Center for the Study and Improvement of Regulation (CSIR)
Engineering and Public Policy
A big challenge of studying environmental policy is that any single issue can span a number of dimensions. For example, evaluating a policy to promote vehicles with lower emissions and improved fuel economy requires an understanding about market dynamics (e.g., what types of vehicles are people going to buy and what vehicles will be replaced), technical aspects and performance of the target technology, and the ability to model impacts on air quality and public health. To complicate matters, each link in this chain of analyses would have its own caveats and uncertainty around its estimates. And, certainly, there are a number of different policy levers that would affect each of these in different ways. As a result, something as simple as advocating public policies to promote cleaner vehicles can be a complicated enterprise, requiring a number of different skill sets. Fortunately, the atmosphere at Carnegie Mellon encourages interdisciplinary collaboration, allowing us to address these questions without resorting to simplistic assumptions or black boxes. Students who are exposed to the depth and nuance of these exercises develop a greater appreciation of the complexity of public policymaking, and are less likely to think about the world in terms of black and white. But even when we know a great deal about how to approach each of these questions, the answers can still be difficult to answer or might depend on one's values. A seemingly-innocuous question such as "paper or plastic?" can become unanswerable and keep me awake at night.