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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions 4 Human Consequences and Responses Since before recorded history, environmental changes have affected things people value. In consequence, people have migrated or changed their ways of living as polar ice advanced and retreated, endured crop failures or altered their crops when temperature and rainfall patterns changed, and made numerous other adjustments in individual and collective behavior. Until very recently, people have responded to global phenomena as if they were local, have not organized their responses as government policies, and have not been able to respond by deliberately altering the course of the global changes themselves. Things are different now from what they have been for millennia. This chapter examines the range of human consequences of, and responses to, global environmental change. We begin by developing the concept of human consequences and showing why, to understand them, it is critical to understand the variety of human responses to global change. We then offer a framework for thinking about human responses and discuss the pivotal role of conflict. The next section examines three cases that illustrate many of the major factors influencing the human consequences of global change. The following sections describe the human systems that are affected by or respond to global change, and how they interrelate. We conclude by offering some general principles for research and some research implications.
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions UNDERSTANDING HUMAN CONSEQUENCES Many human actions affect what people value. One way in which the actions that cause global change are different from most of these is that the effects take decades to centuries to be realized. This fact causes many concerned people to consider taking action now to protect the values of those who might be affected by global environmental change in years to come. But because of uncertainty about how global environmental systems work, and because the people affected will probably live in circumstances very much different from those of today and may have different values, it is hard to know how present-day actions will affect them. To project or forecast the human consequences of global change at some point in the relatively distant future, one would need to know at least the following: the future state of the natural environment, the future of social and economic organization, the values held by the members of future social groups, the proximate effects of global change on those values, and the responses that humans will have made in anticipation of global change or in response to ongoing global change. These elements form a dynamic, interactive system (Kates, 1971, 1985b; Riebsame et al., 1986). Over decades or centuries, human societies adapt to their environments as well as influence them; human values tend to promote behavior consistent with adaptation; and values and social organization affect the way humans respond to global change, which may be by changing social organizations, values, or the environment itself. This complex causal structure makes projecting the human consequences of global change a trickier task than is sometimes imagined. It is misleading to picture human impacts as if global change were like a meteorite striking an inert planet, because social systems are always changing and are capable of anticipation. So, for example, an estimate of the number of homes that would be inundated by a one-meter rise in sea level and the associated loss of life and property may be useful for alerting decision makers to potentially important issues, but it should not be taken as a prediction, because humans always react. Before the sea level rises, people may migrate, build dikes, or buy insurance, and the society and economy may have changed so that people's immediate responses—and therefore the costs of
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions global change—may be different from what they would be in the present. One may imagine human consequences as the output of a matrix of scenarios. Assume that four sets of scenarios are developed for the futures of the natural environment, social and economic organization, values, and policies. Joining together all combinations of one scenario from each set, and adding assumptions about people's immediate responses, would generate an extensive set of grand scenarios. The human consequences of global change could then be defined as the difference between the state of humanity at the end of one grand scenario and the state of humanity at the end of a base case or reference scenario with a different natural-environment component. By this definition, a particular change in the natural environment has different consequences depending on the scenarios assumed for society, values, and responses. Building these scenarios, identifying the most probable ones, and assessing their outcomes would be an overwhelming analytic task. Rather than trying to set a research agenda for that task, we undertake in this chapter a less demanding but still very difficult task: to focus on human responses to global change broadly conceived. We do not discuss ways to improve forecasts of the state of the natural environment; that topic is outside the range of human dimensions. Neither do we devote much attention to improving forecasts of social and economic organization or of human values, even though these topics clearly belong to the social sciences and are critical to understanding the effects of global change. We bypass these issues because the need for improved social, economic, and political forecasting is generic in the social sciences, and addressing this broad need would take us far beyond our charge to focus on human-environment interactions. We offer only limited discussion of how future global change might proximally affect what humans value, because the variety of possible global changes and the uncertainty about the effects of each make it far too difficult to go into detail. Instead, we review basic knowledge about how human systems respond to external stresses, in the context of discussing human responses. In our judgment, understanding human responses is key to understanding the human consequences of global change. We do not mean to downplay the importance of certain kinds of research that do not focus explicitly on responses. Two such research traditions, in particular, are highly relevant. The impact-assessment tradition involves projecting the human consequences of a
