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Certainly there have been some well publicized surveys over the past couple of years both worldwide and in the US that interest in environmental issues is waning. Certainly on a policy level, when people are asked to rank many environmental issues as compared to health or education or jobs issues, the environmental ones come near the bottom or at the bottom of the list. This should come as no surprise as the “environment”, to the extent you can consider it a good, is a very normal good, with a very large associated income elasticity of demand.

My anecdotal evidence for this is the same as well. Sure there are lots of bumper stickers our there, but my sense is that environmental issues are just another flag that politicized tribal members either fly or don’t fly, not because it is particularly important to them, but rather because, well, that’s what members of that tribe are supposed to believe. My other anecdotal evidence for it is that in my many hundreds of conversations with students – both new students and continuing students – I actually can’t remember (outside of my Environmental Economics class TAs) a single time when a student has come to me with a question or observation or article or story about anything environmental related. It’s not like I wouldn’t be a person they wouldn’t bring this up with – after all I do teach the class on it, and my office is well adorned with the paraphernalia you might expect of someone who is interested in it. Despite my interest in it, despite our college pushing a “go green” message very aggressively with the students, despite the proliferation of environmental course and social offerings on campus, if anything over my 8 years, I have seen a decline in interest in the topic. I wonder why this is the case. In addition, while my class enrollments in all of my classes have slowly increased or at least remained steady over my time here, the Environmental class has had enrollments steadily falling – from over 80 in each of my first two years as I recall, now down to 40.

Surely some of the enrollment decline is simply in the fact that I ask students to do a lot of work in the class. Another reason is because the department asks that I clearly publicize the two prerequisites there are for the course. Other reasons for the decline may include the scheduling of other electives at the same class time as mine, and other reasons include a steady gravitation in student enrollments overall toward financial/business classes and a more math oriented schedule. Of course, my crappy teaching ability and the general perception that it is hard to get an A in the courses I teach must have something to do with it as well – though I find the material in this course to be more interesting than any other I teach.

I wonder if enrollments in environmental economics classes elsewhere are robust? Where, among the electives most economics departments offer, the enrollments in their environmental courses rank? As I enter the final year of my contract here, my own interest in environmental issues is strengthening, but it seems like I better get on board with the more financial and mathematical oriented aspects of the field if I want to remain useful in the future – prospects I am not entirely excited about.

4 Responses to “Is Interest in “the Environment” Waning?”

  1. Gabe says:

    I have one theory for why enrollment is down: because the case is closed. If I had to guess, 95% of students don’t think it’s important to understand environmental economics, or the impacts that humans are having on the environment for that matter, because dissenter have been so brow beaten into submission that research and understanding is taking a backseat to obsequiousness to the people-who-know-this-shit. When enough people with loud enough megaphones yell that the debate is over, why bother learning anything about it?

  2. wintercow20 says:

    Depressing.

  3. jb says:

    Maybe not. It seems to me (observing students in high school at least) that kids are a lot savvier than the know-it-alls and central planners give them credit for. (My own kids laugh at how preachy and “overdone” the schools are when it comes to racism, inclusion, bullying, etc.) They also tend to reject authority. Maybe they are tired of hearing about enviro-geddon, and their general embrace of environmental-“ism” is receding.

  4. eskie says:

    My favorite economics course at U of R was economics of energy (no longer offered I believe). It was sort of the opposite side of environmental economics, with many of the same lessons.

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