Extreme events are a form of uncertainty. They are rare, we don’t know when they will happen, but they have large effects (we typically worry about negative effects). People make decisions in the face of uncertainty like this all the time, often by seeking strategies that reduce the frequency of such events, lessen the impact, or mitigate the effects if they occur. For example, a homeowner worried about coastal flooding can reduce the frequency of flood damage by building on higher ground, lessen the impact by hardening the coastline in some manner, or mitigate the effects by purchasing flood insurance. All of these strategies carry some sort of cost, and the challenge to the decision maker is to evaluate the probability of occurrence, the magnitude of damage, the opportunity for mitigation, and the cost for all the alternatives available. The field of decision analysis provides a full set of tools for analyzing such decisions. Does climate change alter any of this? In this talk, I’ll argue that climate change does not really present us with any novel decision contexts, and we already have the decision-analytical tools we need. For instance, the same homeowner worried about coastal flooding has to estimate how the frequency of flooding will change in the future, whether the magnitude of damage will be higher, and indeed whether anyone will offer flood insurance, but the decision structure and the tools needed to analyze it remain the same. The challenges are two-fold: (1) recognizing climate change as a decision problem, instead of a science dispute, and (2) developing the appropriate scientific predictive tools to support our decision analyses in the face of climate change. These same principles apply to conservation decisions as well as they do to microeconomic decisions.
Michael Runge is a Research Ecologist at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. His primary research interests include problems in quantitative ecology related to adaptive management of wildlife resources. Duties include development and evaluation of principles and theories of adaptive resource management, development and implementation of large-scale management experiments, development of novel applications of adaptive management, technical support for ongoing applications of adaptive management, and development and implementation of other quantitative methods for wildlife management. Dr. Runge has made many important contributions to adaptive management and decision support science, and has been recognized with the Regional Diretor's Conservation Award (2007) for contributions to the science and recovery efforts of the Florida manatee, and the Superior Service Award (2005) for "an exceptional job of making science available to natural resource managers for use in their management decisions."