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Universities Receive Grants to Study Climate Change Decisions

October 24, 2010

NSF awards nearly $5 million to understand environmental decision making

The National Science Foundation recently awarded nearly $5 million to four university-based centers whose research focuses on understanding decision making within the context of climate change and other long-term environmental risks.

The awards bring together scholars from many different fields, such as decision science, psychology, economics, geography, atmospheric science, engineering, mathematics and computer science, to identify effective ways to make decisions when both the nature of the problems and the potential impacts of responses are uncertain.

“These centers are taking a novel approach to environmental decision making,” said Cheryl Eavey, a program director in NSF’s Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SBE) and one of three co-managers of the awards.  “Together, they are examining problems in coordinated ways that have not been undertaken in the past, and they are actively working with practitioners and stakeholders to facilitate the use of basic knowledge in practical ways.”

These awards were supported by SBE through its Decision Making Under Uncertainty (DMUU) funding opportunity. Comparable levels of support are expected to be provided for the following four years to enable these teams to conduct longer-range, integrated research, education, and outreach activities.

“The DMUU research teams are examining many questions regarding how people and organizations understand climate change and other long-term environmental risks and how those understandings influence their plans to react to changing environmental conditions,” said co-manager Thomas Baerwald, senior science advisor in NSF’s Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences. “In addition to understanding the varied approaches that are used for different kinds of problems, a special challenge is to understand how effective decisions can be made across a number of environmental policy issues when long-term outcomes are uncertain.”

Universities receiving awards are:

Arizona State University, $1,300,000
Title: Decision Center for a Desert City II: Urban Climate Adaptation
ASU’s Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) will develop fundamental new knowledge about decision making under uncertainty from three perspectives: climatic uncertainties, urban-system impacts, and adaptation decisions. DCDC scientists will use social science principles to develop and test an integrated decision-support process for policy making and examine the interconnected water, energy, and land-use decisions that exist in a complex dynamic urban system under climate change.

Carnegie Mellon University, $1,200,006
Title: Center on Climate Decision Making
This distributed interdisciplinary collaborative group will combine knowledge and research methods from behavioral and decision sciences, engineering, and natural science to assist individuals, corporations, governments, and the international community to better address many of the difficult climate decisions they now face. The group’s researchers, who are associated with about 10 different organizations, will address a range of topics including decisions about reducing emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy system, decisions related to adapting to the impacts of climate change, issues that arise as a result of interactions between reducing emissions and adapting to change, and dealing with unexpectedly rapid or large changes or impacts.

University of Chicago, $1,199,998
Title: Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy
This interdisciplinary collaborative group will develop and distribute tools to help individuals and organizations make more informed decisions relating both to short-term economic disruptions caused by climate policies and long-term consequences of climate change. The group primarily will produce a powerful, key group of components that can be used to model decision outcomes and help answer questions across a wide range of policy issues.

Columbia University, $1,299,622
Title: Understanding and Improving Environmental Decisions
Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions will focus on social processes underlying group, individual and household decisions that have environmental impacts. Processes investigated may include anything from group decisions to develop or offer green options to how households decide which energy plan to select. The investigators will explore how the manner in which decisions are made affects environmental decisions. They are especially interested in environmental decisions made in a social context and involve dealing with uncertainty over a long time horizon, and that have a mixture of goals. The investigators will address social processes, decision architecture, and the use of technical information in environmental decision making by conducting laboratory experiments and field studies.

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