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McKelvey School of Engineering

Climate Decision-Making in the Face of Risk and Uncertainty

Thursday, May 5 | 4:00 PM

Stephen F. & Camilla T. Brauer Hall, Brauer Hall, Room 12
6548 Forest Park Pkwy, St. Louis, MO 63112, USA

Abstract: Risk assessment has a rich history in engineering, but conventional methods generally assume that risks are stable, well-characterized, and governed primarily by chance, without the active involvement of competing interests. They also tend to focus on the control of single target risks, overlooking risk-risk tradeoffs and the role of risk attitudes in evaluating the full desirability of alternative actions. These conventions do not hold for most contemporary risks, in which situations are without precedent, conditions are continually changing, and opposing actors have their own motivations. This is especially the case when considering climate change, management of which requires the involvement of multiple powerful parties operating under conditions of high uncertainty, conflicting objectives, and possibly existential threats. In this talk, I will start by describing decision theory and its role in addressing problems involving risk and uncertainty. I will then walk through a series of climate-related decision-making contexts of increasing complexity to exemplify the well-established strengths of the approach, recent advancements that enhance its applicability to addressing climate change, and remaining limitations that require further research and development. Specific climate risks addressed in this talk include the potential for irreversible catastrophe, likely mischaracterization of future social conditions and preferences, possible misestimation of climate response to greenhouse gas emissions, and foreseeable behavioral consequences of solar geoengineering as a climate management strategy.

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Event Type



McKelvey School of Engineering


Science & Technology

Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering
Event Contact


Speaker Information

Mark E. Borsuk

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Co-Director of the Duke Center on Risk

Duke University, Durham, NC

Borsuk’s research concerns the development and application of mathematical models for integrating scientific information on natural, technical, and social systems. He is a widely-cited expert in Bayesian network modeling with regular application to environmental and human health risk assessment and decision making. He is also the originator of novel approaches to climate change assessment, combining risk analysis, game theory, and agent-based modeling. Borsuk’s highly collaborative research has been funded by NSF, EPA, NIH, NIEHS, USFS, and DoD, and he has authored or co-authored over 90 peer-reviewed journal publications and 8 reports and book chapters. Before joining Duke, Borsuk was on the engineering faculty at Dartmouth College for ten years. Prior to Dartmouth, he worked at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG), where he advanced to head of the Decision Analysis and Integrated Assessment group. Borsuk co-directs the Duke Center on Risk, a new interdisciplinary research and teaching initiative focused on improving society’s capacity to analyze, anticipate, mitigate, and adapt to the complex and interconnected risks of the contemporary world.

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