8
A National Research Program On The Human Dimensions Of Global Change

Efforts of this scope and magnitude invariably yield numerous conclusions, many of which lead without difficulty to recommendations. This book is no exception. In the interests of establishing priorities and achieving clarity of exposition, we have chosen to present many of our recommendations in the sections of the report to which they pertain. In this concluding chapter, we lay out the principal elements of a comprehensive national research program on the human dimensions of global change. It is based on the analysis presented in this report and can, in our judgment, be put in place during the next 3 to 5 years.

The program plan we recommend consists of a package of five major elements: (1) an enlarged program of investigator-initiated research on the human dimensions of global change, (2) a program of research targeted or focused on selected topics relating to the human dimensions of global change, (3) an ongoing federal program for obtaining and disseminating relevant data, (4) a broad-gauged program of fellowships to expand the pool of talented scientists working in this field, and (5) a network of national centers dedicated to the conduct of research on the human dimensions of global change. Each element of this program plan is action oriented and directed toward the National Science Foundation (NSF), other appropriate federal agencies, and private funding sources. Each has implications for funding that we address in the final section of this chapter.



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



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions 8 A National Research Program On The Human Dimensions Of Global Change Efforts of this scope and magnitude invariably yield numerous conclusions, many of which lead without difficulty to recommendations. This book is no exception. In the interests of establishing priorities and achieving clarity of exposition, we have chosen to present many of our recommendations in the sections of the report to which they pertain. In this concluding chapter, we lay out the principal elements of a comprehensive national research program on the human dimensions of global change. It is based on the analysis presented in this report and can, in our judgment, be put in place during the next 3 to 5 years. The program plan we recommend consists of a package of five major elements: (1) an enlarged program of investigator-initiated research on the human dimensions of global change, (2) a program of research targeted or focused on selected topics relating to the human dimensions of global change, (3) an ongoing federal program for obtaining and disseminating relevant data, (4) a broad-gauged program of fellowships to expand the pool of talented scientists working in this field, and (5) a network of national centers dedicated to the conduct of research on the human dimensions of global change. Each element of this program plan is action oriented and directed toward the National Science Foundation (NSF), other appropriate federal agencies, and private funding sources. Each has implications for funding that we address in the final section of this chapter.

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions OVERARCHING ISSUES The social and behavioral sciences have a vital contribution to make to any program aimed at enhancing our understanding of global environmental change. The global changes of interest today differ from those of the past precisely because they are products of human activities that have been accelerating rapidly in recent times and because the changes themselves are occurring at a pace likely to call for clear-cut responses within a single human lifetime. It follows that we cannot hope to understand the causes of these global changes or devise appropriate responses to them in the absence of adequate knowledge about the human dimensions of global change. So far, however, only modest efforts have been made to integrate the social sciences into global change research programs in the United States or elsewhere. We have traced this situation to a number of interactive factors. The search for enhanced understanding of global environmental change requires, to begin with, a greatly strengthened partnership between the natural sciences and the social sciences. Nowhere is the case for mutual respect and constructive collaboration between natural scientists and social scientists more persuasive than in efforts to come to terms with global change. While general circulation models are obviously important to the study of climate change, for example, the value of their results is sharply limited in the absence of information about rates of emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere resulting from human actions. Similarly, forecasts relating to the impact of the depletion of stratospheric ozone on human health are sensitive to information regarding the actions people are likely to take to block the flow of ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface of the earth or to protect themselves from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. Significant barriers currently obstruct effective collaboration between natural scientists and social scientists interested in global change . In addition to problems of terminology that impede communication and attitudinal problems that operate to lower mutual regard, existing incentive structures offer few rewards for members of either community to expend time and energy on efforts to work collaboratively with members of the other. More productive collaboration between natural scientists and social scientists on issues of global change will consequently require both the initiation of research activities that compel individual scientists to interact with each other on a sustained basis and a deliberate effort to structure incentives to reward those who seek

