Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

  • What is Environmental and Natural Resource Economics?

    thefield_1Environmental Economics can help us understand why many of the Earth’s natural resources are under threat, and what we can do to address these threats. The major combines natural sciences and economics to make you an informed participant in the public debate on how to protect tropical rain forests, safe drinking water, clean air, biodiversity, sustainable fisheries, endangered species, and other natural assets. We answer questions like:

    • How can we protect rainforests while also helping to alleviate poverty in developing tropical nations?
    • Are automobile fuel standards a good way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, or are there better alternatives?
    • Are biofuels be an effective element in the solution to environmental problems, or do they simply create more problems than they solve?
    • How can we protect rainforests while also helping to alleviate poverty in developing tropical nations?
    • Should the Environmental Protection Agency create new regulations that would improve air quality?
    • What are the strengths and weaknesses of policies like cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, pollution offsets, payments for ecosystem service, performance-based standards, product eco-labeling and command-and-control regulations?

    We need to understand how these policies work (or don’t work) if we are going to develop effective ways to protect our natural assets and develop a sustainable world.

    Environmental Economics also addresses some of the most important questions facing our global society. Why have humans caused environmental degradation on local, regional, and global scales, and what can we do about it? How can we create a sustainable society that protects the environment while maintaining a high standard of living? Environmental economics provides analytical tools to help us address these questions.


    Why have humans caused widespread ecological impacts, depleted fisheries and forests, polluted waters and atmosphere?

    Environmental Economics takes a very balanced and rational approach to such questions. We do not begin with the premise that humans are evil or greedy. And while overpopulation is clearly an important problem, the threats to ecosystems do not arise simply because there are too many of us. Natural assets like the oceans and atmosphere have properties that lead to a tendency for overuse and depletion. We need to understand these root causes of environmental problems to design effective ways to protect the environment.

    How market forces operate and why they contribute to environmental degradation?

    Economists believe that in many circumstances the market provides the best outcome when left to itself, as if it is guided by “an invisible hand”. However, there are well understood reasons that markets fail to operate well in some contexts. This is what economists call “market failure”, and environmental degradation is THEclassic example of market failure. But there are also well understood reasons that direct government regulation will also tend to fail to achieve good outcomes in these situations. This is called “government failure”. Environmental economics helps us understand the underlying causes of market failure and government failure, and helps us design effective policies by focusing on the underlying causes of environmental problems. We view the causes and the solutions without a predetermined perspective on the ethics of markets and governments. Both markets and government regulations have important roles to play in creating a sustainable, productive and equitable society.

    How much are natural resources worth?

    Many of us have not thought of these environmental services or assets in terms of money or dollar signs, because there are no markets in which they are traded, as with many other commodities. In fact, there are profound questions as to what can or should be considered a commodity as opposed to a common good. But these environmental services are of great value, and if policy makers do not know their value they cannot decide which ones need the most of our attention. There are a number of quite amazing tools called environmental valuation methods that can help environmental economists find out the “value” of such environmental assets. And environmental economists try to help society to understand the value of things that are sometimes elusive.

    How can we design policies to protect the global environment and simultaneously alleviate world poverty?

    Many are concerned with protecting rainforests, maintaining biodiversity, preserving endangered species and reducing global carbon emissions. But there are equally important concerns about problems such as global poverty and world hunger. Economists have developed policies that can simultaneously contribute to protecting the global environment AND alleviating world poverty. Do you want to learn about the considerable potential of these policy tools, and about challenges faced in properly designing and implementing these policies? Study environmental economics.

    What do we need to do to ensure a sustainable and dependable energy supply? And what are the challenges of making the transition from a society dependent on highly polluting and carbon-intensive fossil fuels, to a sustainable society based on low polluting and renewable energy sources?

