Feb 16, 2023


This syllabus can change based on the schedules of our external speakers

Climate Change, Economics, Technology

Stanford GSBGEN 341, Winter 2023

Instructor: Ivo Welch

Room: BC104.
Time: Friday/Tuesday Jan 13-Mar 17.
First Class: Fri, Jan 13. 14:50h-16:10h
Midterm Quiz: In-Class, Fri, Feb 17. REASONABLY LIKELY TO CHANGE
Last Class: Fri, Mar 17 = FINAL QUIZ. FIRM.

Course Introduction

What This Course Is

This course is a conceptual business-school economics course, with only sprinkles of business attached to it. It teaches the basics of climate-science, economics, and technology. The first three-quarters of the course will be primarily lectures, part reading, part in-class seminar-like discussions. The last quarter will be primarily external speakers.

Anyone who will work in the wider area of the climate change (and the energy transition) should have a solid understanding of the material in this course in order to be able to describe the whole purpose of the climate-change enterprise. The course teaches the climate-change background that allows one to have a smart, intelligent, and informed conversation about the causes and consequences of climate change — instead of echo-chamber conversations that repeat half-truths and platitudes.

If you already do understand the causes and consequences on more than a headline “news-alarmist” level (say, you understand the IPCC forecasts, damage estimates, Integrated Assessment Models, and energy-cost tradeoffs), then you may not want to take this course.

You could also learn much of the content on your own by reading all the course material. In fact, this course is structured based on two books, primarily one being our own book Global Climate Change: The Pragmatist Guide to Moving The Needle and available for free; the secondary book being Robert Pindyck’s Climate Future. We wrote our book for this class, so you should not be surprised that the class covers the same material in very much the same way. Of course, by just reading the book, you would miss the discussion and interactivity with your peers and the instructor(s). This is a quasi-inverted classroom, where I would be happy primarily to field discussion and questions, rather than go through my slides. I prefer seminars to lectures. The more we can collectively transform this class into a seminar, the better. However, this will have to depend more on enrollees than on myself.

Slides are on the same website.

You are greatly encouraged to voice informed dissent, informed opinions, etc. They make the in-class sessions more interesting.

However, arguments have to be made in a friendly manner and be based on logic rather than than emotion. It makes perfect sense to rationally discuss psychology, including emotions, but it makes no sense, e.g., to argue emotionally that the world is likely to come to an end based on the scientific evidence and predictions at hand.

(PS: Of course, the world will eventually be coming to an end, but there are many possible scenarios. Climate change is an exceedingly remote one, just like many other scenarios.)

This course is an elective. No one has been forced to enroll. If you have a sour rather than an inquisitive mind on the subject, please go elsewhere.

Note: It is my understanding that Stefan Reichelstein has a somewhat different perspective on climate change and also teaches a class on this subject this quarter. He is a great scholar. Thus, it may be useful for you to compare and learn from both approaches — and then make up your own mind about what seems right and what seems wrong to you.


Compared to case courses, project courses, and core courses, the required workload in this course is light. I do not believe in work for work-sake. I have given many classes with way-above-average workload, but this is not one of them. I care that you understand the main facts (all in the book, which you absolutely need to read well), reflect on them, and remember them in years to come.

Ideally, you use the broad-picture insights that you gain from this course to start a business that can help dent the curve and make you rich at the same time.


The optional workload counts for very little grade-wise. (I will use it only if you are at the margin between two grades.) The point is to scout opportunities for a career or investment.

The task is to write a report on one of the following possible business opportunities:

  1. Grid-Scale Energy Storage
  2. Specific Grid Installation and Competition (including a lot of local regulatory details)
  3. Next Generation Nuclear Energy (including in other countries)
  4. Biological Carbon Sequestration (mostly timber, but also beyond; government subsidies, land, etc.)

The perspective must be that of an investor or student wanting to join as employees or to start a business. Imagine I had $50 million cash and 5 years of time. What should I invest in? Or am I better off not investing?

This does not mean that I want a business plan with imaginary future sales numbers. On the contrary, I don’t want clear projections. If an opportunity is well-funded and economically solid, then I am not primarily worried about sales potential (all of the above are big opportunities). A rough half-page over-the-envelope assessment of future cash flows is more apt. A concrete prediction of cash flows is silly.

