Preferences and perceptions of green infrastructure: Blueprint Columbus

In 2015, Columbus, Ohio submitted a Wet Weather Management Plan to the Ohio EPA entitled “Blueprint Columbus,” which would eliminate 28 miles of sanitary sewer overflow tunnels in favor of green infrastructure (GI) improvements including rain gardens. The mayor of Columbus has argued Blueprint Columbus would not only bring the city into EPA compliance, but would be cheaper, faster, greener, and more innovative than a plan based on gray infrastructure, and the plan’s website argues it will improve water quality, provide critical habitat, improve property values and stabilize neighborhoods.

Few if any of these goals have been well quantified however, particularly those involving the potential social, psychological and physical benefits of GI. While contact with nature has been shown to reduce stress, and increase activity, pro-social behavior and place attachment, natural areas that are overgrown or aesthetically unpleasing may decrease social interaction, community pride and subjective well-being.

Dr. Jeremy Brooks and I are currently working on, i.e., distributing and analyzing the data from,  the first of three surveys distributed before–during and eventually after the–installation of specific GI projects in Blueprint-targeted areas. The surveys are intended to measure changes in residents’ pro-environmental and pro-social behavior, as well as residents’ preferences and perceptions regarding anticipated and completed GI projects, as well as the quality and quantity of outreach and information provided by the city.

I will be presenting results from this work at the Sustainability and Social Science Research Symposium at the University of Michigan May 17th-19th.

Assessing non-market loss and damage in the context of climate change

This spring a group of twenty-four scientists from Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, United Kingdom, United States, and South Africa (Table 1) came together across disciplines to explore how loss and damage (L&D) is understood and experienced by particular groups of people in various geographic settings.

We conducted a workshop in Perth, Australia, between 18th and 21st of April 2016 to share our particular disciplinary insights and explore how these can inform the development of new methods to approach L&D in the context of climate change. Our work pays particular attention to the types of L&D that cannot be easily assessed or quantified (the non-market and intangible losses and damages, or N-M L&Ds) but are equally if not more important in sustaining people’s lives and livelihoods.

Our preliminary investigation followed a series of motivating questions:
1. What are the domains of L&D under climate change?
2. What is a meaningful baseline for determining loss?
3. What methodologies and approaches exist or need to be amended to best assess harm, in monetary and non-monetary terms?
4. What is the basis for estimating and allocating reparation and compensation?

The attached white paper, together with a series of conference presentations and journal articles outlined on page 31, presents the findings from our workshop and follow-up conversations. Here, we offer an overview of current N-M L&D assessment methods, followed by our own approach to assess N-M L&D.  We propose a new analytical framework based on people’s values and the trade-offs they are willing or forced to make when facing current and potential future losses brought upon by events related to climate change.

1.2 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

  • ƒCreate a better understanding of the types of losses, both economic and non-economic (also referred to as non-market), that people may experience due to climate change;
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  • Understand and make visible what people in specific places value most in their daily lives, what they consider worth preserving, and how these aspects are affected by climate change;
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  • Highlight what people do to prepare for possible losses in order to minimise people’s suffering in case these losses become reality;
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  • Address the urgent need for appropriate methods to assess non-market loss and damage (N-M L&D) in the context of climate change;
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  • Develop an interdisciplinary approach for assessing N-M L&D that is flexible and reflexive to respond to how people’s values and priorities are relational and change over time (in accordance to new understandings of risk, adaptation options, and likely impacts, embedded in a broader context of social and cultural change);
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  • Make new understandings and approaches to N-M L&D available and accessible to different stakeholders (e.g. policy makers, scientists, local communities) via academic and nonacademic outlets (website);
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  • Integrate N-M L&D assessments into decision-making processes for climate change mitigation  and adaptation.

There will be blood: Communicating climate change risk honestly in 2017 and beyond.

Each December my colleagues and I travel to DC or somewhere far warmer like San Francisco or San Diego to meet and discuss the state of risk communication research.  One of the enduring foci of these meetings is climate change, and more specifically how we should go about communicating the risks of climate change and measuring people’s knowledge and perception of the same.  Disclaimer: we all fly in planes, some of us quite a distance, which is not especially climate-change friendly.

Ignoring our own behavior for a moment though, one of the most important–and disturbing–findings consistently coming out of this research is that communicating the risks of climate change rarely leads to a more informed or pro-active public.  Were this the case, we’d be well on our way to a carbon-neutral–or hold your breath, carbon-negative–energy system.  Sadly, neither of these appear to be anything but an environmentalist’s dream, and with the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., a dream that may become a fireable offense.

Some studies have even reported an inverse relationship between climate-change knowledge and concern (and pro-environmental behavior), i.e., the more people know about it the less concerned (and less action) they report!  How could this be?  Well, without writing an entire book on the matter, here are some interesting propositions.  Troy Campbell from Oregon University and Aaron Kay at Duke suggest it may be something called ‘solution aversion.’ Put simply, individuals may deny the existence of a problem because they fear the solution more than the problem itself.  Imagine yourself a coal miner in western Kentucky for a moment; simply believing in climate change might put your own job–and your relationships with colleagues and friends–in far more jeopardy than the results of climate change.

And according to Dan Kahan, those relationships may be the key.  Our beliefs are often important signals of loyalty to key peer groups and these relationships can lead us to process information differently–often in ways thought “incorrect” by scientists, a phenomena Kahan and others refer to as motivated reasoning.  How do we overcome motivated reasoning?  Simple.  We disconnect facts from identity.  Unfortunately the phenomena of “identity politics” is at an all-time high, and disconnecting facts from identity will likely prove as difficult as is separating facts from values.  Spoiler alert: facts can never be separate from values, and according to Dan Sarewitz, knowing more of the former often just reinforces the latter anyway.

So, if people’s beliefs, or reported beliefs–and the two may rarely be the same (at this year’s meeting Nic Pidgeon and Christina Demski presented provocative research examining the measures we use regarding climate-change related beliefs, make sure to bother them both for more information)– are more a function of their relationships or professional status than people’s “true” knowledge, how do we go about raising concern or encouraging pro-environmental behavior?

One way would be for environmentalists, (liberal) politicians, and–perhaps most of all–academics to acknowledge that significantly mitigating emissions and addressing climate change risk requires real, and in some cases downright terrible, trade-offs.  Bottom line: there will be losers.  If it helps, imagine the scene in There Will Be Blood where Daniel Day Lewis murders Paul Dano with a bowling pin; this is the fate I imagine many of the losers fear.  Addressing climate change risk is simply not on the whole a win-win.  Surely, there are more discrete win-win’s available–Joe Arvai at the University of Michigan spends a great deal of time searching them out–and if we think honestly about the earth’s future inhabitants, mitigating emissions seems far less costly and far more beneficial than is currently discussed.  And yes, the world’s mega-rich can certainly afford to lose quite a bit before they’d even notice any loss.  But, for men and women alive today and who are already struggling from paycheck to paycheck, arguing that mitigating emissions is critically important is simply duplicitous and ineffective.

This is especially so because many of those losers will be individuals that have long been ignored by progressive policies and the forces of globalization: think again of our coal-mining friend in western KY.  Ignoring these individuals is what cost liberals the 2016 election, and this ignorance is what will continue to slow any real movement on climate change.  Case in point, the enduring argument that switching to renewables will create thousands of green jobs.  Surely it would, but these jobs would be as unattainable for our friend in western KY as high-tech jobs in Silicon Valley are today.  A single mom of two with a high school diploma is not going to be designing wind turbines, and we all know it.

Is honesty enough?  Of course not.  Supporting–and god forbid elevating–people that have more to lose than to gain requires tough decisions, creative policy measures, and likely a redistribution of resources–and I don’t just mean from the Koch brothers.  Yep, you and I need to chip in too.  And you might be critical of this post as offering little in the way of such measures, and you wouldn’t be wrong.  Solutions are tough.  So much so that they can kill beliefs.  All I’m asking for is a bit of honesty regarding them.  We can’t create, compare and decide upon honest solutions if we ignore they’re even necessary.

More to come…maxresdefault

Building a “values-informed” mental model for New Orleans climate risk management

Last spring, I traveled to New Orleans to meet with decision-makers and discuss efforts to manage the city’s sea-level rise and storm surge risks.  This followed a trip to interview residents and build a “values-informed” mental model, ViMM, which depicts their values as a function of specific climate risk factors and management strategies.  Our paper describing this model is now out in Risk Analysis, and the abstract is below.

“Individuals use values to frame their beliefs and simplify their understanding when con- fronted with complex and uncertain situations. The high complexity and deep uncertainty involved in climate risk management (CRM) lead to individuals’ values likely being coupled to and contributing to their understanding of specific climate risk factors and management strategies. Most mental model approaches, however, which are commonly used to inform our understanding of people’s beliefs, ignore values. In response, we developed a “Values- informed Mental Model” research approach, or ViMM, to elicit individuals’ values alongside their beliefs and determine which values people use to understand and assess specific cli- mate risk factors and CRM strategies. Our results show that participants consistently used one of three values to frame their understanding of risk factors and CRM strategies in New Orleans: (1) fostering a healthy economy, wealth, and job creation, (2) protecting and pro- moting healthy ecosystems and biodiversity, and (3) preserving New Orleans’ unique culture, traditions, and historically significant neighborhoods. While the first value frame is common in analyses of CRM strategies, the latter two are often ignored, despite their mirroring com- monly accepted pillars of sustainability. Other values like distributive justice and fairness were prioritized differently depending on the risk factor or strategy being discussed. These results suggest that the ViMM method could be a critical first step in CRM decision-support processes and may encourage adoption of CRM strategies more in line with stakeholders’ values.”

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Facilitating ecological weed management decisions by assessing risk-benefit tradeoffs

We used the mental models research method to generate a conceptual map of how Midwest farmers use knowledge, experience, and individual perceptions of weed-related risk to make weed management decisions. We discovered that Midwest farmer knowledge of ecological weed management practices is robust, and that the difficult trade-offs farmers make regarding cultivation, cover crops, and soil health determine what weed management practices they use. Midwest farmers balance the risks of cultivation and implementation of cover crops with their valuable benefits to soil health and weed suppression. Developing a decision support tool that provides a baseline of scientific evidence and that offers flexibility based on farmers’ experiences and values will clarify these trade-offs and guide effective decision-making.

Facilitating Ecological Weed Management Decisions by Assessing Risk-Benefit Tradeoffs

Decision support for developing energy strategies

Policymakers and the public need a mechanism for making a series of difficult and interrelated choices over time, and research in decision science offers a promising way forward.
The United States clearly needs a new energy strategy. In fact, many industrialized nations are in the same position. But this raises an obvious question: What is an energy strategy? In our view, it is a framework that will guide comprehensive and logical discussions about energy development and delivery. It is a deliberative process that encourages involvement from all key stakeholders and gives each of them a legitimate voice in the decisions at hand. It is a way to organize information and dialogue about energy options and their anticipated consequences. And it is a way to structure decisionmaking about energy choices in a manner that facilitates and easily incorporates learning.

Decision support for developing energy strategies

Decision support framework for developing regional energy strategies

In an effort to reduce “carbon pollution” as well as prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change, President Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan calls for changes to be made to the nation’s energy system. In addition to focusing on alternative portfolios of different fuels and power-generation technologies, researchers and advisory panels have urged that changes to the nation’s energy system be based on a decision-making framework that incorporates stakeholders and accounts for real-world resource, supply, and demand constraints. To date, research and development on such a framework have proven elusive. The research reported here describes the development and test of a potential decision support framework that combines elements from structured decision-making (SDM) with portfolio analysis, methods that have been used independently to elicit preferences in complex decision contexts. This hybrid framework aimed to (1) provide necessary background information to users regarding the development of coupled climate-energy strategies; (2) account for users’ values and objectives; (3) allow for the construction of bespoke energy portfolios bounded by real-world supply and demand constraints; and (4) provide a more rigorous basis for addressing trade-offs. Results show that this framework was user-friendly, led to significant increases in users’ knowledge about energy systems and, importantly, led to more internally consistent decisions. For these reasons, this framework may serve as a suitable template for supporting decisions about energy transitions in the United States and abroad.

Decision support framework for developing regional energy strategies

Structuring decisions about energy in developing communities: an example from Canada’s north

Decisions about energy in developing communities are challenging from a technical standpoint, and because of the unique characteristics that typify them, e.g. limited infrastructure and government budgets, complex social and political arrangements, and economic vulnerability. Against the backdrop of these challenges, the government of Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT) is attempting to reform the region’s energy system. This paper provides insights from the decision sciences, stemming from our work on the NWT’s energy planning process, about how to structure decisions about energy development and delivery so as to effectively meet a range of stakeholders’ objectives in a transparent and inclusive manner.

Structuring decisions about energy in developing communities: an example from Canada’s north

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