommended but not required.
Ethics, Values, and Justice
This course examines the way in which the earth has been viewed by various societies and cultures today and over time. Differing views of the relationship of humans to the environment are discussed and debated, and the impact of ethical systems on environmental policy and practices are described and analyzed. Environmental values, perceptions, norms, and behaviors are studied and analyzed. Environmental justice and the impact of racism on environmental outcomes are discussed in detail. The course also discusses the environmental policy and management process from the standpoint of ethics, as distinct from efficiency, effectiveness, expertise, cost, or other organizational considerations. Attempts are made to discover some guidelines for ethical stewardship of the planet and for formulating policy decisions with ethical considerations factored in.