EPP faculty members conduct research on a wide range of environmental policy and planning issues. The following are some of the issues faculty members currently are studying.
In the 21st century, cities hold the key to environmental sustainability; around the world, cities are competing to be the most "green." For western cities, becoming more sustainable involves radical improvements in energy and water-use efficiency; increased reliance on walking, bicycling, and mass transit; investments in green infrastructure; waste minimization through reduced packaging and increased use of composting, waste-to-energy, and recycling; cultivation of regional food systems; and other measures. A current project involves a team of student researchers working in collaboration with practitioners to assesses the effectiveness of a diverse set of urban sustainability programs in the United States. The project's goal is to generate practical, usable knowledge to improve policymaking, and to create a system for updating that knowledge routinely.
The Science and Politics of Natural Resource Management
Most of the nation's estuaries are under stress as a result of nutrient runoff, development of coastal wetlands, and toxic pollution. Similarly, dams, streamside logging, and livestock grazing of riparian areas have degraded rivers around the country. And urban sprawl threatens wildlife habitat in rural areas, while depleting the economic vitality of inner cities. Figuring out how to manage natural resources in the face of ever-increasing development pressure is a major focus of EPP faculty and students. Faculty are involved in projects that aim to explain the relationship between science and politics, as well as the effectiveness of emerging approaches in natural resource management. For example, one faculty research project examines how science is used in environmental policy debates. Another investigates whether and how ecosystem-based management initiatives produce environmentally protective environmental policies.
International Environmental Policy Making and Regulation
Many of the concerns associated with development differ between developing and developed countries, but there is a shared need for analytic tools to anticipate the consequences of development and growth-management decisions. Research in EPP investigates new approaches to making trade-offs between environmental and developmental objectives, as well as devising and testing methods to resolve disputes over such issues. Many environmental problems can only be tackled on a global basis. Therefore, we focus on the dynamics of transboundary environmental negotiations, such as those concerning climate change, biodiversity conservation, and dozens of other regional and global issues.
Urban Climate Adaptation
Planners are poised to play pivotal roles in minimizing the impacts that climate change will have on cities and their inhabitants. Faculty members in EPP conduct research on urban climate adaptation in all corners of the globe and are engaged efforts that span from local level studies of adaptation planning, to the creation of national and regional role-play simulations and implementation of scenario planning exercises, to collaborations with international organizations and institutions on their adaptation initiatives. Throughout these efforts, faculty members draw on social science methodologies, such as interviews, surveys, focus groups, as well as participatory and consensus-building techniques. The goals of these activities are to understand what cities are doing to address climate impacts, evaluate the ways in which scientific assessments shape decisions and actions, and identify the processes, programs, projects, and partnerships most likely to give rise to effective planning and implementation while ensuring that the needs of the most vulnerable populations are addressed.
Societal Dimensions of Environmental Governance
Many EPP students and faculty study public participation, collaboration, and the roles that members of civil society play in environmental policy and planning. Working in domestic, international, and comparative contexts, faculty research examines issues such as the challenges environmental organizations encounter as they seek to monitor corporations and implement environmental agreements; the types of responses environmental groups have to development proposals, natural disasters, and environmental health hazards; and the extent to which civil society actors and organization are able to realize their goals in the midst of heightened transnational and global pressures. The intended outcome of this research is to generate policy strategies that foster innovation in environmental governance.
Urban and Community Energy Systems
At the local scale, energy systems are complex networks of technology, markets, regulation, and behavior. Local conditions exert considerable influence over the design and operation of these systems, and how easy or difficult they are to change. EPP faculty members are interested in energy system governance and regulation, technology options, market structures, and the link between energy and local economic development. Current faculty research projects include studies analyzing the viability of different clean energy technologies; the impact of federal stimulus funding on local energy systems; an analysis of how local energy use data can be employed to promote energy efficiency and the optimization of energy system design; the role that energy technology can play in promoting job creation in cities, and community participation in energy efficiency planning and policy making. EPP faculty consult to leading energy industry players, local government agencies, and international organizations, creating research and collaboration opportunities for students and other departments and research institutes around MIT.
EPP and other DUSP faculty members, working with colleagues at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and at Harvard Law School, are challenging conventional engineering thinking about transboundary water management. Applying multiparty negotiation theory and emerging ideas about complexity, faculty and students are helping to build an Aquapedia summarizing cases of water conflict and developing new tools, like multiparty role plays, to teach what is called the Water Diplomacy Framework to water professionals around the world.
The MIT Science Impact Collaborative (SIC)
It is no longer possible to separate scientific and "political" considerations in making resource-management decisions in the United States. The MIT Science Impact Collaborative conducts research on the difficulties associated with incorporating science into value-laden societal decisions and works to develop better approaches to environmental decision-making. The premise guiding SIC projects is that public involvement in science-intensive policy disputes can only be effective if the proper tools are used to allow stakeholders with varying degrees of scientific and technical knowledge to engage in high quality joint fact finding. Joint fact finding refers to the procedures that have evolved over the past several decades for ensuring that science and politics are appropriately balanced in environmental decision-making at the federal, state and local levels. "High quality" means that, at a minimum, all stakeholders are represented and involved in framing the inquiry, a trained neutral manages the conversations in which the stakeholders are engaged, and scientists and technical experts are part of the conversations that inform any decision. For more information, visit the SIC website.
MIT-Malaysia Sustainable Cities Collaboration
The MIT- Malaysia Sustainable Cities Partnership is a five-year effort, co-managed by faculty at MIT and the Universiti of Teknologi of Malaysia (UTM), with a multimillion dollar grant from the Malaysian Ministry of Education. The goal of the partnership is to document sustainable city development efforts in Malaysia. We intend to use our research findings to create on-line video instructional materials to support the teaching of sustainable city development in universities in the global South. Ten Visiting Faculty members from around the world will be selected annually, beginning in early 2014, to join our research efforts. They will spend half an academic year at UTM and half at MIT. In January each year, MIT graduate students and faculty will join with UTM faculty and students to review and refine the direction of the research in progress.
Conflicts Over Hydrodevelopment in Southern Chile
With the support of a MISTI grant, the Science Impact Collaborative has partnered with Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh) to research and promote better ways for affected communities, companies, and government to collaborate on decisions related to hydropower development in southern Chile.
Since early 2012, a team led by SIC Director Professor Lawrence Susskind and Professor Teodoro Kausel of UACh has produced a number of working papers on water governance, civil society participation, and consultation with indigenous communities. In January 2013, the team led a Devising Seminar in Santiago, in partnership with the Consensus Building Institute, and a one-day conference on the UACh campus in Valdivia.
Participatory Action Research
Often social scientists try to emulate natural science – that is, to strip away the significance of place-specific context so that any researcher can, following the scientific method, produce the same results in any location. Participatory Action Research (PAR) researchers have abandoned that objective, arguing context is “everything.” PAR advocates follow well-documented procedures (that others could emulate), but they seek to draw lessons only with the people in the place they are studying, for that particular place. PAR scholars must be careful not to marginalize the subjects of their research. PAR can involve either quantitative or qualitative research, but it tends to be focused on one place or community at a time. While acceptance is growing as methods improve, applied social science research that follows the PAR philosophy is still discounted in some academic circles because it does not sufficiently mimic natural science or maintain an arms length relationship between researchers and the communities being studied. Moreover, society no longer believes that academics or other experts should impose their biases on communities. PAR methods are integral to the practices of the Science Impact Collaborative and the Community Innovators Lab. The MIT PAR website brings together the work, knowledge, and discussions of graduate students, researchers, and faculty.