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions range of natural-environment scenarios under given assumptions about human response. The tradition of post hoc case analysis involves assessing the actual human outcomes after past environmental changes (and given the responses that actually occurred), in the hope of drawing more general conclusions. Research in these traditions, combined with analysis of human response, can offer valuable insights into the human consequences of global change. We discuss that research as appropriate in this chapter and in Chapter 5. SOME DIMENSIONS OF HUMAN RESPONSE The human responses relevant to global change differ along several dimensions. We consider the following analytic distinctions useful for thinking about the range of responses available. Responses to Experienced Versus Anticipated Change People and social institutions may respond to environmental change as it is experienced (post facto) or as it is anticipated.1 In the past, people responded mainly to experienced environmental change; only in very recent history, because of increasing scientific knowledge, has there been any rational basis for anticipatory responses. Policy makers and others are now faced with a variety of options, some of which involve anticipatory action and some of which depend on awaiting the experience of global change. Deliberate Responses Versus Actions with Incidental Effects Some human actions can be taken deliberately in response to global change. For instance, people can build dikes to keep out rising seas or reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate global warming. Human actions can also affect human responses to global change incidentally to their intended purposes. For example, European settlement of the Americas gave Europeans and, later, others access to a wider variety of food crops, making human survival less dependent, at least in principle, on a small number of staples that might be vulnerable to altered growing conditions caused by environmental change. World markets have subsequently reduced the number of major staple foods so that, in practice, people may eat no larger a variety of foods than before (Plotkin, 1988). High taxes on gasoline in Europe and Japan, enacted for reasons unrelated to the global environment, encouraged
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions development and purchase of small, fuel-efficient automobiles that incidentally slow the pace of global warming. By bringing about technological change, these taxes also incidentally have helped make it easier for all countries—even those without high gasoline taxes or companies that produce fuel-efficient automobiles—to respond to the challenge of global warming with improved energy efficiency. Changes in society that incidentally affect human responses to global change are important both directly and because they could become tomorrow's deliberate responses. For example, gasoline taxes, which were not initiated with the global environment as a consideration, could be increased to cut CO2 emissions. Studies of the incidental effects of such actions might inform decision makers about what could happen without deliberate intervention and about which present policies might make societies more robust in the face of global change. Both kinds of knowledge are essential for informed policy debates. Coordinated Versus Uncoordinated Responses Response to global change may be coordinated, as through the policies of governments or trade associations aimed at eliciting the same action from many actors, or uncoordinated, as with independent actions of households or small firms. Both types of response can be either anticipatory or post facto; both can affect global change either deliberately or incidentally. Moreover, coordinated and uncoordinated responses can be connected to each other, in that coordinated actions by governments and industries can create new options for uncoordinated actors, prohibit responses, or raise or lower their costs. Interventions at Different Points in the Process Figure 4-1 elaborates on Figure 2-2 to show how human action can intervene at any point in the cycle of interaction between human and environmental systems to protect against threats to what humans value. We offer the following rough distinctions among types of interventions.2 The term mitigation is generally used to describe interventions on the human causes side of the diagram. Mitigation includes all actions that prevent, limit, delay, or slow the rate of undesired impacts by acting directly or indirectly on environmental systems. Mitigation can operate at various points in the causal cycle.
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions FIGURE 4-1 Interactions between human and environmental systems and the role of various types of human response. Lightly shaded boxes repeat the relationships presented in Figure 2-2. It may involve direct interventions in the environment (type E in the figure) to counteract the effects of other human actions, direct interventions in the proximate human causes (type P), and interventions in the human systems (type H) that drive global change, intended to have an indirect or downstream effect on the proximate causes. For example, global warming is the direct result of a change in the earth's radiative balance; humans can mitigate global warming by any actions that slow the rate of change or limit the ultimate amount of change in the radiative balance.3 They can intervene in the environment (type E), for example by directly blocking incident solar radiation with orbiting particles or enhancing the ocean sink for carbon dioxide by adding nutrients. They can intervene in the proximate causes (type P), by regulating automo
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions bile use or engine design to cut carbon dioxide emissions or limiting the use of certain nitrogen fertilizers to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. They can intervene in human systems (type H) and indirectly control the proximate causes, by investing in research on renewable energy technologies to replace fossil fuel or providing tax incentives for more compact settlements to lower demand for transportation. Mitigation of ozone depletion might, in principle, involve release of substances that interact chemically with CFCs, producing compounds with benign effects on the stratospheric ozone layer (type E), limiting emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other gases that deplete ozone (type P), or developing alternative methods of cooling buildings that do not rely on CFCs (type H). Mitigation of threats to biological diversity might include, at least in principle, engineering new varieties, species, or even ecosystems to save diversity, if not individuals (type E); limiting widespread destruction of tropical forests, estuaries, and other major ecosystems (type P); or promoting systems of land tenure and agricultural production that decrease the pressure for extensive development of tropical forests (type H). Humans can intervene in several ways on the response side of the cycle. Such actions are sometimes generically called