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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate
Societal responses to industrialization—a fundamental change of the twentieth century—suggest the important role decision support can play when society faces major changes. Industrialization prompted the invention of new institutions—including labor unions and social security—and new decision support systems, including national economic statistics on inflation, unemployment, the gross domestic product, and the like. Those systems have become essential to the emergence of macroeconomic policies in the United States and other countries since the Depression (Stein, 1996; Hall, 1989). The indicators—together with the organizations that devise, monitor, validate, archive, and interpret them, the annual reports of the Council of Economic Advisers in the executive office of the President, and the debates they shape—are decision support systems for national economic policy. They have contributed to development of a common conceptual framework and a set of national and international institutions and have become indispensible to economic decisions in the public and private sectors. A lesson of this history is that decision support can make a difference when the federal government provides leadership in data gathering and analysis—even in that most decentralized of activities, a market economy.
Climate change will require a similarly wide-ranging process of social learning. It potentially affects all sectors of economic activity; all regions of the country; all levels of governmental and social organization; and a great variety of professions, communities, and individuals. It is useful to think of those needing climate-related decision support as constituencies—collections of decision makers that may be defined by the kinds of climate-related hazards or opportunities they face, the kinds of climate-affected decisions they must make, shared legal or regulatory mandates, a regional location, or the fact that they are already organized as a constituency. Focusing decision support efforts on constituencies is an effective way to organize them around users’ needs. Some climate-affected constituencies are linked to government agencies with mandates to assist in their decision making—including local air and water quality agencies and the Air and Water Offices of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); coastal and water managers and the Climate Program Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); emergency responders and the Federal Emergency Management Agency—and some are not. Some of those affected already have formal organizations that can collectively request and receive decision support; others do not. The key principles for implementation of decision support (see Chapter 2) are well established from research and experience in operations research and the decision sciences and in various endeavors to make scientific knowledge information useful for practical decision making, and apply across constituencies.
The principle of designing for learning is particularly important over the long run. As the climate is changing, change is also occurring in scien-