CFI Highlights

Melissa Lane Lane’s main area of research over 2019-2021 has been dedicated to completing a book in an area of her expertise which is unrelated to CFI, her existing research continues to attract global as well as local attention. In 2020-21, this was manifest in an invitation to deliver a public virtual lecture which was prerecorded so as to be subtitled in Italian, on the topic of her 2011/2012 book, Eco-Republic. This was presented by the Festival del Classico, Fondazione Circolo dei lettori, Turin, as “È possible una repubblica ecologica oggi?” and was available for viewing as part of the festival from 11/29/20-4/12/20. This lecture was accompanied by an extensive interview in the national Italian newspaper La Stampa. The same book was shared, a decade after its publication, in a lecture on the political theory of climate change to Princeton students participating in Community Action before the start of the 2021-22 academic year. And another area of Lane’s work relevant to climate, on norms for scientific communication in a democracy, was the subject of discussion in a CNRS seminar in Paris titled Penser la transition and led by led by Paul Égré and Marc Fleurbaey on 03/30/2021. The published paper under discussion (Robert O. Keohane, Melissa Lane, and Michael Oppenheimer, “The ethics of scientific communication under uncertainty,” Politics, Philosophy and Economics 13 (2014) 343-368) is in fact a fruit of the Princeton research collaborations which were the precursor to CFI.

Michael Oppenheimer Oppenheimer’s research focuses on expert assessments and the ways in which scientists organize and present their understanding within those structures. A major research product was the book Oppenheimer co-authored, Discerning Experts: The Practices of Scientific Assessment for Environmental Policy, published in 2019 by The University of Chicago Press. His co-authors are Naomi Oreskes, Dale Jamieson, Keynyn Brysse, Jessica O’Reilly, Matthew Shindell, and Milena Wazeck. The book examines the role of major scientific assessments from an inward-looking perspective: asking how experts deliberate and negotiate the decisions (consensus-based or otherwise) on the state of knowledge which is reflected in the final product.

Robert Socolow Socolow’s CFI research focuses on the framing of the public conversation about climate change science and solutions. His essay, “Witnessing for the Middle to Depolarize the Climate Change Conversation,” appeared in the fall 2020 issue of Daedalus. The essay explores the broadening of the concept of witnessing to include “middle-building” efforts that broaden the conceptualization of a problem and engage additional players. For climate change, he proposes two topics for middle-building: 1) building the case for more ambitious climate science, and 2) making conditionality more salient in evaluations of purported solutions.

The Daedalus issue as a whole, edited by Nancy Rosenblum (Harvard), grew out of a May 2018 conference held in Princeton, “Witnessing Professionals and Climate Change,” co-hosted by Melissa Lane and Rosenblum and co-sponsored by CFI. The conference explored the obligations of expertise in the face of the potential catastrophe of climate change, the limitations and constraints of professional ethics and enforcement by professional associations (and variation across fields), conflicts of obligation, and how to think about effective ‘witnessing’ in a democracy. The other sponsors were the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy; Princeton Environmental Institute; Social Science Research Council (SSRC) through its Anxieties of Democracy program; and University Center for Human Values, with support from the Carnegie Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation.

Socolow’s essay, “Contending with Climate Change: The next 25 years,” appeared in Volume 76 of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists journal, in December 2020.


CFI has had and will continue to have a significant impact on teaching. Notably, Stephen Pacala’s undergraduate “Environmental Nexus” course (ENV200), first taught in the Spring of 2017, was taught for the fifth time in the Fall of 2021. The ethics modules of the course, initially developed by Melissa Lane, were taught by Simona Capisani. Capisani presented several lectures spanning ethics and political philosophy, including lectures on climate justice, the ethics of climate finance, divestment ethics, and indigenous climate justice. She also led precepts in the ethics section with help from Colin Hickey.  The ethics section of the course was one of the most popular, with over 50 students enrolled. Capisani and Pacala collaborated on a joint lecture focused on Princeton University and divestment and invited Divest Princeton to present on their organizing and activist work on campus over the past several years. Capisani and Hickey also worked to develop a final group project for the ethics precepts which asked students to develop a Strategic Climate Resilience Plan for the year 2100 for a country of their choosing. This imaginative and collaborative exercise prompted to students to engage with both the empirical and normative work they encountered over the course of the semester and to apply both critical and imaginative thinking skills to develop proposals and arguments for just institutions and policies aimed at addressing the climate-related challenges their chosen country will be facing over the next century. The course has transformed the campus conversation among students about their civic responsibilities in the face of the coming intersection of environmental and climate-related challenges.