Environmental issues, which include renewable energies and climate change, are among the most pressing and critical of our times. Environment-themed classes are increasingly being taught within other disciplines. The aim of this paper is to explore two concepts, uncertainty and risk, that can appear in environment-themed physics classes. While both concepts may be familiar to physics students and faculty in the narrow contexts of experiments1 and a few applied areas,2–4 respectively, the treatment here and the connection between the two concepts extend beyond the standard physics body of knowledge and closer to practical and project-based disciplines such as engineering, management, and science policy.

In physics, we usually define uncertainty as a value (such as a variance) that quantifies how much multiple measurements differ from each other, often with an underlying distribution of such measurements being implied. When derived quantities depend mathematically on several other quantities, the uncertainties of...

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