adaptation, but there are important distinctions among them. One type of response, which can be called blocking, prevents undesired proximate effects of environmental systems on what humans value. It can be described by example. If global climate change produces sufficient warming and drying (drought) on a regional scale, it may threaten the region's crops; development and adoption of drought-resistant crops or crop strains can break the connection between environmental change (drought) and famine by preventing crop failure. Similarly, loss of stratospheric ozone threatens light-skinned humans with skin cancer, through exposure to ultraviolet radiation; avoidance of extreme exposure to sun and application of sunscreens help prevent cancer, although they do not mitigate the destruction of the ozone layer. Tropical deforestation threatens species with extinction by eliminating their habitats; creation of forest preserves would provide many species sufficient habitat to survive, while doing little to slow net deforestation. Another type of adaptive response is to prevent or compensate for losses of welfare that would otherwise result from global change. Such actions can be called adjustments.4 They neither mitigate environmental change nor keep it from affecting what people value, but rather intervene when a loss of welfare is imminent or after
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions it has begun to be manifest. Examples include evacuation from areas stricken with flood or drought, food shipments or financial assistance to those remaining in such areas, and development of synthetic substitutes for products previously obtained from extinct species.5 Yet another type of response, sometimes called anticipatory adaptation, aims to improve the robustness of social systems, so that an unchecked environmental change would produce less reduction of values than would otherwise be the case.6 This type of intervention does not alter the rate of environmental change, but it lowers the cost of any adjustments that might become necessary. It can be distinguished, at least in theory, from type H mitigation in that it does not necessarily alter the driving forces of global change. An example is diversification in agricultural systems. Farmers, regions, and countries that rely on a range of crops with different requirements for growth may or may not produce less greenhouse or ozone-depleting gases than monoculturists. But polycultures are more robust in the face of drought, acid deposition, and ozone depletion. There may be crop failure, but only in some crops. Similarly, families and communities that have both agricultural and nonagricultural income are harmed less by the same threats than purely agricultural groups. They have other sources of income and can purchase crops from elsewhere.7 All social systems are vulnerable to environmental change, and modern industrial societies have different vulnerabilities from earlier social forms. Modem societies have built intricate and highly integrated support systems that produce unprecedented material benefits by relying critically on highly specialized outputs of technology, such as petrochemical fertilizers and biocides; hybrid seeds; drugs and vaccines; and the transmission of electricity, oil, and natural gas from distant sources. Although these complex sociotechnical systems contain great flexibility through the operation of global markets, they may have vulnerabilities that reveal themselves in the face of the changes that these systems have helped create. For instance, modern societies have become highly dependent on fossil fuels and vulnerable to a serious disruption of supply or distribution systems. They also support much larger and denser populations than ever before; such populations may be vulnerable to ecological changes affecting the viability of their food supplies. Evidence from studies of disasters suggests that the poor, who lack diversified sources of income, political influence, and access to centralized relief efforts, tend to be worst off (Erikson, 1978;
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions Kroll-Smith et al., 1991; Mileti and Nigg, 1991). However, studies to assess the vulnerabilities of larger human systems, such as national or world food or energy systems, are rarely done (e.g., Rabb, 1983). The far side of vulnerability is also little studied: When a system fails to resist environmental pressure, under what conditions does it return to its previous state? If it undergoes permanent change, what determines the nature of the new state? THE PIVOTAL ROLE OF CONFLICT An important consequence of global environmental change is conflict, because global change affects what humans value, and different people value different things. When U.S. energy use threatens the global climate or land clearing in Brazil threatens the extinction of large numbers of species, people around the world are understandably concerned. They may express a desire—or even claim a right—to influence the choices of people or governments continents away. And the people or countries subjected to those claims may resist, especially when they feel that changing their behavior will mean suffering. The further global change proceeds, the more likely it seems that it will be a source of conflict, including international conflict, over who has a right to influence the activities implicated as causes, who will pay the costs of responding, and how disputes will be settled. A Current Controversy: To Mitigate or Not to Mitigate? One of the most heated policy debates about responses to a global change is between advocates of immediate efforts to mitigate global warming and those who would postpone such action. This debate arose within the committee, even though we were not charged with recommending strategies for response to global change. We offer the following brief, sharply stated version of the debate to highlight some important characteristics of controversies about global change: that they are partly, but not entirely, fact-based; that they are likely to persist even in the face of greatly increased knowledge about the causes of global change; and that they are pervasive, even in discussions restricted to research priorities. In one view, the wise course of action on global warming is to conduct research on the phenomenon but not to take action to slow or mitigate it until the phenomenon is better understood. Proponents of this view make the following arguments:
