February 27, 2009

MacArthur grant to fund collaborative efforts on energy policy, climate change

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded the University $350,000 towards the development of a modeling tool to analyze and predict the effects of climate and energy policy. The grant is part of the foundation’s Committee on New Ideas, which supports projects that do not fit into normal funding areas but are innovative initiatives that they wish to support.

The effort, Community Integrated Model of Economic and Resource Trajectories for Humankind (CIM-EARTH), is led by the University of Chicago and Argonne Laboratories to bring together the best computational and economic models worldwide to inform policy-making. “The complexity of the socio-economic-environmental system means that one needs to pull together a broad set of expertise to build, evaluate, and apply models,” said University professor and project leader Ian Foster.

CIM-EARTH scholars hope the projects will help determine the most effective policy choices.

“We may be able to show that a particular proposal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as a particular carbon tax proposal, has an unexpected and unacceptable negative impact on certain parts of society,” Foster said.

According to Foster, CIM-EARTH will take into account several tools which are currently left out of existing, and flawed, climate models.

“Technically, we are building a system that incorporates a range of modern methods that are not found in other models,” Foster said. “Organizationally, we are building a model and community that encourages contributions by many people, and thus increases our ability to overcome shortcomings as they are encountered.”

This new “community modeling framework” will allow CIM-EARTH to reach its full potential by fostering collaboration across disciplines and global institutions. Foster did recognize potential shortcomings in their approach, however.

“One major potential limitation is access to the data needed to develop models,” Foster said. “We are hopeful that we can overcome this problem by using innovative data sources such as satellite imagery.”

These anticipated limitations are currently being researched and addressed, according to Foster, thanks to the grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

“The MacArthur grant is essentially launching the CIM-EARTH project,” said Ken Olliff, director for strategic funding initiatives at the University and co-director of the Arete Initiative, which provides consultation and support for large-scale interdisciplinary projects, including CIM-EARTH. “We will continue to look for further funding to ensure this model will be able to reach its full potential.”