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U of M researchers find smart decisions for changing environmental times
Date:6/21/2011

You've just been told you're going on a trip. The only problem is, you don't know where you're going, how you'll be traveling, or what you'll do when you get there.

Sound like a wild ride? It's the one our planet is on right now. As land use, human population, consumption and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations change at an unprecedented pace with complex and unpredictable interactions, it's anybody's guess where we'll end up or what we can do to ensure the most favorable outcome.

Recognizing that "guess" is not good enough when talking about the viability of an entire planet, researchers from the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and Institute on the Environment teamed up with others at the University of Wisconsin and the Stockholm Resilience Center to find a better way. Together, experts evaluated existing environmental decision-making tools and constructed an approach they think will give us the best chance at making good choices for an uncertain future. They reported their work in the most recent issue of Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

"We're trying to do a good job of leaving behind a habitable planet," said Stephen Polasky, a University of Minnesota applied economist, Institute on the Environment resident fellow and lead author on the paper. "It's easier to be a good planetary steward when you know where you're going. But we're driving with a muddy windshield. We could make mistakes and end up where we don't want to be."

The researchers looked at four "tools to clear the windshield" -- strategies for making decisions in the face of uncertainty: decision theory, threshold approaches, scenario planning and resilience thinking. Evaluating the strengths and limitations of each, they recommended bringing the best aspects of all together to create a two-phase process that boosts the ability to gather new information and perspectives; make decisions without ful
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Contact: Jeff Falk
jfalk@umn.edu
612-626-1720
University of Minnesota
Source:Eurekalert

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