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions Uncertainty of global change. The nature and extent of global warming in the future is highly uncertain because of incomplete knowledge of the relevant properties of the atmosphere, oceans, biosphere, and other relevant systems. It is wasteful for society to expend resources to prevent changes that will not occur anyway. Moreover, the mitigation efforts may themselves set in motion undesired changes. Adjustment will make mitigation unnecessary. Human systems can adjust to global climate changes much faster than they are likely to occur. The projected doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will take place about 80 years from now. By contrast, financial markets adjust in minutes, administered-market prices in weeks, labor markets in years, and the economic long run is usually reckoned at no more than two decades. The implication for action is that what individuals and organizations do on their own in anticipating climate change may be sufficiently successful that organized, governmental responses will be superfluous. The impact of climate change will reach people through slow price increases for the factors of production; in reasonably well-functioning markets, economic actors adapt readily to such changes. They invent industrial processes that economize on scarce inputs, find substitutes, purchase energy-efficient equipment when energy prices are rising, and so forth. In the past, such adjustments have contributed to human progress, and there is every reason to expect that pattern to continue. Don't fight the wrong war. It makes no sense to act like the generals who built the Maginot Line for the wrong war or to construct dikes for cities whose populations will have moved or dams to water crops that will be grown elsewhere. Technological and social changes often eliminate problems without any specific mitigation efforts by changing the offending technology or making it obsolete. For example, boilers no longer explode on trains because they no longer use steam engines; horses are no longer the main polluters of urban streets. Concern about the greenhouse effects of fossil fuel burning will prove premature if development of fusion or solar energy technology can replace most fossil fuel use over the next 50 years. Better policy options may lie on the horizon. Further research may identify more effective and less costly interventions than those now available. For example, it has recently been suggested that adding iron to the oceans to fertilize phytoplankton that would absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere may be a way to address the greenhouse effect (Martin et al., 1990). That
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions proposal, whatever its ultimate feasibility or desirability (Lloyd, 1991), demonstrates that improved understanding of biogeochemical systems might generate promising new proposals for mitigating global change. Improved understanding of social systems has reasonable potential to discover other classes of effective response. It may be more costly to act now. Actions that can be postponed will be less burdensome because of continuing economic progress. If people living in the 1890s had invested in preventing today's environmental problems, their expense on our behalf would probably have been made on the wrong problems, and it would have been an inequitable transfer of resources from a poorer generation to a richer one. It probably makes no more sense for the current generation to sacrifice to benefit a future, even wealthier generation. This is the argument for a positive social discount rate. It assumes that expenditures made now could otherwise be invested at compound interest in improvements in human well-being. If the growth rate for such investment exceeds the average rate at which environmental problems develop, people will be better off in the future if they do not spend on mitigation now. Proponents of immediate mitigative action make the following arguments: Action now is more feasible and effective than action later. It is in the nature of exponential growth processes that the earlier the growth rate decreases, the greater the final effect. Bringing down the birth rate in India to two children per couple in 1995 rather than in 2005 can make a difference of 300 million people by the time the Indian population stabilizes (Meadows, 1985). To achieve the same effect by starting later would impose greater restrictions on the people living at that time. It is therefore easier to mitigate the effects of exponential growth the sooner the effort is made. It is easier to adjust to slower change. Mitigation is prudent because of the long time lags in the global environmental system. By the time it becomes clear that a response is needed, it may be too late to prevent catastrophe if the change is proceeding rapidly. Even if catastrophe is unlikely, mitigation that slows the rate of change makes it more likely that adjustments can be made in time. This is clearly the case for nonhuman organisms, such as tree species that can adjust to climatic change by migrating, as seedlings move to more favorable locations. Such species have a
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions for example, about the bargaining power of apparently weak players, like China, which can issue credible threats to step up their use of coal or CFCs unless others make it worthwhile for them to desist. More knowledge is also needed about the role of nonstate actors, such as intergovernmental organizations, environmental movement organizations, and transnational corporations, in the creation and operation of environmental regimes. The involvement of such nonstate actors heralds the emergence of a more complicated international society in which states remain important but share influence with several other types of actors. This change may require more sophisticated conceptualizations of international interactions. Finally, there is need for better understanding of the relationships between institutions (sets of rights and rules) and organizations (material entities with offices, staffs, budgets, and legal responsibility) (Young, 1989a, b). Organizations, such as the United Nations Environment Programme, have sometimes been important players in regime formation; they are sometimes necessary to manage regimes, although implementation of key rules is sometimes delegated to the member governments. Given the costs of operating international organizations, it is important to have a better understanding of the conditions under which they are necessary, or more effective than alternatives. The above research agenda is relevant not only to the practical problems of responding to global change, but also to some basic issues in social science. The gaps in knowledge about international environmental regimes are also gaps in the broader literatures on social institutions and collective action. This global change research agenda would therefore be a direct and timely contribution to political science. GLOBAL SOCIAL CHANGE As we note at the opening of this chapter, the consequences of global environmental change depend on the future shape of human society. A number of ongoing changes in human systems, operating systemically or cumulatively at the global level, are shaping the societies that will feel the effects of global environmental change. Although global social changes are numerous, to our knowledge, a thoughtful typology of them has not been developed. As an impetus to further analysis and research, we note several examples of global social changes that may affect the driv-
