Environmental Decision Making

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Workshop Objectives

An important end use for Earth observational data is to support better informed decisions and policies in the commercial and public sectors. Observations (both real-time and historical) play an important role in reducing the uncertainty inherent in environmental-related decisions. Scientific models provide further value in predicting future states and scenarios, such as those associated with increased greenhouse gas emissions.

This Wednesday afternoon forum elicits contributions in topics such as:

  • the economic value of Earth science data in decision settings;
  • data requirements for environmental decisions, policies, and IPCC;
  • decision making under deep environmental uncertainty;
  • collaborative environments for assessing scenarios and consequences of decisions involving multiple stakeholders;
  • case studies in environmental decision-making;
  • integrated physical-economic models;
  • perceptions of long-term climatic uncertainty;
  • tools, services, models, and associated standards for data-driven decision support.

Ideas discussed in this Forum can run over into the open meeting sessions on Thursday. If you would like to give a presentation, please contact [email protected]

Tentative schedule

1:00-1:30pm Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty

Rob Lempert, Senior Scientist, Rand Corp.

Climate change presents public and private sector decision makers with a fundamental quandary: how to address a potentially serious, long-term, and deeply uncertain threat. By waiting until new science and unfolding events eliminate much of the uncertainty, it may be too late for decision makers to act effectively. If they act without understanding the extent and contours of the problem, they risk making serious miscalculations. He leads a research group at Rand whose objectives are to: i) conduct basic research needed to improve computer-based tools that enable decision makers to make better choices when confronted with deep uncertainty about the future; ii) examine the best means to represent uncertain scientific information for decision makers so they can act on it more effectively, whether as individuals or groups; and iii) strengthen the scientific foundations of robust decision making (RDM), a promising new approach to computer-assisted support for decision makers facing deep uncertainty.

Dr. Lempert is a Senior Physical Scientist at RAND and Professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. He is an expert in science and technology policy, with a special focus on climate change, energy, and the environment. He was a contributor to the IPCC, which was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2007 along with Vice President Al Gore. An internationally-known scholar in the field of decision making under conditions of deep uncertainty, he studies how policy-makers can best use uncertain climate forecasts to support important decisions. This project is helping California water agencies include climate impacts in their long-term water management plans and is assessing responses to potential abrupt climate change. He is co-leading a project comparing the effectiveness of carbon taxes and cap and trade system in reaching long-term climate goals and has recently completed a study on the Federal role in providing terrorism insurance. Dr. Lempert has testified to Congress on the decisions confronting Congress about climate change and he has been interviewed by: NPR, Beyond the Beltway, Fox, and the New York Times. He is author of the book Shaping the Next One Hundred Years: New Methods for Quantitative, Longer-Term Policy Analysis.


Molly McCaulley, Senior Fellow, Resources for the Future

2:00-2:30pm Water Planning in Phoenix: Managing Risk in the Face of Climatic Uncertainty

Pat Gober, Co-Director, Decision Center for a Desert City, Arizona State U.

The Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) was founded in 2004 to develop scientifically-credible support tools to improve water management decisions in the face of growing climatic uncertainty and rapid urbanization in metropolitan Phoenix. At the center of DCDC effort is WaterSim, a model that integrates information about water supply from groundwater, the Colorado River, and upstream watersheds and water demand from land use change and population growth. Decision levers enable users to manipulate model outcomes in response to climate change scenarios, drought conditions, population growth rates, technology innovations, lifestyle changes, and policy decisions. WaterSim allows users to examine the risks of water shortage from global climate change, the tradeoffs between groundwater sustainability and lifestyle choices, the effects of various policy decisions, and the consequences of delaying policy for the exposure to risk. This presentation includes a discussion of how and why WaterSim was developed, its role as a meeting ground between regional scientists and water planners, and future plans.

Dr. Gober is co-Director of the National Science Foundation’s Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University which studies water management decisions in the face of growing climatic uncertainty in Greater Phoenix. She is professor of geographical sciences and sustainability with a research focus on issues of water management and environmental change . She is especially interested in the use of science and visualization for real-world decision-making. She is a past President of the Association of American Geographers, former member of the Population Reference Bureau’s Board of Trustees and the Science Advisory Board of NOAA, and former Chair of the College Board’s Advanced Placement Human Geography Committee. She also served on the National Research Council’s Committee on Geographical Sciences. Her most recent book, Metropolitan Phoenix: Place Making and Community Building in the Desert, was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2006.

2:30-3:00pm Data Needs for Decision Making

Lawrence Friedl, NASA HQ


3:30-4:00pm Business and Economic Opportunities Emerging From Climate Change

Menas Kafatos, Dean, Schmid College of Science, Chapman U., Orange ,CA

Climate change is global but its effects are regional or local. As the nations of the world are preparing for the Copenhagen meeting in December 2009, the question of how the dual issues of global climate and global economy are related to each other needs to be addressed. In the past, a lot of emphasis has been placed on carbon trading policies and the associated economic issues. However, the "clear and present danger" of global warming, namely natural and anthropogenic hazards, may have a much bigger impact beyond national economies, increasingly impacting the world economy, and in turn affecting economies of nations where a particular hazard is not an issue.

As such, decision making at local (city), regional (county or State) and national levels requires planning and implementation of adaptive measures. Decision making also requires economic support from governments and institutions at the national level and continental or even global levels. For example, wild fires in southern Europe will eventually be impacting European economies beyond the region, and will require a European response. Similarly, hazards such as fires and hurricanes impacting selected U.S. States, will increasingly be affecting the entire U.S. economy, and by extension the global economy. For developing nations—development banks, governmental development agencies, international organizations, and philanthropic foundations, all are involved in issues such as droughts and desertification.

Unfortunately, in decision making, multi-disciplinary skills and quantitative information on the costs/benefits and planning of responses such as regional adaptation, are currently limited. The need to organize and deploy multi-disciplinary expertise at the regional to national levels, in order to develop adaptation solutions for the regions which are particularly at risk or are facing major climate challenges, will likely become an international imperative. Required expertise includes a variety of practising economists, sociologists, agricultural specialists, public health professionals, climate and hazards scientists, hydrologists, engineers, and of course policy experts with regional knowledge. In this approach, the existing wealth of scientific knowledge has a great potential for addressing a multitude challenges, including how to plan in an environment of increasing unceratinty, how to develop "uncertainty quantification".

As such, we face huge challenges of both mitigation and adaptation as the science itself of coupling global climate to regional impacts involves many different processes and fields, including socio-economic impacts, energy policy, along with understanding Earth system processes themselves. We don't have yet the science to address the total system, Earth/climate/society/economy, this would require a new interdisciplinary science combining different fields.

There are great opportunities not just for the research communities to participate in this emerging field. Equally important are the business opportunities that will be generated for investment and technology approaches. The nations and governments that will generate the right solutions, will provide economic opportunities beyond their own national boundaries. However, the challenges remain great. We will discuss some of the issues involved with concrete examples of realistic hazards impacts on societies, particularly in an ever-increasing climate change.

4:00-4:15pm Data Management Challenges for a Global Sand and Dust Storm Warning System

Bill Sprigg, Research Scientist, U. of Arizona

Airborne dust affects social, economic and environmental systems and influences weather and climate. The serious consequences have encouraged more than 40 nations to recommend action by the World Meteorological Organization to develop a better understanding of dust storms, the mechanisms for dust entrainment and dispersion in the atmosphere, and a world-wide system to detect, monitor and predict them. An Implementation Plan for an International Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System is under review. The Plan calls for research, observations, and advisories to support national weather services and other potential users worldwide. A federated system of regional centres form the core of the new SDS-WAS, providing several nodes for state of the science information on current conditions for sand and dust storms around the globe. A proposal for a Pan-American Centre is under construction, needing a plan for data assembly and distribution. Dr. Sprigg is U.S. director of the Sino-U.S. Centers for Soil and Water Conservation and Environmental Protection, co-organizer of the World Laboratory (Malta) international school for dust storm forecasting, and Chair of the Climate, Ozone and Greenhouse Effect Permanent Monitoring Panel of the World Federation of Scientists. He is former Director of the National Research Council Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate.

4:15-4:30pm CEOS Climate Diagnostics: Visualizations for Environmental Decision Making

Tyler Stevens, GCMD

The climate visualizations are targeted to address the Societal Benefit Areas (SBAs) related to: Disasters, Health, Energy, Climate, Water, Weather, Ecosystems, Agriculture, and Biodiversity. Every description of a climate visualization in the directory is tagged with one or more of the potentially significant Societal Benefit Areas. The visualizations are created from scientific data by a multitude of providers. The site is designed to offer visualizations that could be readily interpreted by decision makers. If a better understanding of the significance of the science can be achieved, the societal benefits of scientific research would be enhanced by providing these visualizations for long-term diagnostic analyses. The visualizations, also known as "Climate Diagnostics", are expected to be supportive and useful in decision-making processes. They have been based on the careful analysis of significant variables. Anticipating future consequences related to climate in the nine Societal Benefit Areas could be pivotal to our survival.

4:30-4:45pm Western Regional Applications Center for Water Supply and Management

Stephanie Granger, JPL

4:45-5:00pm The Spatial Decision Support Consortium

Rob Raskin, JPL

The Spatial Decision Support (SDS) Consortium is a network of professionals involved in spatial decision applications. This Consortium developed the SDS Knowledge Portal http://institute.redlands.edu/sds and an underlying ontology as a resource for decision makers, practitioners and researchers to serve as a unifying theme for the body of knowledge within the discipline. This knowledge base provides the formal specifications for modular SDS component tools and services; it decomposes the spatial decision process into prototypical phases and steps and relates them to commonly used methods and desired systems functionalities for decision support.

5:00-5:30pm Open Discussion, Formation of ESIP Decisions Cluster, Future Activities

Resources of Interest

NOAA Economics Web Site