Vanessa Schweizer

Vanessa Schweizer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Knowledge Integration in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo. She is Director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation, a member of the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change (IC3) and Fellow at the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University. 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 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 sits on the Steering Committee for the International Committee on New Integrated Climate Change Assessment Scenarios, which informs scenario development and its application in climate change research. She is also a member of the Global Young Academy, which recruits outstanding young scientists worldwide to lead international, interdisciplinary, and inter-generational initiatives to make global decision making more evidence-based and inclusive. Dr. Schweizer’s work on scenarios (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). She has previously held appointments with the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, the US 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.

Conflict and Security
Environment and ResourcesScience and Health Policy
  • Ph.D., Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, 2010
  • Masters, Environmental Studies, The Evergreen State College, 2007
  • B.Sc. (Hons), Physics, University of Nevada, 2001

Select Publications

Select Academic/Professional Award

  • Member of the Global Young Academy, 2019-Present
  • Council member of the Society for Risk Analysis, 2018-Present
  • Editor’s 2016 pick for paper “with potential to Change the World” (with E.A. Lloyd), Synthese, a journal on the history and philosophy of science
  • Publisher’s pick for Best Paper of October 2012 (with E. Kriegler), Environmental Research Letters

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