Vanessa Schweizer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Knowledge Integration in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo. She is a member of the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change (IC3) and holds cross-appointments with Environment and Resource Studies as well as Geography and Environmental Management (University of Waterloo). Her research has focused on decision-making under uncertainty, namely the problem of near-term decision-making in the context of long-term consequences. She has considered this problem with respect to the topics of climate change and long-term energy planning. In these fields, scenarios are often used to make sense of complex and ‘slow-moving’ problems.
The anticipation of long-term consequences is difficult because history may not always be a helpful guide for future risks. Nevertheless, history powerfully shapes perceptions of what alternative futures are considered plausible, and such perceptions can be deceiving. Dr. Schweizer applies and develops novel methodologies for discovering internally consistent scenarios that can be surprising because they are not obvious or are difficult to imagine (so-called ‘black swans’ and ‘perfect storms’). Her primary motivation for this work is to ensure that policy discussions about environmental or social risks are not artificially constrained by either wishful thinking or lack of imagination.
Dr. Schweizer’s work on the above issues (with Elmar Kriegler) was recognized by Environmental Research Letters as one of the best papers of the year in 2012. She was also a Contributing Author to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Chapter 21: Regional Context of Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Vol. 2). Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Waterloo, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the US, and previously held appointments with the National Energy Technology Laboratory in the US, the Interdisciplinary Research Unit on Risk Governance and Sustainable Technology Development at the University of Stuttgart in Germany, and the Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change at the US National Research Council.