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions ing or mitigating forces of global environmental change or the ability of human systems to respond to such change. Population Distribution and Size The urban population of the world continues to increase both in total and in percentage terms, in both the developed and developing countries (Berry, 1991; Smith and London, 1990). Urbanization, by increasing spatial concentration, may increase vulnerability to natural hazards, concentrated pollutant emissions, and globally systemic changes such as sea-level rise. Urban bias in developing countries may also skew national priorities away from rural resource and environmental problems (Lipton, 1977). However, urbanization may decrease vulnerability by affording economies of scale in resource use and environmental protection, allowing rural households to diversify their sources of income, decreasing population growth rates, and increasing concern with environmental amenities. Some of the key research questions concern the conditions under which urbanization affects demand for resources implicated in global change, vulnerability to environmental disasters, and the robustness of rural communities in the face of environmental change. Equally relevant are concerns of population size. Increasing human population is likely to place added pressure on political and economic systems to contain conflicts likely to arise over increasingly scarce resources (see, e.g., Homer-Dixon, 1990). Market Growth and Economic Development The spatial reach and dominance of market forces have been widening as a world system of trade penetrates even into countries that have had central planning and command economies and into the remotest regions. The effects on the human driving forces of global change and on the ability to respond are not obvious. Expansion of the market replaces state-sponsored resource waste with an invisible-hand means for checking inefficient and degrading uses of the environment. However, ceding control to the market can also lessen the ability of the state or community to manage environmental problems that are driven by the search for profits. At the local level, sustainable practices associated with a subsistence or mixed economy may be abandoned for unsustainable profit-oriented ones (Bates, 1980; Jodha and Mascarenhas, 1985; Redclift, 1987). The increased wealth that is the usual (though not always realized) goal of a shift toward free-market policies generally increases the ability to respond to threatening changes;
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions it may also raise the standard of environmental quality expected by the population. Socioeconomic Marginalization Some observers hypothesize that the global spread of capitalism has forced certain individuals, groups, and countries into a position of diminishing control over needed resources and reduced options for survival and for responding to global change. Indigenous sociocultural systems of social security are believed to be crumbling, with new capitalist economies doing little to replace the lost safety nets. Economically marginalized individuals and groups sometimes degrade the environment for subsistence and lack the resources to respond effectively to natural or human-induced damage. Marginalization and impoverishment of nations can have the same consequences for national policies and actions (Hewitt, 1983; Sen, 1981; Watts, 1987). Geopolitical Shifts The trend in 1989-1991 of declining tensions between East and West may facilitate human response to global environmental change through reallocating funds from military uses, lowering the potential for widespread nuclear and/ or chemical warfare, redefining national security to consider environmental as well as military and ideological threats (Brown, 1982; Mathews, 1989; Bush and Gorbachev, 1990), and building trust between powerful nations that will lead to cooperation instead of conflict. At the same time, however, north-south tensions may be increasing with the disparity of wealth between the developed and developing worlds. Such increased tension will make future international cooperative action more difficult and may lead to direct conflict (Agarwal, 1990; Carroll, 1983). The net effect of such geopolitical shifts is very hard to predict. International Information/Communication Networks A global explosion of information and communication technology has uncertain implications for response to global change. It may facilitate societal response by making it easier for scientists and policy makers around the world to cooperate and share information, disseminate it to the public, and marshal worldwide pressure for response (Cleveland, 1990; Miles et al., 1988; Mowlana and Wilson, 1990; K. Wright, 1990). Examples include international reaction to satellite photographs of daily burning in the Amazon forests and the response of the Soviet peoples to news of the desiccation of the Aral Sea. However, the network may also amplify misinformation or create barriers to response by spreading the word that some nations may gain from environmental change. Democratization As of mid-1991, there appears to be a worldwide trend toward increasing decision-making power of the
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions citizenry in nation-states. Increasing democratization may influence human response by providing more power to people being affected by environmental change, but it may also give more access and power to those whose interests would be harmed by measures for environmental management and protection. Democratization may also slow responses, compared with what might be achieved in an authoritarian regime by simple decision by the leadership (Kaplan, 1989; Muller, 1988; Roberts, 1990; Stephens, 1989). The net effects on response to global change are likely to depend on conditions in particular countries. Scientific/Technological Expansion Exponential growth in scientific and technological knowledge both drives environmental change and increases the capacity to respond to it. It increases the ability to detect and understand threatening global environmental changes (e.g., the ozone hole) and provides alternatives to destructive products and practices (e.g., substitutes for CFCs) (AMBIO, 1989; Bacard, 1989; United Nations, 1989), but it may also create new global environmental problems (Kasprzyk, 1989; Russell, 1987). And new technologies may create major changes in the structure of human society, as in the case of CFC refrigeration technology