For students of environmental science and studies, as well as students in sustainability programs, critical thinking about the economy–environment interdependence is a key learning objective and a foundational part of the undergraduate curriculum. There are many courses that could provide initial exposure to economic theory. However, not all are as adept at providing this combination of critical thinking, relevance to important global issues, and economy–environment interdependence. This article looks at neoclassical economics, environmental economics, and ecological economics and uses the literature to weigh which of these courses would be most well suited for an introductory economics course in environmental science and studies and sustainability undergraduate curriculum. Introductory courses in neoclassical economics have been criticized for avoiding controversy, failing to consider the moral dilemmas with economic theory and policy, and excluding ethics. Additionally, neoclassical economics treats the study of economy–environment interdependence as an optional extra rather than as one of the immutable foundations of the field. Environmental economics uses a variety of techniques to assign market values to externalities like ecosystem services, pollution, and natural resource depletion so that they can be incorporated into the market model. These techniques alone, however, do not provide a correct framework through which to view the interdependence between the economy and the environment. Ecological economics, while far from the current economic paradigm, allows for critical consideration of this interdependence.
Environmental Practice 16: 1–9 (2014)