Climate Futures Initiative

2015 New Investigator Award

Award Period: 2015-2017

  • Humanity for the first time has a constructed future. The main objective of this project is to integrate positive and normative perspectives on humanity’s future, with a special focus on climate change. The goal is to examine how the forces and dimensions shaping the future of humanity in respect of this challenge can be analyzed and how the future paths humanity may choose are or should be evaluated.
  • These broad questions unfold in seven research topics: 1) integrated study of the normative foundations of climate policies; 2) strengths and limitations of quantitative valuation for problems with fragile values; 3) international equity in global environmental constraints; 4) social, political and environmental implications of the ethics of virtue; 5) political and psychological mechanisms by which values and scientific knowledge inform (or fail to inform) decision-making; 6) how various actors, media and cultural movements reconsider humanity’s future under climatic and environmental threats; 7) emerging notions of environmental justice and climate justice.
  • Specific projects will be pursued in the coming years:
    • A project on integrated assessment models seeks to provide a rich description of social consequences and refine evaluation criteria in optimization.
    • A project addressing the ethical dimensions, epistemic potential, and epistemic pitfalls, of scientific communication on the one hand, and of non-expert judgment and understanding on the other.
    • A project studying how experts deliberate and negotiate the decisions (consensus-based or otherwise) on the state of knowledge which is reflected in assessment reports.

Educational Impacts

  • POL 404 – CHV 404 (Science and Democracy), already taught once by Melissa Lane, will be updated and taught again in the context of this project
  • ENVST05 (Investigating an Ethical Approach to Sustainability at Princeton), a student-initiated seminar in F2015, will have components taught by Melissa Lane
  • WWS 593_F2015 (Ethics of Public Policy), taught by Marc Fleurbaey, contains a module on debates about climate policy and intergenerational discounting; the module will be updated to incorporate material from the project on integrated assessment
  • FRS 1XX_S2016 (Capitalism, Utopia and Social Justice), taught by Marc Fleurbaey, contains a session on environmental issues and climate policy; this session will be linked to the various components of Climate Futures Initiative

Other Outcomes

This project led to the creation of the Climate Futures Initiative in Science, Values, and Policy (CFI), an interdisciplinary research program at Princeton University administered by the Princeton Environmental Institute and sponsored by PEI and the University Center for Human Values.

Participating Department


Robert E. Kuenne Professor in Economics and Humanistic Studies. Professor of Public Affairs and the University Center for Human Values
Class of 1943 Professor of Politics. Director, University Center for Human Values
Professor Emeritus, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Senior Research Scholar; Co-Director of Carbon Mitigation Initiative



Graduate Students

  • Mark Budolfson
  • Asher Siebert
  • Noah Scovronick
  • Joshua Bernstein