or the periodic emergence of new energy sources to replace old ones as the basis of industry (Ausubel and Sladovich, 1989). In such instances, the implications for the global environment may remain uncertain for a long period. Resurgence of Cultural Identity Many analysts perceive a worldwide resurgence of cultural identity or differentiation in recent decades: a deeply held attachment to groups (e.g., ethnic, religious, tribal, states) and the associated movements by these groups for autonomy of expression and decision (see Nash, 1989). Examples include the resurgence of ethnic nationalism in the Soviet Republics and the overt hostility, especially in Islamic countries, to the cultural invasion of Western values. The impact on response to global change is most likely to be felt when global changes or possible responses to them are perceived as threats to the values or livelihood of a particular group or when response requires cooperation between groups already in conflict. The social changes mentioned appear to be ongoing trends, yet their future direction is, of course, uncertain. Equally uncertain are the effects of any trends in global human systems on the human ability to respond to global change. Plausible arguments can usually be made on both sides: a global social change may make resource use either more or less extensive and effective
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions human response either easier or harder to accomplish. The open questions point to many research opportunities for social scientists who have studied changes in these human systems and who would now consider their implications for human responses to global change. CONCLUSIONS This chapter examines the range of human consequences of global change and identifies specific areas in which new research can make important contributions to understanding. Where we identify research needs, priorities among studies should be set according to the criteria noted in Chapter 2. We focus here on four general principles derived from this analysis that deserve special emphasis because they are fundamental, underappreciated, and point to critical directions for research. THE KNOWLEDGE BASE FOR HUMAN RESPONSES IS INHERENTLY VALUE LADEN We have identified the key link from environmental change to its human consequences as proximate effects on what humans value. Of course, what humans value depends on the humans. The wealthy tend to have different value priorities from the poor, national leaders from voters, business executives from laborers, miners from herders, and so forth. Yet what humans value is precisely what defines the consequences of global change and drives human responses. Different individuals and human groups will often disagree about what environmental changes are worthy of response. Research Needs First, it is necessary to disaggregate the consequences of global change by analyzing the distribution of impacts of particular global changes on the things that different groups of people value. Such knowledge is necessary input to policy debates, even though it is not sufficient to facilitate social choices. Even with perfect knowledge of the effects of each conceivable alternative on each group affected, conflicts of value and interest will remain. Better knowledge of the impacts may even precipitate conflict by making latent conflicts more obvious. Second, it is important to develop better ways of making the available knowledge about outcomes more accessible and understandable to nonspecialists. The body of knowledge about the de-
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions sign of messages about environmental risks and benefits can be brought to bear (National Research Council, 1989b; Mileti and Fitzpatrick, 1991). Better messages are also necessary but insufficient to facilitate social choices. They inform but do nothing to alter the differences in values and interests that produce conflict. Third, it may help to understand the process of value judgment better. Several systematic methods have been used to assess the value people place on outcomes that may be affected by environmental change or responses to it, and to help individuals confront the value tradeoffs that policy choices often pose (e.g., Keeney and Raiffa, 1976; Mitchell and Carson, 1988). These methods of systematizing the valuation process can be applied to the valuation of the consequences of global change under different response regimes; such studies will advance understanding of valuation and may also help individuals and social groups choose their responses. The most critical practical need is probably for effective means of managing the conflicts of value and interest that attend choices about global change. Human systems at every level of organization will have to develop systems of conflict management and, to the extent that different human groups (e.g., countries) need to respond in a coordinated way, their systems will also have to be compatible. These practical needs raise numerous research questions for the global change research agenda. In the discussion of conflict, we noted several bodies of relevant theory and knowledge that could be usefully applied to the study of conflict over responses to global environmental change. Methods of conflict management developed for other conflicts might be tried experimentally and monitored in efforts at global change-related conflict resolution. And experiments should be conducted with institutional means for making technological knowledge useful to nonexperts in a context of controversy—for instance, systems that enlist representatives of interested groups in the process (National Research Council, 1989b) or that harness the controversy to provide a range of perspectives as an aid to understanding (Stern, 1991). HUMAN RESPONSES MUST BE ASSESSED AGAINST A CHANGING BASELINE The human consequences of an environmental change depend on when it happens and on the state of the affected human groups at that time. Global changes in the future may or may not have more serious effects than if they happened now. For instance, if recent trends continue, future societies will be wealthier, more
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions flexible, and more able to take global changes in stride than present ones. However, the more committed human societies become to present technologies that produce global change, the harder it will be to give them up if that becomes necessary. Research Needs First, to understand the human consequences of global change, it is important to improve the ability to project social change. Existing methods range from simple extrapolation to more complex procedures for building scenarios. But scenario building is more art than science. Therefore, as an initial approach, it is useful to test projected environmental futures against various projected human futures to see how sensitive the human consequences of global change are to variations in the social future. In the longer run, it is much preferable to improve understanding of the relationships that drive social change. This is a long-term project in social science, on which much theoretical work is needed. We return to this theme in Chapter 5. Research on the human dimensions of global change may help give impetus to that project. Second, the extreme difficulty of predicting the long-term social future raises the importance of the study of social robustness in the face of environmental change. Increasing robustness against a range of environmental changes is a highly attractive strategy because it bypasses the difficult problems of predicting long-term environmental and social change. However, little is known about what makes social, economic, and technological systems robust, and the concept itself needs much more careful conceptualization. The importance of the problem is suggested comparing two plausible arguments, both found in this chapter. One is that expansion of the market increases robustness by giving economic actors more flexibility in providing for their needs. This argument implies that further penetration of international markets will make it easier for humanity to withstand global changes without major suffering. The other argument is that sociocultural systems often provide a safety net for individuals, for example, through the obligations of others to provide. Sometimes, as in the responses to drought in northern Nigeria, these two arguments seem to support each other: the sociocultural systems there relied on the availability of urban wage labor as a supplement to subsistence agriculture. But sometimes, as with Amazonian deforestation, the two arguments seem to conflict: wealthy economic actors following market incentives crowd out peoples who have developed flexible sociocultural systems, leaving them neither land nor paid labor. Careful comparisons of cases such as the Sahel
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions and the Amazon might begin to clarify the role of markets and of various sociocultural systems in making social groups more or less robust with respect to environmental change. HUMAN RESPONSE CAN INVOLVE INTERVENTION ANYWHERE IN THE CYCLE OF CAUSATION Human responses to global change can involve a variety of interventions of quite different types. It is reasonable to suppose that it makes a difference where an intervention occurs, but there is no body of knowledge that clarifies what different effects are likely to arise from different kinds of interventions. Consider an example in terms of Figure 4-1. To respond to the threat of global warming, a government may regulate automobile manufacture or use (affecting a proximate cause—type P mitigation), institute a variety of fossil fuel taxes or incentives (to affect human systems that drive global change—type H mitigation), support research on solar energy (a more distantly type H mitigation), or support adjustment by investing in a fund to compensate citizens after the warming begins to affect what they value. Many arguments can be raised for each strategy. One may argue that mitigation directed at proximate causes is less likely to have disastrous side effects because it is targeted to the desired change only—or one may argue that adjustments are less likely to have disastrous side effects, for the same reason. One may argue that investing in solar energy is wiser than the other mitigation alternatives because it goes to the root of the carbon dioxide problem—or one may argue that it is less wise because too many things must go right for the investment to succeed. At present, not enough is known to shed light on such arguments in any systematic way. We doubt that a general theory will be developed any time soon that can specify from the class of an intervention its likely effect and the types of unexpected consequences it might have. Such a theory will probably have to be inductive, and the necessary knowledge base does not exist. It is worthwhile to begin collecting the knowledge now. Research Needs One research priority in the near-term should be to support studies that compare interventions at different points in the same causal cycle to identify their main and secondary effects. For example, the effects of regulating automobile fuel economy (a type P mitigation of global warming) can be compared with the effects of taxing gasoline (a type H mitigation); the ef-
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions fects of drought relief payments (an adjustment) can be compared with systems of crop insurance (an intervention to increase robustness). When the relevant interventions have been tried, the studies should be post hoc; when they have not been tried, theoretical analyses or studies based on responses to hypothetical situations will have to suffice. Even absent a general theory of human intervention in environmental systems, the variety of opportunities to intervene implies an extensive agenda for ''normal'' social science research to assess the outcomes of interventions in response to anticipated or experienced environmental change. Research approaches developed for evaluating policy outcomes, studying the implementation process, comparing alternative approaches to regulation, and assessing the environmental and social impacts of government programs and policies can all be readily applied to the assessment of potential or actual responses to global change. HUMAN RESPONSES AFFECT THE DRIVING FORCES OF GLOBAL CHANGE Because the relationships of human systems and environmental systems are those of mutual causation, all human responses to global change potentially alter both systems. For many interventions, the secondary effects will be minuscule, but it is not always obvious which interventions will have the minuscule effects. Therefore, as a general rule, our conclusions about research on human causes apply equally to research on human responses. For example, policies in response to global change, which often attempt to change technology, social organization, economic structures, or even attitudes, contribute to the interactions of the human driving forces. Like the human causes, human responses can have short-term and long-term effects that may be quite different. And as with the study of the human causes, the study of human responses must be an interdisciplinary effort. Researchers will have to be attracted to the field from their home disciplines, and interdisciplinary research teams will have to be built. Human responses need to be studied separately at different levels of analysis and at different time scales; comparative studies in different social and temporal contexts are necessary; and research is needed to link responses at one level to those at other levels and short-term effects to long-term ones.
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions NOTES 1 An intermediate case is that in which people make anticipatory responses based on the experiences of others with similar environmental changes. 2 Systems of distinctions regarding human interventions with respect to hazard are, of course, somewhat arbitrary. As noted by Hohenemser et al., (1985), much finer distinctions are possible than those offered here. Our distinctions are offered as a nearly minimal set for studying the human dimensions of global change. They reflect current usage in the global change research community (for instance, researchers tend to use the term mitigation to refer to interventions in the human causes of global change but not to interventions in the consequences), and they emphasize the importance of feedbacks between human responses and human causes of global change. 3 Although the policy debate is usually phrased in terms of global warming, the greenhouse gas emissions that are at the center of the debate do much more to climate than raise the earth's average temperature. In fact, some of the other effects, such as on patterns of precipitation, frequency of major storms, cloud cover, and frequency of extreme-temperature events, may be much more significant in terms of human consequences than changes in average temperature. When we refer to global warming, the reader should understand the whole collection of climatic changes associated with the greenhouse effect. 4 A somewhat different distinction between adaptation and adjustment is sometimes found in the literature and is particularly useful for policy analysis. Adjustment is defined as what any affected system does after it feels the effect of an environmental change; adaptations are actions taken deliberately, before the environmental effect is felt, to make adjustment less difficult, costly, disruptive, or painful. This distinction separates a class of policies (adaptation) from the effects of those policies on people or natural systems (their adjustments). Sometimes, the term adjustment is restricted to what affected systems would do in the absence of policies of adaptation, as part of assessments of the benefits of those policies. In terms of the distinctions in this report, blocking, improved adjustment, and improvements in robustness may all be the aims of policies on the response side of global change. 5 The literature on responses to natural hazards distinguishes between adjustments, short-term activities such as warnings or evacuations, and adaptations, long-term social changes that would lower the cost of a recurrence of a hazard. Some of what that literature considers adaptations are treated here as type H mitigations or interventions to increase robustness. Nevertheless, the natural hazard literature includes a more differentiated typology of adjustments than is presented here, including avoiding the loss (e.g., migration), sharing the loss (e.g., relief assistance,
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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions disaster insurance), and bearing the loss (see White, 1974; Burton et al., 1978). Because this literature focuses on hazards over which humans have very limited control, it understandably offers a more detailed typology of adjustments than of mitigations. 6 Robustness is one of a number of related concepts, all of which need more careful conceptualization and analysis in relation to global change issues. Resilience often refers to the property of returning to a previous state after being altered by changes in the environment. Resistance often refers to the property of remaining unchanged in the face of changes in the environment; vulnerability often refers to the opposite—the characteristic of being easily affected by perturbations in the environment—whether or not the system returns to its previous state. We use the term robustness for its connotation of continued health in the face of environmental change. But health, in human systems, can be a subjective term, with some individuals favoring minimum deviations from preexisting states and others desiring permanent changes in particular directions. Thus, whether it is better for human systems to be resistant in the face of environmental change, or vulnerable but resilient, or vulnerable to certain kinds of permanent alteration, is a value-laden question. But it is one that can be informed by analysis of the different ways human systems change when their environments do. 7 There is considerable controversy in the literature, both with respect to biological and human systems, over the question of whether diversity tends to produce stability or vulnerability in systems. The effect of diversity may well depend on the definition of stability used or on other factors, such as the spatial or temporal scale of analysis being made. The examples used here are not meant to exemplify general conclusions about diversity and stability. For more detailed discussions of the issue in the biological context, see Elton (1958), May (1973), Pimm (1982), and Kikkaw (1986). For extensions to social systems, see Holling ( 1986), Timmerman ( 1986), and Liverman et al. (1988). 8 It is, of course, possible for humans to replant tree seeds if the climate shifts faster than tree species can naturally migrate. However, because of sensitivities of tree species to soils, photoperiods, and the presence of other species, artificial migrations of this sort may not be sustainable. Survival of tree species depends on a favorable ecosystem, and ecosystems may not migrate well. 9 The reciprocal of this ratio, gross national product per unit of energy demand, is a measure of the economic productivity of energy. 10 This formulation is indebted to Robinson (1989). 11 Our account of this comparison draws heavily on an analysis done by Mortimore (1989) for the committee. 12 This section draws heavily on the much more detailed discussion of the relations of decision theory to global climatic change by Fischhoff and Furby (1983). Additional provocative ideas for research can be found there.
Representative terms from entire chapter: