Inside the classroom

A day in the life

Inside the classroom

Economics class

It seemed like a natural match for us to combine the two courses and make it a double course where we deal with the science and the economics of climate change.

ECON 2850: The Science and Economics of Climate Change

Maybe you can relate to a problem Ruth Forsdyke and Glen Lesins pose in their course on climate change. Say someone from Vancouver wants to study at Dalhousie, but worries about the environmental impact of traveling across Canada for four years.

How can he or she offset that cost? One answer might be to pay an extra $16 per flight. That’s the how much one company charges to convert one ton of carbon emissions created by a transcontinental flight into newly planted trees.

Although Forsdyke does advise flyers to buy certified offsets to potentially neutralize their carbon footprints, this solution on its own is not sufficient to solve our problem. The offset price is pretty trivial, so it will not have much impact on peoples’ decision to fly. Emissions sources also need to be rapidly reduced by raising the price of greenhouse gas intensive activities like flying, thereby decreasing their demand.

Economic solutions to environmental crises

Enivronmental economics, Dr. Forsdyke's specialty, is a complex mix of economic and scientific thought that challenges us to rethink the very roles we play in today's economy.

“I try to illustrate that it’s a social problem as much as a physical problem,” she says. “There’s a role for individuals to make an effort and to see that we could all reduce our own footprint if we all took some responsibility for it.”

The problem with good intentions is we need regulations and incentives to realize them on a grand scale, says Dr. Forsdyke. Enter economics: From British Columbia’s carbon tax to the European cap and trade market, this course tests the green theories and policies growing out of climate change.

Combining economics with other sciences

This year, Dr. Lesins, associate professor of atmospheric science, and Dr. Forsdyke decided to merge their two courses into one course that could examine economics, biology, chemistry, psychology and atmospheric physics altogether.

“It seemed like a natural match for us to combine the two courses and make it a double course, in which we both deal with the science and the economics of climate change,” he says.

Understanding the science is critical to understanding the depth of the problem, adds Dr. Forsdyke. “Glen teaches the physics of climate change and I do the economics. It’s more salient for students to have both sides of it.”

The interdisciplinary combination of students from many fields of science works well together, as students exchange expertise in class and in their group projects.  

“It’s been very successful,” says Dr. Lesins. “Students now consider both sides when trying to figure out how to go forward in addressing these problems.”