ability or price of staple foods. Social scientists need to be careful not to credit natural science projections with greater precision than they have, however. For example, projections of rainfall from global climate models at the level of 300 km grids are highly uncertain and should not be taken uncritically in making projections of the productivity of agriculture.

Confrontation with erroneous assumptions or ignored variables offers some great opportunities for theoretical progress. That promise is most likely to be realized if there is direct and continuing interdisciplinary collaboration. Collaboration provides continuing pressure to attend to the variables favored by each relevant discipline and the opportunity to think about them in an informed way. Thus, it is one thing for an economist to be told that climate affects economic productivity. It is quite another for a climatologist to explain current knowledge and uncertainty in climate projections and for a climatologist and an economist to work together to identify particular climatological variables likely to affect the productivity of particular economic activities. Global change research provides an opportunity to foster such interactions and bring benefits to both social and natural sciences (e.g., Land and Schneider, 1987).


The global change research agenda, more clearly than many other topics in social science, demands interdisciplinary cooperation. Chapter 3 makes clear, for instance, that the driving forces of global change involve interactions among the favored variables of all the social sciences. The potential for cooperation exists. Environmental problems have already generated important interdisciplinary contributions in small subfields, such as environmental perception, natural hazards studies, environment and behavior, human ecology, and resource management, often focused on policy questions about land management, energy conservation, and management of natural and technological hazards. Global change research may offer an occasion for the broader development of environmental social science, if special efforts are made to involve researchers from several disciplines in continuing collaboration on common projects (see Chapter 7).

Interdisciplinary collaboration on global change issues may also yield increased understanding of how the social and behavioral sciences relate to each other. For example, different social variables may have different explanatory roles with respect to global

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement