Environmental Economics Degree

Why an Environmental Economics Degree?

Environmental economics is an area of economics dealing with the relationship between the economy, the earth's systems, and its limited resource base. Economic systems exist within the confines of the closed earth system. Rather than considering economic systems in isolation, environmental economics studies economics within the larger context of what we know about the world from science and other disciplines.

Environmental economists research the economics of resource use, perform cost-benefit analyses of environmental regulations and other pollution control measures, and assess new fuels and emerging environmental markets. They attempt to assign value to “ecosystem services” such as natural water and air filtration.

Environmental Economics Undergraduate Programs

Undergraduate study is usually just a starting point for economists. While some government positions are available to workers with bachelor's degrees, most positions required advanced degrees. Coursework is largely quantitative, focusing on math and statistics. Students also learn how to use computer software to create economic models. They may also study environmental law and policy. Taking physical and life science courses is also recommended. Seeking out internships and volunteer opportunities that provide practical experience will also be advantageous when it comes to employment.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) lists 11 undergraduate programs in this field, though this number only includes programs at AASHE member institutions. Keep in mind that program names can vary; Environmental Economics and Policy, Environmental Economics & Management, Environmental and Resource Economics, Natural Resource Economics, or Ecological Economics are a few equivalent degree programs with different names.

In addition, a few schools, such as UC Berkeley and Ohio State University, offer minors. Some generalized undergraduate programs in economics also offer elective courses in environmental economics.

School Spotlight

University of California, Berkeley's major in Environmental Economics and Policy (EEP) focuses on the market forces shaping the use of renewable and non-renewable resources, and how policy and law affects them. This interdisciplinary program is offered by both the College of Natural Resources (BS) and the College of Letters and Science (BA). Berkeley's program is based on micro-economic theory.

Colorado State University's Environmental and Natural Resource Economics degree provides a strong basis in applied economic tools, data gathering, and analysis. To further their interdisciplinary studies and obtain a fuller understanding of the interactions between science and social science, students can pursue a double-major by adding a major in Natural Resource Management from the Warner College of Natural Resources.

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Graduate Certificates in Environmental Economy

A graduate certificate in environmental economics can be an excellent choice for those wanting to further their careers by expanding their credentials. It's particularly useful for professionals in adjacent areas, such as environmental science, environmental engineering, environmental biology, or architecture who would like to move into different roles or managerial positions.

However, only a handful of schools currently offer graduate certificates in this area. The University of Vermont's Graduate Certificate in Ecological Economics teaches students how to integrate economics within the context of the world's ecosystems and resource base from both theoretical and pragmatic perspectives. Students must demonstrate competency in natural science, social science, management and quantitative methods. Competency in two of these areas must be demonstrated for admission to the certification program, either through prior graduate coursework or life experience. Provisional admission is also possible.

Master's Degrees in Environmental Economics

Graduate-level study is often required for careers in environmental economics. It generally involves a greater focus on applied economics, including quantitative research and analytics. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the programs, the coursework involved can vary considerably. Some programs focus mainly on the social science aspects of economics such as policy and law, while other programs focus on physical and life sciences. In general, aspiring students from scientific fields, or those who wish to enter scientific fields, should seek out programs offered by scientific departments, while those more interested in law and policy should seek out programs offered by departments of economics.

School Spotlight

Duke University's Environmental Sciences & Policy program combines the physical, biological, and social sciences to study how natural resource policy affects the economic choices of individuals and businesses, and how they in turn affect resource consumption and the environment. It's a highly analytical program that's international in scope.

The University of Rhode Island's graduate program in Environmental & Natural Resource Economics focuses on coastal and marine resource development and management. For example, courses and faculty study the ecosystem services these resources provide, as well as how economic activity and policies affect water quality and pollution.

Doctoral Programs in Environmental Economics

The majority of environmental and other economists hold doctoral degrees. Since economics is a largely research-based profession doctoral degrees are necessary for many jobs. While the number of institutions offering Ph.D. programs specifically in environmental economics is fairly low, some universities offer doctoral programs in economics or related areas, with an emphasis or concentration in environmental or ecological economics. The London School of Economics is also an excellent international choice. These doctoral programs involve advanced quantitative work, independent research, and a dissertation.

School Spotlight

The University of Vermont is also an excellent place to pursue a doctoral degree. Students can apply for a fellowship at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, an interdisciplinary research center. Students can collaborate with faculty from a range of schools, gaining valuable research experience and variety of perspectives. To study at the Gund, students must first apply to a related school, such as the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. Applicants should mention their interest in the Gund PhD Assistantship, along with any faculty they've already been in touch with. The school's faculty will nominate candidates for the Gund Assistantship. Students receive degrees in the home departments of their advisors.

The Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara offers a Ph.D. program with an emphasis on economics and environmental science (EES). Depending on background and career goals, students are enrolled as doctoral candidates in either the Department of Economics or the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. Students start our their programs with core work in microeconomics and econometrics in their home schools, then move on the EES portion in the second year. UCSB's program provides a solid foundation in both the scientific and economic aspects of the discipline.

Employment as an Environmental Economist

Environmental economists can earn a comfortable salary; the median salary for all economists was $108,350 in 2020. Most environmental economists currently work in federal or state government. While these positions are expected to decline, overall employment of economists is projected to grow 13% from 2020 to 2030. Some environmental consulting firms are hiring economists to estimate and minimize project costs. They may also work as project managers for consultancies and environmental nonprofits.

2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for Economists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.

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Core Skills You'll Develop While Studying Environmental Economics

  • Writing: Since economists routinely write reports they must learn how to speak and write well.
  • Critical Thinking: Economists learn logic and reasoning to identify and weigh the pros and cons of various approaches and solutions to economic issues.
  • Judgment and Decision Making: Economist apply these skills to cost-benefit analyses and the construction of economic recommendations.
  • Statistics and Quantitative Analysis: Economists also gain a strong background in statistics and quantitative analysis.

Learn more about a career as an Environmental Economist.