I would like a detailed description of the best players in the industry, their shortcomings, and what may potentially be one overlooked opportunity I should join now. (PS: Stanford itself is rarely overlooked. Lower-ranked university engineering labs often are.) It also does not mean I want secondary research, but primary research. (I can google, too. Popular and academic reports only help with starting the research.) Think “White Paper.” What is in the labs today? What are the most worrisome shortcomings that are likely to derail the project? What is the necessary investment cost and scale to commercialization (and when)? What are the dark horses in the race? How likely will I fail?

By primary research, I mean talking to engineering and business outfits (and their competitors) first-hand about what they are doing right now, what they are more and less excited about, where they are stuck, when they plan to come to market, what their LCOE is forecast to be, etc. I also mean using them to find other potential competitive opportunities and concerns in the area.

The result should be a 10-20 page report (incl exhibits). All students interested in one of the four areas should work together in a group.

What This Course Is Not

  1. This course is not a career-oriented business course. Stanford already offers more applied and practical courses on subjects like ESG investing, ESG marketing, entrepreneurial economics and finance, — which are all important and interesting, too — but 298D is not this. If you want to enroll in our course, please be aware of what you are getting yourself into — a more conceptual course.

  2. This course is neither an environmental activism course, nor a climate denialist or an Ayn-Rand type defense of the virtues of free-market capitalism. Our goal is to pursue the truth without an agenda. Chances are that the content of this course will offend both activists and deniers about equally. The goal is not to make or dissuade you from either position. The goal is to open your eyes. There are a lot of good options to stem climate change in the interest of the world and in the self-interest of entrepreneurs — and our course will be covering them — but these options are generally not what activists (and even earth scientists) are commonly proposing.

As far as I know, no other university teaches a class like this. There are classes on climate change (often in atmospheric-sciences departments), but I have not found classes in economics departments or business schools which are about the even bigger picture on climate-change, economics, and technology. We are on novel grounds here. The choice of taking this course should be viewed as a good reason for attending Stanford.

I am a (financial) economist by training, but this class requires more than just economics. I have spent the last two years researching the relevant areas beyond my own expertise of economics. Although many academics know more about any one of the subject matters of this course, few know more about the collective set — at least as of 2023. However, it is not impossible that I may still have gotten some aspects wrong (or new information has just come out that is different). If I have missed something, please correct me. Think of this class as a seminar to obtain both my and our best attempt to get to the truth.

I prefer interactivity to lectures. Feel free to poke good-natured fun at me (and I will sometimes do the same to you). Be prepared to be called on. Also, please ask questions. (If I do not know the answer, I will tell you. You are not embarrassing me. Moreover, if you have expertise that you would like to contribute, great. Yet please do not ask questions with the only purpose being to show off your own background — you don’t need it. If you have good questions for which I do not have the answer, I may ask you to research the answer and tell us in the next session.)

Other GSB Courses

In a sense, my course primarily discusses the “why?” It discusses the “how?” in the broadest of terms – conceptually, almost to the point of philosophically. Other courses discuss the “how” in more specific terms. Some less conceptual and more practical GSB courses include:

  • ALP 303.

  • GSBGEN 305: Investing for Good

  • GSBGEN 319: Strategic Philanthropy and Impact Investing (possibly retired now).

  • STRAMGT 325: Impact: From Idea to Enterprise. They also have about 3 sessions dedicated to impact funding, primarily impact investing

  • MGTECON 583: Measuring Impact in Business and Social Enterprise

  • STRAMGT 584: Impact: Assessing High Impact Business Models in Emerging Markets

I am unaware of a course that teaches ESG (rather than impact) investing. ESG investing has only a minimal chance of making a positive difference. However, ESG is big consulting and public relations business.

Another great course (which allows students to listen to interesting external speakers) is Anat Admati’s GSBGEN 538 on Power in Finance.


  1. Welch, Ivo, and Bradford Cornell, 2022, Global Climate Change: The Pragmatist Guide to Moving the Needle.

  2. Pindyck, Robert S., 2022, Climate Future: Averting and Adapting to Climate Change.

Meeting Outline

We are still a somewhat experimental class. We now have a good and free textbook (grin), but the best format has not yet been determined. Here is what I want to try this quarter.

[Jan 13]
introductions, questions, basics, poll.
[Jan 17, 20, 24]
climate change science, climate change future (04-, 05-)
[Jan 27]
emissions, world distribution (03-)
[jan 31]
energy needs (02-)
[feb 3]
economics (06-)
[feb 7]
IAMs (07-)
[feb 10]
some more IAMs (08-). some more ethics (08-). questions worth asking (09-). non-realism. (10-)
[feb 14]
unrealism (10-), realism (11-)
[feb 17]
mid-quiz (feb 17)
[feb 21]
physics (12-). fossil fuels (13-), electricity (14-)
[feb 24]
electricity (14-). non-electric (15-).
[feb 28]
remediation (16-)
jb sobieski
[mar 7]
alicia knapp.
[mar 10]
speaker: TBA
[mar 14]
ram rajagopal
[mar 17]


[Weeks 1-6]
Mostly lectures (with questions welcome). You can instead read the textbook. See, the book was written for the course, and in the end it can make much of the lectures redundant — except for the interactivity. Some students wondered why they had to attend class given that they could just read the same material. We also have a podcast version, and we do have lectures videotaped from last year.

Do not be surprised if I ask you questions. I prefer an inverted classroom. Ideally, it should be you asking questions, not me telling you or lecturing. Make sure to come to class prepared to argue intelligently. (Participation increases your grade.)

If you skip one in-person class, then in lieu of your attendance, I want to receive by email a 1 page summary with 5 points for the relevant chapters of our book. This gives you an incentive to read the text carefully and ensures that we are on the same page the following week. Summaries should be no more than 1 page per chapter (12pt, reasonable margins; not 5pt, 0-margins; not microfiche).

You cannot skip more than 2 sessions.

[Week 8-10]
will be speakers in area related to the subject: investing, technology, recycling, economics, etc. I will be inviting a number of energy-related scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and/or business people. I hope they will find the time to come. They are the people what can change the world. As part of the prep, you need to hand in questions you would like to ask these speakers in the preceding class. (This is part of the participation grade.)

You cannot miss more than three class sessions in total. (I have waived this for extraordinary health reasons in the past.) If you miss four, the highest grade achievable will be an A-. If you miss five, a B+. And so on.


We do not offer real-time Zoom. If you want to ask questions, you have to show up in person. We may (or may not) record the sessions. (Tech can go wrong, too, so do not rely on this.) Our external speakers can choose whether they want to be recorded or not, and then choose whether they want to allow posting their sessions. Don’t count on it.

Warning: I hate Zoom. I am commuting to Stanford Tuesday morning, leaving at 6am. However, if Southwest again cancels all sorts of flights to Burbank and LAX and I absolutely cannot make it in time, you may have to endure a Zoom class. I will do everything in my power to avoid this.


The grading is based on:

  • a midterm exam (30 points); if performance is poor, I may discount and/or ignore it for the final.
  • class participation (arguing convincingly with the class and me where others are wrong, 20-30 points);
  • a final (50 points);
  • optional: my discretion (0-10 points), based on attendance, participation, attitude, etc.;
  • optional: the paper.

The final is cumulative, but usually consists of 2/3 from the second half, 1/3 from the first half. I like to re-ask questions on the final that students got wrong on the midterm.

I like to ask short questions — such as “how much more is the world expected to warm up?” or “what is the LCOE of NatGas?” I will be posting my UCLA midterm and final from Fall 2022.

Every student is allowed to bring a 14 square-inch scribble-sheet to the exams (only one side is allowed to be written on), but all computers or Internet connectivity is prohibited. (This allows me to ask more basic questions.) The midterm exam is geared for about 1 hour. The final exam is geared towards 1.5 hours. Because I will allow a time of 1.5 and 2.5 hours, there should be no time pressure.

The grading will follow the standard Stanford GSB curve.

Follow Instructions

Let’s see if you can follow the instructions on the syllabus. 😀

I have posted a first assignment that asks you to introduce yourself to me. It will hopefully help me understand who you are and what you want to get out of this course.

Please upload in response a 60-second (< 120-seconds) mp4 video in which you introduce yourself, your relevant or basic background, and why you are taking this course. Do not expect this video to remain private. I may share it, e.g., with speakers in this class or with other students in this class.

NOTE: Use https://handbrake.fr/ to compress your video to a reasonable file size, like 480p30. Then upload it to google drive and send me a link thereto with the title “, video introduction".

Outside-of-Class Communication

Office Hours: Wed or Thu, any time suitable for the student. However, please email a request for an appointment at least 24 hours in advance. I will try my best to make myself available.

I will try to answer emails of students enrolled in this course within 24 hours. I expect students to extend the same courtesy to me. Always include the course number in the email title, or your email may be deleted or die in my spam filter.

Please also check this website at least once a day. I post occasional announcements thereon and will collect some assignments from it.

There is no TA for this course.

Bad Humor Warning

If you need trigger warnings or are particularly sensitive (especially to non-PC statements), then this class is not for you. You are dealing with a mildly autistic and sometimes offensive Boomer as an instructor. Please indulge us old folks. I have a very immature and inappropriate sense of humor. (On the plus side, this means that I am hard to offend, too. And I do not have a mean streak, unlike Professor Fletcher — though Fletcher is one of my favorite movie characters, ever.)

(I try to follow the golden rule: treat everyone the same way you would want to be treated.)

(I am currently working on making a series of more provocative though hopefully also entertaining and funny short clips. I may offer up a brief selection over beer after the class is over.)

Guest Students

I hope that parts of our class will be a little like a seminar or an old-fashioned intellectual salon discussion.

I am not omniscient! If, for a particular week, you know someone who is an expert in the area that we will be discussing and who wants to attend and participate the session, please ask me the week before for permission of this person to attend the course. Generally, we welcome a small number of such external attendees, especially if they can bring a well-thought-out valid, but different perspective to our sessions.

External Speakers

The speakers’ schedules are not fully under my control. It will depend partly on their availability and willingness. And it can always happen that the market crashes and that they will have to cancel. My current plan is as follows (only in topical order, not in presentation order):

Date Speaker Subject
? JB Sobieski ESG and Texas
  Alicia Knapp, Berkshire Renewable Energy
  ??? Battery and Storage Technology
  JB Texas Project and Hurdles
  Shonda Warner Agriculture
  Brad Cornell ESG Investing
  • California Electricity (maybe, Frank Wolak, Stanford)

  • Developing country / India challenges and opportunities



It is very important that we maintain politeness and a friendly atmosphere with speakers even when we disagree and argue with them. This is all the more important in the climate change arena, where emotions often run high. Remember: Our visitors are not just smart people, but they are also doing us all a great favor by coming here and exposing us to their points of view. And I believe that every single one is sincere in their desires to make the world a better place.

I will also get very upset about students who do not close their computers and put down their phones during the time that we have the speaker. They come to us as a favor, and the least politeness we can show is not to consider our emails more important. If you need to make notes, then use pen and paper. (Also, please put up a name sign — for speakers and for me!)

Finally, you need to submit at least 2 questions that you would like to ask the speaker on the session before they come to class. No more than one page, in print, handed in during class.

Summary of Stanford Course Policies and Normas

Part I: Class Prep

  • In-class assignments: N/A.
  • Homework: N/A
  • Problem Sets: N/A
  • Final Project (Papers): Collaboration encouraged.
  • Exam Prep: Collaboration encouraged.
  • Exams themselves: No sharing allowed

Part II: Attendance and Punctuality

  • Unexcused: One session unexcused for any reason.
  • Excused: More sessions only with good reason (such as doctor’s note). See Stanford policy for 7 categories. Students must make up readings, both books and slides, and talk to other students about what they missed. Three or more missed sessions: one step grade reduction per miss (e.g., A to A-)
  • All: Standard Stanford Norms

  • Instructor will start the class within 5 minutes of assigned time…plus or minus. Students are expected to be in the classroom at assigned time and sit within 5 minutes.
  • Being late counts for half an absence.

  • I expect name signs to be put up, so that I can call on people by name. Repeatedly missing to put up name signs — even if I know the name of the student — can result in the equivalent of a “late attendance” penalty at the instructor’s discretion.

Part III: Technology

  • Please no computers or ipads open during class. Use paper and pencil to make notes. Feel free to print slides ahead of time for scribbling.
  • Repeatedly using electronics can result in the equivalent of a “late attendance” penalty at the instructor’s discretion. The penalties can be harsher if they occur during external visitors coming to the classroom.

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