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NSF Helps Launch Environmental Research Center

Throughout human history, weather and climate predictions have impacted almost all aspects of our survival, including agricultural production, water supply and usage, and public health. Yet, the uncertainty surrounding what we know about climate change and climate variability continues to complicate the decision-making process -- whether in government or on an individual level. If how people deal with such uncertainty can be better understood, the manner in which people adapt to increased variability and change can be improved using better decision tools, including advances in the format and delivery of climate forecasts.

A new center to investigate individual and group decision making under climate uncertainty and environmental risk has been created at Columbia with a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $5.9 million. The Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) is led by David Krantz, professor of psychology and statistics at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS); Elke Weber, Jerome A. Chazen Professor of Management, International Business and Psychology at Columbia Business School; Roberta Balstad, director of the 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 center will provide a cross-disciplinary approach to research. According to Krantz and Weber, individual and group decision mechanisms have generally been studied separately, the first by cognitive and social psychologists and the second by social scientists. CRED will integrate these approaches and provide research based in the laboratory and in field sites.

Another mission of the center is to develop new interventions and tools to improve decisions by those who respond to conditions of climate uncertainty. By educating scientists, CRED directors aim to improve the quality of information flow to experts and decision makers concerning climate change. The center also will develop educational programming for audiences ranging from high school students to academic researchers and policy makers.

CRED currently serves as an umbrella for 16 projects conducted by 24 researchers at 8 universities. Research projects include a wide range of decision makers -- farmers, water resource managers and policy makers -- in a variety of geographical regions around the globe. 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. The work of the center is coordinated by Director Elke Weber, Associate Director Sabine Marx and Assistant Director Debika Shome.

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 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," he said.


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Published: Jul 08, 2005
Last modified: Jul 07, 2005

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