    Energy plays an important role in every facet of society, from our economic and environmental health to the quality of life in our homes and communities. In order to power our planet sustainably, we will need to restructure everything from our own individual energy usage to global power distribution systems. Doing so will require rebuilding our society around alternative energy sources, and we will need to make fundamental changes in the way humans use energy. The transition will also require that we develop effective long-term strategies for innovative research on new, clean energy sources. This transition will not be easy, and it is one of the greatest challenges for your generation. But the rewards are equally substantive in terms of wealth production and quality of life. We can also create a more just society, in which economic progress for developed nations is not at the expense of developing ones.

    Environmental Economics can help us answer these questions.

    All these questions embody the interactions between economic and natural systems, and Environmental and Natural Resource Economics can help us find answers to these questions. There is no claim that Environmental and Natural Resource Economics is the end-all-and-be-all, only that it provides insights as to why many of the Earth’s natural resources are under threat and how we can address these threats. The primary goal is to develop a sustainable world economy that can meet our needs in a just and equitable way.

    The major in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics provides students with tools to weigh options and make important decisions concerning the protection, restoration, development, and use of our natural resources. Graduates gain an understanding of both natural sciences and the economy, and learn why both perspectives are essential in developing solutions to today’s critical environmental problems. The major prepares students for graduate school, or for careers in the public and private sector that address environmental and natural resource management, business, or public policy. Such professionals play an important role in coordinating interdisciplinary teams to address a myriad of complex problems.

    Our undergraduate program is inherently interdisciplinary, and all students in our major develop strong foundations in natural and social sciences. Option 1, Environmental Economics and Management, allows students considerable flexibility to pursue their professional goals. For example, the 24 credits in supporting electives in this Option are designed to allow a student to create an associated minor (e.g., green business), or to sample broadly from courses from different departments across campus. Option 2, Environmental Economics and Management, is a more structured program that has equal balance between environmental science and environmental economics. For example, the 24 concentration credits are comprised of 12 credits in environmental economics and 12 credits selected from a prescribed set of natural science courses in ecology, watersheds, soils and environmental geology. But students in both options develop strong foundations in natural and social sciences.

    Environmental and Natural Resource Economics is central to the development of a more just and sustainable global society. As a major in this field, you will be prepared to contribute to crucial and evolving solutions.

  • What are my career options in this field?

    employmentThis major prepares students for graduate school, or for professional careers working for government agencies, businesses, or environmental organizations. Public officials, nonprofit organizations, and private businesses need professionals to integrate the ecological and natural science with the economic science aspects of their organizations. Such professionals play an important role in coordinating interdisciplinary teams to address complex environmental problems ranging from oil spills to climate change to nutrient pollution and the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone”.

    Environmental and Natural Resource Economics graduates go on to become:

    • Environmentalists who discover where regulations and reforms are needed and who work to bring about change
    • Government regulators who evaluate environmental management options that protect the environment while promoting economic development
    • Business people who utilize natural resources sustainably and profitably, while complying with government regulations
    • Attorneys who examine the constitutionality of national regulations and the legality of individual company policies
    • Political advisor who help to design legislation that protects the environment while also contributing to the economic vitality of communities

    For detailed information on careers in this field, go to the Careers Tab.

  • Is this field for me?

    besuccessful_1Are you passionate about our environment, its many challenges and its vital role in our health and welfare? Are you interested in creating a new green economy that can protect the environmental and the economic vitality of our communities? Are you interested in understanding why individuals, firms, and governments make decisions that lead to unsustainable outcomes for the environment and what we can do to fix it? Are you interested in learning analytical tools that can help identify the root causes of, and solutions to, environmental problems?

    To be successful as a student, and eventually as a professional in environmental economics, you must be passionate about understanding environmental challenges and their consequences for human health and welfare. You must have a strong interest in learning and applying analytical tools to evaluate the likely success of proposed solutions to environmental problems. You must be interested in contributing to a new green economy that promises a sustainable future for our generation and those who come after us.

    Academic Strengths

    The Environmental and Natural Resource Economics major is where “green” and “economy” come together. The major is based on a synergy of ecology and economics. Students in the major first take a foundation of two semesters of biology, math, natural resource economics, and natural resource science. Upper division courses build on this foundation with resource management, policy, ecology, statistics and natural sciences. The major also provides an option to sample broadly from courses across the University or to develop a related focus area (e.g. green business).

    Personal Qualities

    At the core of a successful and effective environmental economist is a person who is sincerely interested in caring for and promoting both the environment and human welfare. Environmental economists need skills like:

    • Critical thinking to assess environmental challenges from multiple perspectives
    • Strong problem solving skills
    • A passion for learning about the many different dimensions of environmental problems
    • Perseverance needed to resolve problems that seem to have no ideal solution
    • Willingness and ability to work as a member of a multi-disciplinary team
    Job Market

    Recently, we have witnessed an increased awareness of the complex environmental challenges that our society is facing. Climate change, congestion, air pollution, oil spills and exhaustible energy source dependency have all made the mainstream media news almost on a daily basis. All of these problems are complex, and the solutions to these problems require a broad approach involving the many different dimensions of the problems, ranging from chemistry, physics, ecology, economics, ethics, and management, among others. Environmental economics major involves studying all of these dimensions, and provides a strong background for a host of careers that seek to address these complex problems.

    The complex nature of this grand environmental challenge has created job opportunities for people with broad training and problem solving skills. Government agencies at the federal, state and local levels are implementing ecosystem policies and other environmental management decisions. In addition, most environmental policy assessments are now required to analyze the economic implications of government decisions. Environmental managers are also finding that environmental problems are often driven by economic incentives. These factors suggest that environmental managers of the present and future will need an ever-increasing appreciation of how economic factors impact environmental management decisions. Furthermore, private sector business, industry, and consulting companies will have an increasing demand for environmental specialists who understand both the natural sciences and the economy, particularly as the private sector faces new regulations on environmental quality.

    A career in environmental economics can be exciting and fulfilling. You might be hired by a government agency to lead, plan and conduct analyses to assess alternative approaches to protecting the environment in the face of land use change. You might be asked to evaluate different regulatory and incentive-based options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. You might work collaboratively as part of an interdisciplinary team to forecast how the sustainability of natural and human communities might be affected by a new way of managing fisheries. Or you might be asked to provide advice on how to design new tourism developments so as to ensure environmental sustainability and the long term economic viability of a community.

  • How do I prepare for a career in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics?


    High School

    Undoubtedly, knowledge of math, chemistry and biology is an important foundation to build upon in college. And having a genuine interest for addressing environmental challenges and finding ways to promote a green economy is a key prerequisite to become a successful student and professional in this field.


    The environmental and natural resource economics curriculum equips students with analytical tools crucial in addressing many of the contemporary environmental challenges. Students learn how to use these tools to evaluate the likely success of proposed solutions to environmental problems about which they are passionate, supporting their “lifelong learning” and increasing their professional effectiveness.
    The curriculum shifts as the level of complexity progresses. At the freshman level, students are introduced to what economics is, and how it applies to policy, markets, and most importantly to the environment and natural resources. At the same time they are presented with concepts of biology, soil science, chemistry and ecology to add to their knowledge of the world around us. Sophomores focus on furthering their understanding with more advanced concepts of environmental economics such as pollution, public policies, and cool tools to measure people’s value of environmental goods and services. Juniors study modeling solutions to environmental problems and applications to a variety of resources such as energy, water, air, and marine. Toward the end of their studies, students are introduced to the more complex concepts and methods to address global climate change, sustainable energy, clean water, green technologies, pollution, biodiversity and their link to our economy and ultimately our well being. Real world environmental issues such as the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico provides the base for applications of the tools and skills acquired as well as classroom debates and projects.

