News Archive

posted 05/04/05

Contact: Katie Moore, Columbia University
212-854-9082 or kam2106@columbia.edu

Center for Research on Environmental Decisions Launched

A new center has been created with a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $5.9 million to investigate individual and group decision making under climate uncertainty and environmental risk. Above: Elke Weber, director of the new Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, speaks in Low Library during the launch on May 4, 2005.

A new center to investigate individual and group decision making under climate uncertainty and environmental risk has been created with a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $5.9 million. The Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), based at Columbia University, celebrated its official launch in a ceremony at Low Library on Wednesday, May 4, 2005.

The event was followed by CRED's first annual meeting of affiliated researchers and advisory boards. 

Speaker Michael Oppenheimer, the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, discussed serious global environmental threats such as rising levels of greenhouse gases and potential melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Oppenheimer emphasized the great degree of uncertainty in our knowledge of the extent and timing of these threats and our understanding of the risks that they pose to human society, and noted that these dangers pose social questions as much as scientific ones. It is therefore critical, he concluded, that natural and social scientists work together to understand the effects of climate uncertainty and its impact on human decision making.

CRED is led by David Krantz, professor of psychology and statistics at Columbia University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GSAS); Elke Weber, Jerome A. Chazen Professor of Management, International Business and Psychology at Columbia Business School; Roberta Balstad, director of Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN); and Kenneth Broad, assistant professor at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami.

The work of the center is coordinated by Director Elke Weber, Associate Director Sabine Marx and Assistant Director Debika Shome. Bridging the social and natural sciences, CRED is a joint center of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) and The Earth Institute, and is affiliated with ISERP's Center for the Decision Sciences. CRED currently serves as an umbrella for 16 projects, conducted by 24 researchers at eight universities. Research projects include a wide range of decision makers — farmers, water resource managers, policy makers — in a variety of geographical regions around the globe.

Peter Bearman, chair of the Department of Sociology and director of ISERP, is an enthusiastic supporter of the new center: "As an interdisciplinary initiative linking the social and natural sciences, and one that brings basic science to bear on matters of critical public concern, CRED exemplifies the kind of project that ISERP was established to promote."

Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute, also expressed strong support: "It is likely that climate change will further stress the lives of the world's poorest people, especially those in the tropics and arid regions of the world. CRED's work will be of critical importance to learning how society can best manage these changes and minimize their impacts."

Decisions based on weather and climate predictions impact critical matters such as agricultural production, water supply and usage, and public health. Yet the uncertainty surrounding climate change and climate variability, and the potential threats associated with it, complicate the decision-making process. If how people deal with such uncertainty can be better understood, the way people adapt to increased variability and change can be improved with better decision tools, including improvements in the format and delivery of climate forecasts.

CRED will produce basic research on environmental decision making. According to Krantz and Weber, individual and group decision mechanisms have generally been studied separately, the first by cognitive and social psychologists, the second by other social scientists such as sociologists or anthropologists. CRED will integrate these approaches and provide research based in the laboratory and in field sites.

Building on its research, CRED will develop new interventions and decision tools to improve decision making. By educating scientists, CRED directors aim to improve the flow of information between the fields of decision making and climate change. The center will also develop educational programming for audiences ranging from high-school students to academic researchers and policy makers.