Climate Policy Simulator Forces Users to Confront Ethics and Science Behind Policy Choices

Dec 19 2016
By B. Rose Kelly
Source Woodrow Wilson School

Responding to the challenges of climate change depends both on scientific assessment as well as value judgments by citizens, academics and policymakers.

To explain the interconnectivity of science and value judgments, Princeton University’s Climate Futures Initiative (CFI) has launched a climate policy simulator that enables users to explore possible scenarios regarding emissions, temperatures and carbon prices.

Through a series of web pages, the user is asked questions that elicit their personal values about how to trade off conflicting interests of different populations that are affected by climate change or mitigation efforts. These moral questions include: Do you think that the future counts less than the present? Do you think that the poor should receive greater priority than the rich?

Once users have answered, the simulator displays the climate policies that best correspond to their value judgments. Several outcomes are possible, depending on how large the climate impacts could be and how they affect varying populations.

“At a time when climate policy is in flux, especially in the United States, it is important to familiarize the public with the reasoning behind climate policy discussions,” said Marc Fleurbaey, Robert E. Kuenne Professor in Economics and Humanistic Studies and professor of public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the University Center for Human Values, both at Princeton. “The search for the best policy is not just about trading off the cost of emission reductions today for the benefit of future generations that will be richer than us. It is also about protecting the future poor against climate impacts to which they will be particularly vulnerable.”

CFI is an interdisciplinary research program administered by the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) and sponsored by PEI, the Princeton Institute for International Regional Studies (PIIRS) and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment (ACEE). Researchers hail from the Wilson School, PEI, ACEE, the University Center for Human Values and other departments across Princeton. The program also connects researchers from outside institutions.

Try out the simulator here. Learn more about CFI here.

For more information about the simulator, contact