Decision-making under great uncertainty: Environmental management in an era of global change

Stephen Polasky, Stephen R. Carpenter, Carl Folke, Bonnie L Keeler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

436 Scopus citations


Global change issues are complex and the consequences of decisions are often highly uncertain. The large spatial and temporal scales and stakes involved make it important to take account of present and potential consequences in decision-making. Standard approaches to decision-making under uncertainty require information about the likelihood of alternative states, how states and actions combine to form outcomes and the net benefits of different outcomes. For global change issues, however, the set of potential states is often unknown, much less the probabilities, effect of actions or their net benefits. Decision theory, thresholds, scenarios and resilience thinking can expand awareness of the potential states and outcomes, as well as of the probabilities and consequences of outcomes under alternative decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)398-404
Number of pages7
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper draws on discussions from a workshop on the island of Askö in the Baltic Sea in September 2006, which brought together a prominent group of ecologists and economists to discuss social–ecological system management under great uncertainty. Contributors to this paper are Kenneth Arrow, Scott Barrett, Anne-Sophie Crepin, Kanchan Chopra, Gretchen Daily, Partha Dasgupta, Paul Ehrlich, Terry Hughes, Nils Kautsky, Simon Levin, Karl-Göran Mäler, Brian Walker, Tasos Xepapadaes and Aart de Zeeuw. We thank Helen Regen for helpful comments. Support from the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation, Formas and Mistra through a core grant to the Stockholm Resilience Centre is gratefully acknowledged.


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