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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions
We begin with two key questions: Will major research institutions here and abroad reorient to focus their resources on global change research? Can such research flow directly out of the mainstream concerns of existing academic disciplines, or does it require fundamental restructuring?
These questions offer a starting point for discussions of how human and capital resources should be allocated to yield practical and theoretical knowledge about global change. If it is possible to reorient institutions and disciplines to make global change more central to existing research agendas, then how do we invest resources to achieve such a reorientation in the most efficient and productive ways? If, however, existing institutions and disciplines seem unlikely to respond adequately to global change as an issue, then what alternative institutional structures and disciplinary loci are likely to yield the results we seek?
A sudden infusion of money in large, temporary doses rarely produces sustained, effective programs. Existing disciplines and institutions either take advantage of the new money to serve related research agendas, or come to depend on external funding and do not incorporate the new research agenda into their internal financial and intellectual accounting. There is a risk that research on global change will follow this pattern. In this situation, institutions funding research have essentially two options: (1) to recognize from the outset that their goals are short-term and hence may not make a lasting impact on disciplines and research institutions or (2) to commit significant resources to strategic planning and the development of long-term institutional resources. With respect to global change research, the most successful plan is likely to be the one that incorporates both these. options.
The "war on cancer" and other major initiatives in biomedical research offer examples of strategic decisions to build specialized multidisciplinary research resources to sustain a field of priority research. Existing disciplines and institutions should be encouraged to investigate global change, and a limited set of new institutional structures should be developed in areas in which existing resources seem inadequate. It is essential that funding for global change make a distinction between short-term investments in existing research programs and long-term investments that are designed to build new research institutions. Both are important, but the second requires sustained, long-term support—for clerical