How 3611 prepared me to do research

I took Professor Jay Coggins’ class in environmental and natural resource economics, ApEc 36Brooke Bahner11W, in the spring of 2019.  It was the first time that I heard that transitioning to renewable energy would cost trillions less globally than continuing to use natural gas and coal and I was eager to learn more.  We learned about externalities and solutions such as carbon taxes and cap and trade, cost-benefit analysis, nonmarket valuation, and much more. Jay always made learning interesting and engaging by prioritizing discussion, creating meaning to what we were learning by relating it to our daily lives, and using a great sense of humor.  I remember many classes where a fellow student would have a question about something that came up in the news and we would spend 20 minutes in a beautiful tangent discussing the validity of the proposed policy change, calculating the costs, and even drawing up graphs to illustrate the possible changes in emissions over time. I believe Jay’s personal goals for the class are to make his students more competent members of society and to give us the resources to understand our changing world. 

Knowing that I wanted to do research with Jay, we started meeting approximately every week outside of class to talk about environmental economics and to consider potential research topics.  Over the semester I was delighted to learn about what economists in our field are doing, how to use modeling programs, and where to find good data sources. The topic that we settled on for my Spring 2020 Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) project is to calculate Minnesota’s carbon emissions as well as the costs and benefits of putting a moratorium on the production of all new internal combustion engine vehicles, as well as on new coal and natural gas power plants. 

Taking 3611W has prepared me for this UROP in a number of ways. It was a great way to get an overview of the different industries I can go into, how to analyze data, and how to research effectively. By the end of my UROP, I hope to have a better understanding of what it takes to create a sustainable society and what climate change will mean for Minnesota. One major factor that is hindering the transition to sustainable practices is that businesses and policymakers are unaware of the economic benefits.  I hope that the concluding data from my UROP will illustrate the economic benefits of renewable energy to Minnesota legislators and will encourage energy companies to make a more aggressive switch to renewable energy.