Economic Theory and Natural Resources

Cartoon green Earth on leaves and water droplets. PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM


As the world’s population grows and arguments intensify around issues from land use to global climate change, the debate continues over how to best manage our natural resources. How can we balance sustainability and economic solvency?

“Economic theories can explain the things that grow naturally in the landscape and help achieve different patterns in it use,” says Richard Ready, professor of agricultural and environmental economics. 

For the past four years, Ready has taught Community, Environment, and Development (CED) 429: Natural Resource Economics, a course meant to verse future policymakers and resource managers in applied economics. 

The 25-person class covers content including the optimal management of water, land, gas, forests, fisheries, and more. Building on elementary calculations of fair market value of corn and average gasoline consumption, Ready poses solutions to difficult questions surrounding biofuels. Students are encouraged to draw their own conclusions from theorists like environmental advocate Bill McKibben and controversial economic skepticist Bjørn Lomborg.

The idea of property rights stands as one of the course’s major themes. In a class in early October, Ready illustrated different property systems by using the example of a small household attempting to divvy up bacon.

“How will the bacon be used differently under an open access system where no one owns it?” Ready asked.

From there, the subject moved to reconciling problematic differences between water ownership on both coasts of the United States.

CED 429 gives students the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills around complex issues and provides a theoretical foundation to formulate solutions.