Earth Institute Research Projects

DMUU: Understanding and Improving Environmental Decisions

Lead PI: Ben Orlove , Professor David H. Krantz , Elke Weber, Kenneth Broad

Unit Affiliation: Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED)

September 2010 - August 2018
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Decisions about "green electrical generation" are made both by energy consumers (who may choose to pay something extra) and by energy providers (who may choose to develop green power and to offer it to consumers). Social and environmental goals of both consumers and providers play an important role in this, as do social expectations about choices of green power by others. The interdisciplinary research program to be undertaken by this collaborative group, the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, will focus on the social processes underlying group decisions (for example, the decision to develop or offer green options) as well as on processes underlying individual or household decisions (such as selection among different energy plans). Recent research on decision making has highlighted the importance of decision architecture -- the features of a decision setting that affect how preferences are constructed. Examples include whether outcomes are framed as gains or losses, what option is designated as default, and what temporal horizon is implied in the setting. The investigators will explore how decision architecture affects environmental decisions, especially those that are made in a social context and that usually involve uncertainty, long time horizon, and a mixture of goals, including social goals. The investigators will address social processes, decision architecture, and the use of technical information (including forecasts of climate variability and longer-term climate change) in environmental decision making by conducting laboratory experiments and field studies, the latter particularly focused on regions where there are useful year-to-year and decadal-scale forecasts of climate variation and significant impacts of this variation on livelihoods. This collaborative group's work will enhance basic understanding about social processes and decision architecture. It also will advance decision design for complex climate-related decisions that involve long time scales, great uncertainty, and interdependence; and it will provide new insights regarding how technical information is used. It also will provide practical information and insights for multiple stakeholders at field sites, such as water managers, farming communities, insurance companies, and communities near retreating glaciers. The group's work also will provide new perspectives about the close collaboration and integration of social and natural science research. This collaborative group project is supported by the NSF Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences through its Decision Making Under Uncertainty (DMUU) competition.

OUTCOMES: Outcomes include insights on resource allocation and agricultural planning decision making; exploration of new directions in decision architecture; continued examination of key cognitive biases and processes widely applied in decision architecture; further illumination of causal and correlate predictors of pro-environmental behavior; new insights on group decision processes in coordination settings and multi-person economic games; investigation and evaluation of innovative climate insurance plans; exploration of environmental decision making and perception related to natural hazard preparedness and responses.


National Science Foundation (NSF)




Walter Baethgen, Roberta Balstad, Mark Cane, Mary-Elena Carr, Steven Cohen, William Easterling, Lisa Goddard, Michel Handgraaf, Geoffrey Heal, Tory Higgins, Eric Johnson, Howard Kunreuther, Upmanu Lall, Richard Larrick, John Levine, Sabine Ma


International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Columbia Water Center (CWC), Columbia Climate Center (CCC), Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), Columbia Business School



decision architecture environmental decision making social goals agriculture pro-environmental behavior environmental decisions group decision making climate variability climate change economic games framing social processes forecast green electrical generation