Environmental and Ecological Economics: Academic Requirements & Professional Outlook

Environmental and Ecological Economics: Academic Requirements & Professional Outlook

Environmental and Ecological Economics

Environmental economics is a concentration within the traditional field of economics that focuses on modern environmental issues. Economics is about finding the right balance between how many products can be sold and how much products and services should cost (supply and demand); environmental economics is about trying to balance the needs people have for products and services with the necessity of protecting natural resources and the environment. Many environmental economists today are taking a more ecological and holistic approach to traditional economic theories, creating two different fields in this subset of economics: environmental economics and ecological economics.

Environmental issues have broad social, cultural, and political implications beyond those found in standard economic theory. Environmental economists take these complex and inter-related issues into account when making economic policy with concern for more than basic supply and demand, profit-maximization. Environmental and ecological economists consider the exhaustibility of natural resources, the environmental and health benefits of alternative fuels, and the long-term costs of remediation in economic equations. They hope to make decisions that are sustainable, and ecologically and socially sound.

One distinction that may be made between environmental and ecological economics is the notion of "value": Environmental Economists tend to focus on human preferences (demand-side), while Ecological Economists tend to focus on the science and environmental consequences of economic decisions (supply-side). Whilst environmental economists are concerned with the efficient allocation of natural resources, ecological economists figure out the cost-benefit of preserving or protecting natural resources.

The Academic Requirements

While Environmental and/or Ecological Economics is a fairly common course to find in most interdisciplinary environmental programs, degrees and certificates in the field are not as easy to come by. However, by most accounts, it is a growing field which is becoming more and more acknowledged by academic institutions, with new programs and courses sprouting up every year. Requirements will vary, but you can expect a firm basis in economics, ecology, environmental science, management, and quantitative methods. Classes may include mathematics, modeling, business, and other economics classes, as well as ecology, environmental science, and ecological design.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that "graduate education is required for many private sector economist and market and survey research jobs, and for advancement to more responsible positions." Further, BLS states that "aspiring economists and market and survey researchers should gain experience gathering and analyzing data, conducting interviews or surveys, and writing reports on their findings while in college... Those considering careers as economists or market and survey researchers should be able to pay attention to details because much time is spent on precise data analysis."

Here are some courses that we've seen:

Interview: Environmental and Ecological Economics

  • Dynamic Modeling of Ecological and Economic Systems
  • Integrated Modeling of Industrial & Ecological Systems
  • Economics of Sustainability
  • Green Accounting
  • Economics of Renewable Natural Resources
  • Natural Resource Policy
  • Environmental Policy
  • Land Use Planning & Policy
  • Developing Sustainable Communities
  • Microeconomic Theory with Applications to Natural Resources
  • Risk Assessment
  • The Environment, Sustainable Development, and Business
  • International Relations and the Environment

Professional Outlook

Environmental economists do the same jobs as traditional economists, except that they focus specifically on environmental issues. They try to integrate aspects of the economy that are not traditionally valued in the market; for example, the value of pristine wilderness vs. developed land, or the value of biodiversity in a forest vs. a tree plantation. They work to minimize the impact of human activities on the environment. Environmental economists address issues in many areas, including; public and private land use, soil conservation, air and water pollution control, endangered species protection, and ocean resources. Economists are usually involved in research for their company or organization; they apply economic principles to current company policy and advise the company. They then prepare and present a report – presenting statistical information in a concise, simple manner is especially important.

Environmental economics graduates find jobs in the business, non-profit, government, and educational fields. There is certainly a need for more ecologically-minded economists in the field of education. Graduates are also needed in the policy-making and government fields, helping to make important decisions regarding resource allocation, wildlife management, and pollution control, to name a few pressing issues. Non-profit companies are also hiring environmental economists to help with sustainable development, sometimes in poor rural areas in other countries, where resource-allocation decisions are becoming a political issue for the first time. Also, consideration of environmental economics is becoming more and more important in traditional scientific fields, including jobs in parks & recreation, wildlife management, species conservation, and environmental planning.

Private businesses employ about 90% of economists, with the government employing most of the remaining 10%. The main government employers are the Departments of Agriculture, Labor and Commerce. Some work for international organization, such as the United Nations and World Bank.

Here are some job titles that we've seen, including some of the organizations that offer them, all of which included a requirement for experience in environmental or ecological economics:

Salary Forecast

The general category of "Economist," as detailed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos055.htm), inlcudes three general job sectors: Economists, Market Research Analysts, and Survey Researchers. For these categories, median annual earnings were $64,830 in 2000, with the lowest 10 percent at less than $35,690, and the highest 10 percent at than $114,580. The entrance salary for economists in the Federal Government with a bachelor's degree was $21,900 in 2001. Those with a master's degree started out at about $33,300, and economists with a Ph.D. begin at $40,200 per year. Market research analysts earned an average of $51,190 in 2000. Survey researchers earned about $26,200.

Also, according to the BLS, economics teachers (postsecondary education) make $65,000 a year, and economists in upper-level management in the government can make between $60,000 and $80,000. Check out the full reports from BLS on for Economists at www.bls.gov/oco/ocos055.htm.


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