    For more detailed information about the courses available in this field, go to the Curriculum Tab

    For more detailed information about experiential learning in this field, go to the Experiential LearningTab


    Students from other majors can minor in environmental economics. Or students who major in environmental economics can minor in other fields. The minors that our students have done are varied, but include business administration, natural resource science, leadership, marine affairs, political science, geological sciences, languages, international relations. For a full description of all available minors at URI, read Minor Fields of Study.

    Graduate School

    Graduate education, at the masters or doctoral level, builds on the competencies of college education and focuses on complex environmental and natural resource economics roles in education, research, and administration. An environmental economist interested in teaching, consulting or researching to develop solutions to real environmental problems at the national and international levels might choose to get a degree as a PhD or a Master’s degree.

    For more information about graduate schools in this program, go to the Graduate Studies Tab

  • What will I know and be able to do when I graduate?

    knowledgeandskillsThe Environmental and Natural Resource Economics major is designed to give students an in-depth understanding of the linkages between the economy and the natural environment. This major teaches students to weigh options and make important decisions concerning the protection, restoration, development, and use of our natural resources. Students in this major develop a foundation in both the natural sciences and economics so as to understand the interactions between human society and our natural environment. The major is made up of two options: Green Markets and Sustainability (GMS) and Environmental Economics and Management (EEM). The GMS option has a stronger focus on environmental economics, but has considerable flexibility for students to sample broadly from courses across the University or to develop a related focus area (e.g., green business). The Environmental Economics and Management has a balanced focus on environmental economics and environmental sciences.

    The program is comprised of two options, described below. Both options require a minimum of 120 credit hours, including 24 credit hours in concentration credits. Students need 12 credits in introductory professional courses, including natural resource conservation, introductory resource economics, introductory geology, and resource management. At least ten credits in basic sciences are required, including four in general chemistry and six in general biology. The major also requires a minimum of three credits in communication skills beyond the general education requirements.

    ENRE’s professors have established the following list of expectations for your learning here at URI. You will be amazed at your educational progress each semester and with your level of achievement at the conclusion of your undergraduate studies.


    DEPTH AND APPLICATION OF KNOWLEDGE – You will acquire knowledge and the skills necessary to obtain or pursue a professional position or graduate training in your discipline. By the time you complete your education you will have the knowledge of:

    1. Microeconomics
    2. Resource Economics/ Bioeconomics
    3. Trade in environmental and natural resource products
    4. International trade issues
    5. Management and Policy Issues
    6. Environmental Economics

    And ability to:

    1. Evaluate policy decisions
    2. Create basic models
    3. Analyze data
    4. Identify major contemporary policy and management strategies employed
    5. Bring relevant environmental issues into an economic context
    6. Distinguish between the challenges of working with renewable vs. non-renewable resources

    QUANTITATIVE COMPETENCE – You will identify and use appropriate quantitative methods to analyze economic, social, and environmental phenomena. By the time you complete your education you will have the knowledge of:

    1. Mathematical and statistical concepts
    2. Graphical analysis
    3. Econometrics
    4. Benefit-Cost analysis
    5. Economic modeling and Simulation
    6. Experimental Economics

    And ability to:

    1. Use computational and analytical tools to evaluate data
    2. Use analysis to draw conclusions and make judgments concerning effectiveness and policy implications
    3. Use benefit-cost analysis to value policy and management options
    4. Determine economic efficiency

    METHODS OF INQUIRY – You will understand and use methods of inquiry appropriate to your discipline. By the time you complete your education you will have the knowledge of:

    1. The scientific method
    2. Experimental economics and its uses
    3. Various survey techniques

    And ability to:

    1. Formulate and test hypotheses
    2. Recognize the shortcomings of different approaches
    3. Determine the best quantitative method for individual problems
    4. Incorporate biological data into economic analysis

    PROBLEM-SOLVING – You will use acquired knowledge, skills, and ingenuity to solve complex problems. By the time you complete your education you will have the knowledge of:

