Gambling the Globe: Risk, Decision-Making, and Climate Change

Mark Borsuk, Assistant Professor, Thayer School of Engineering

Friday, March 1, 2013, 3:30pm

Spanos Auditorium

This seminar is part of the Jones Seminars on Science, Technology, and Society series.

Assessing the value of climate change mitigation requires an analysis framework that can account for society’s attitude toward the risk of uncertain outcomes, especially those with low probability and high cost. For largely historical and computational reasons, this issue has not been adequately addressed by previous model-based policy analyses. Using a novel stochastic version of a tractable global climate model, our research group has demonstrated the importance of this shortcoming by showing how low probability, high cost outcomes interact with risk attitudes to strongly shape the results of quantitative analysis. Results indicate that the relatively high levels of risk aversion inferred from global investment behavior imply that the large downside risk of climate catastrophe should weigh more heavily in policy consideration than the risk of over-mitigation. While such global-scale integrated assessment models can help in deciding the level and timing of greenhouse gas emissions targets, they do not help in determining how the targets can be effectively achieved at a national level. This is because such models implicitly assume centralized coordination by a rational decision-maker, while in reality our society is made up of diverse, boundedly-rational individuals and organizations with a variety of motives. For this reason, our group is currently developing a detailed agent-based model to explore the implications of real-world conditions on climate policy effectiveness. An overview of this model will be provided, together with some examples of the types of incentive structures and future scenarios the model is uniquely capable of addressing.

About the Speaker

Mark Borsuk’s research broadly concerns the development of integrative models for supporting complex decision processes. More specifically, he develops quantitative methods for synthesizing knowledge and data across disciplines to generate assessments of environmental, economic, and human health risks. He uses multiattribute utility theory to relate these assessments to the preferences and risk attitudes of decision-makers, organizations, and the public. Mark received a B.S.E. in Civil Engineering and Operations Research from Princeton University, an M.S. in Statistics and Decision Sciences from Duke University, and a Ph.D. in Aquatic and Atmospheric Sciences from Duke University. He did his post-doctoral training in the Department of Systems Analysis, Integrated Assessment, and Modelling (SIAM) at the Swiss Federal Institute for Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG), where he advanced to head of the Decision Analysis and Integrated Assessment group. He is currently Assistant Professor at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth.