and more comprehensive understanding of the complex interactions between chemicals, humans, and the environment. A challenge before the agency is the characterization of cumulative effects using complex, incomplete, or missing data. Even as EPA seeks to improve its understanding of risks, some preventionbased decisions may need to be made in the face of uncertainty.
In EPA’s science programs, environmental decisions will only be effective if they consider the social and behavioral contexts in which they will play out. Such decisions can substantially affect societal interests beyond those that are specifically environmental. Tradeoffs among environmental and other societal outcomes need to be anticipated and made explicit if decision-making is to be fully informed and transparent. Predicting economic and societal responses at various points in the decision-making process is necessary to achieve desirable environmental and societal outcomes. For these reasons, developing mechanisms to integrate social, economic, behavioral, and decision sciences would lead to more comprehensive environmental-management decisions. EPA can engage the social, economic, behavioral, and decision sciences as part of a systems-thinking perspective rather than as consumers and evaluators of others’ science. Human behavior is a major determinant of the state of the environment and, as such, should be an integral part of systems thinking regarding environmental risk and risk mitigation alternatives. In addition, EPA would benefit from a long-term commitment to advancing research in a number of related fields, including valuation of health and ecosystem benefits.
Research centers that focus on synthesis research have demonstrated the power and cost effectiveness of bringing together multidisciplinary collaborative groups to integrate and analyze data to generate new scientific knowledge. Deliberately introducing synthesis research into EPA’s activities would contribute to accelerating its progress in sustainability science. A specific area where knowledge from systems thinking could be applied is in the design of safe chemicals, products, and materials.
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