    1. A range of problem solving strategies

    And ability to:

    1. Distinguish among different problem solving strategies
    2. Use observation, experimentation, simulation, and models to gain knowledge
    3. Formulate and test hypotheses using environmental and economic data
    4. Recognize methodological limitations
    5. Build on present knowledge to develop appropriate problem-solving strategies
    6. Evaluate results and refine strategies accordingly

    INFORMATION MAMAGEMENT – You will be able to gather and interpret information from diverse sources. By the time you complete your education you will be able to:

    1. Locate, compile, and organize information using a variety of techniques and current technologies
    2. Evaluate various sources of information
    3. Use appropriate software such as Excel

    COMMUNICATION – You will communicate clearly and effectively using a variety of methods. By the time you complete your education you will be able to:

    1. Speak in an articulate manner and present your ideas and knowledge clearly
    2. Write logically and effectively for diverse audiences
    3. Use appropriate software, such as PowerPoint, for graphic communication
    4. Be able to listen successfully and respond appropriately
    5. Be able to convey complex ideas in resource economics to laypersons

    MULTIDISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVE – You will recognize the value of, and participate in, multidisciplinary teams. By the time you complete your education you will be able to:

    1. Understand the perspectives and scope of related disciplines
    2. Interact effectively with peers and professionals in related fields

    ETHICAL PRINCIPLES – You will understand and apply ethical principles to issues, problems, and professional practices. By the time you complete your education you will be able to:

    1. Be conversant in the ethical standards in the field

    GLOBAL AWARENESS – Develop an awareness of global community and ecology in physical, biological, and social dimensions. By the time you complete your education you will:

    1. Become familiar with economic and ecological systems and how and why they change
    2. Recognize the diversity of human cultures and how their relationships to local and global ecosystems effects practices, policies, and outcomes

    PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT – develop a sense of responsibility to self, community, and society. By the time you complete your education you will be able to:

    1. Recognize the value of being a contributing member of your community and society
    2. Use reflection and self-evaluation to set goals for personal improvement
    3. Gain an understanding of differences among diverse populations
  • Where can I find more information?

    resources_1US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)

    The US EPA is a governmental organization responsible with the implementation and enforcement of rules and regulations targeted at protecting the health and environment of our nation. You can read more about several interesting topics covered in this course on its website.

    resources_2U.S. Energy Information Administration (US EIA)

    This is one of the most comprehensive and reliable source of information on various topics on energy resource and related environmental issues like climate change. Here you can find out what types of renewable and alternative energy sources are available and how they work and how much of our energy comes from these sources. Also, here you can find interesting statistics about the non-renewable energy resources, such as petroleum, coal and natural gas.

    resources_3The EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics webpage provides comprehensive description of guidelines for performing economic and health impacts analyses for various environmental regulations and policies and manages EPA’s research for environmental economics topics.

    resources_4Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (AERE)

    This international association is the home of two staples of environmental and natural resource economics research: the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management (JEEM), and the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy (REEP)

    resources_5The Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA)

    This is a well renowned not-for-profit organization dedicated to professional advancement with respect to a variety of topics in the agricultural and applied economics fields.
    National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP)

    This is a forum, network and resource for environmental professionals.
    Economic Science Association (ESA) – This is a great source of information for all those interested in studying economic behavior through the lens of controlled experiments. The ESA is also the publisher of the Experimental Economics Journal, sponsor of conferences and online discussion groups on this topic.

  • Who can I contact for more information?

    contactsName: Dr. Emi Uchida
    Title: Undergraduate Advisor, Department of Environmental & Natural Resource Economics
    Tel: (401) 874-4586
    Email: emi@uri.edu


    Name: Dr. Simona Trandafir
    Title: Undergraduate Advisor
    Tel: (401) 874-2471
    Email: simona@uri.edu

    We are located on the second floor of the Kingston Coastal Institute, just off Flagg Road on the North Side of Campus.