Chapter 3: DECISION ANALYSIS AND RATIONAL ACTION

General Comments

This chapter provides an overview of the methodology of risk analysis (broadly defined to include methods sometimes termed decision analysis, cost-benefit analysis, etc.). The emphasis is on the limitations of the present methodology in the general arena of environmental policy, not on its application to climate change policy per se. The chapter is divided into three major sections, the first on "the rational actor paradigm" deals with conventional risk analysis, primarily problems assumed to involve a single decision maker. The second section, "global risks in a pluralistic society," treats ways in which traditional risk analysis can be supplemented/modified to take into account social issues (achieving what is referred to as "social rationality"), making its application to issues such as global climate change at least potentially more plausible. The third section, "social rationality and nonoptimizing choices," finally attempts to relate the previous parts of the chapter to the context of climate change, specifically to integrated assessment.

Right at the beginning of the chapter, it is stated that "it is perhaps surprising . . . that the fundamental conceptual framework for climate change decision-making has received so very little scrutiny in such a large literature." Although this characterization provides some justification for the subsequent lack of focus on climate change, it is odd the no explanation is ever really provided for such a "surprising" situation.

Although the chapter is written in a quite readable style, the intended audience is unclear. The broad community of climate researchers would be unlikely to devote the effort to reading through material so lacking in any climate context. Perhaps a few climate impact specialists would want to read it just for reassurance. Evidently, it would appeal only to a very limited group of risk analysts who are about to consider climate change applications for the first time.

It is clear that the authors are more interested in pushing back the frontiers of risk analysis, than in the nuts and bolts required in any realistic application to climate change policy. Explicit consideration of climate change issues primarily includes references to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process, with the only specific example dealing with integrated assessment. What is known from research on decision making in the presence of climate variability (as opposed to change) is given short shrift (notwithstanding the adjacent chapter in this volume on "reasoning by analogy"). It is unclear whether this is because the authors are unfamiliar with such work or feel that it is irrelevant.

Specific Comments

The section on the "rational actor paradigm" starts with the classical decision-analytic setting of a single actor, the so-called "benevolent planner." Through a careful discussion, the inadequacy of this methodology (termed "atomistic rationality") for global climate change policy is nicely demonstrated. Among other things, multiple actors are involved, leading to the impossibility of any "optimal" solution in the technical sense of conventional risk analysis. In this way, the stage is naturally set for the section on social rationality. Some, by now, well-known examples from the risk analysis literature are used to illustrate "paradoxes" of atomistic rationality. These examples deal mainly with psychometric studies of risk perception. They involve individual judgments about various hazard sources, some of which are environmental, but hardly any are related to climate or climate change. Hence this discussion distracts the reader from the central arguments already cogently made about the limitations of the rational actor paradigm for climate change policy. The section on "global risks in a pluralistic society" essentially consists of a discussion of present and future research directions in risk analysis of relevance to environmental policy in general and, to a lesser extent, global climate change policy in particular. To be clear, the abandonment of the rational actor paradigm is not necessarily advocated. But what exactly is to be done to resuscitate this approach remains inchoate. Four approaches, whose ramifications for the rational actor paradigm are not yet well understood, are described: social amplification theory, sociology of science, arena theory, and cultural theory. Any climate researcher who has managed to read this far into the chapter will be put off by the "metaphoric formula" that appears in the subsection on cultural theory. The section on "social rationality and nonoptimizing choices" includes a somewhat sketchy, not very satisfying discussion of integrated assessment. The impression is created that the authors are touching on this issue. The IPCC process itself is claimed to constitute one form of integrated assessment, but this appears to be a strawperson. In fact, the IPCC process has been conducted in a largely "disintegrated" fashion, with science divorced from impacts and policy. The second form of integrated assessment, driven by complex computer models, is covered in depth in Chapter 5. The lack of integration of these two chapters is certainly ironic.


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