Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Climate Solutions Lab

Energy Climate Change and Finance



Spring 2020

Prof. Brad Cornell


Documentary Video / Films,Group projects

A preeminent issue of our time is the impact of fossil fuel related emissions on human economic activity and wellbeing. Greenhouse gases lead to global warming and associate collateral damage. The problem is attempting to estimate the costs of emissions as a function of the scale of emissions. This problem is complicated by a host of potential feedback effects and by the need to assess how the economy might adapt. Although a transformation to renewables is inevitable in the not-too-distant future (when fossil fuels become sufficiently scarce), the critical question is by how much should the transformation to renewables be accelerated in light of the external costs of fossil fuel usage.

Getting off fossil fuels will not be easy. In 2018, fossil fuels accounted for 83% of primary energy in the United States and 84% percent world-wide. Fossil fuels offer great benefits, such as high energy concentration, ease of transport, relatively low-cost access, along with an already established massive infrastructure. Transitioning to renewable sources will be a long, complex, arduous, and extraordinarily expensive undertaking. It will require financial as well as technological innovation.

This half-course has three objectives. First, to introduce students to data on energy usage and its impact. Second, to examine the tradeoffs associated with continued use of fossil fuels. Third, to assess the costs and benefits of a transition to a much greater reliance on renewable sources of energy. This includes exploring options for financing what can be called the great transformation.