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions to improve research collaboration between the natural sciences and the social sciences with respect to the global change research agenda. In addition, careful attention must be given to appropriately organizing the federal government's research on the human dimensions of global change. In our view, the activities of the Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences (CEES) represent a major step forward in interagency coordination regarding global change research. We believe that the efforts of this committee to integrate the human dimensions into the overall U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) are not only appropriate in planning terms but also conducive to strengthening the partnership between natural scientists and social scientists working in this field. Our committee notes as well that some of the necessary research on the human dimensions of global change, particularly concerning human responses to and consequences of global change, would be appropriate for support by the newly emerging Mitigation and Adaptation Research Strategies program being proposed by CEES. A significant barrier to an effective research effort is the current division of labor among federal agencies, which is such that almost no agency supporting research on global change has either the responsibility or the human resources to mount a significant program of social science research (NSF is a notable exception). Accordingly, mission agencies are not now in a position to manage a research effort in which strengthening the partnership between the natural sciences and the social sciences is a priority. This suggests to us that to achieve long-term success in human-environment research, action must be taken above the level of individual agencies. The Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences might, as appropriate, assign important areas of human-environment research to NSF, or to particular mission agencies with the requirement that they take on new staff or make use of outside expertise to handle the assignment. As another alternative, it might create a new organizational entity, appropriately staffed with social and natural scientists, to conduct or manage basic and applied research on issues involving human interactions that are unlikely to be addressed in any systematic way by existing agencies. RESEARCH PRIORITIES Social scientists employing well-developed theories and methods have made significant contributions to our understanding of the rudiments of social driving forces leading to global change

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions and the impacts of environmental changes on humans at the local, regional, and national levels. Further applications of existing approaches can continue to yield useful insights. At the same time, the global change research agenda poses challenges for the understanding of human behavior and social institutions that require extraordinary efforts to push beyond existing disciplinary and theoretical categories. To broaden and deepen our understanding of the human dimensions of global change, research must transcend the boundaries of existing disciplines and research traditions. To illustrate, research dealing with individual or collective choice, or social conflict about how to respond to global change, lends itself to collaborative efforts on the part of anthropologists, economists, political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists. Researchers will need to develop concepts linking human actions to their cumulative and long-term consequences, procedures to relate local decisions to outcomes on regional and global scales, and methods to assess the interactions among changes in human population, technology, economic forces, social organization, and policy. To realize the full potential of the research community to contribute to our understanding of global change, the committee concludes that research should proceed along two tracks simultaneously. As a result, we have separate recommendations to offer regarding programs of investigator-initiated research and programs of targeted or focused research on the human dimensions of global change. Recommendation 1 The National Science Foundation should increase substantially its support for investigator-initiated or unsolicited research on the human dimensions of global change. This program should include a category of small grants subject to a simplified review procedure. We applaud the recent initiative of the National Science Foundation in setting up a special competition for research proposals dealing with the human dimensions of global change. In our view, this program of investigator-initiated research should be established on a long-term basis, structured to include the full range of social and behavioral sciences, and expanded substantially in terms of funding. It should be open to scientists located at universities and other research centers. The program should accept proposals approaching global change issues in terms of well-established research traditions as well as newer and more innovative methodologies.

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions In the following paragraphs, we present a number of criteria of evaluation that should inform the thinking both of those preparing proposals for submission and of those charged with reviewing and making choices among proposals under the terms of this program. Needless to say, NSF should continue to apply its standard criteria for evaluating the quality of submissions. Among proposals of high quality, NSF should in addition rely on the following guidelines for selection, Of course, individual projects cannot respond to all these concerns simultaneously; the guidelines should be applied flexibly in making decisions about the relative merits of competing proposals. 1a: Studies of the anthropogenic sources of global change deserve priority to the extent that they address human actions that have a large impact on one or more of the major global environmental changes. As Chapter 3 shows, not all the proximal causes of anthropogenic change are of equal significance. For example, in the case of climate change, emissions of greenhouse gases loom large, and the burning of fossil fuels is the largest source of these emissions by a considerable margin. More specifically, certain functional areas (for example, electricity generation and motorized transport) stand out as major contributors. It follows, in our view, that projects designed to focus on such major proximal causes should receive priority over those concerned with lesser or more marginal sources of anthropogenic change in large natural systems. The committee is aware of the great scientific uncertainties that sometimes exist about the relative importance of different human activities as proximate causes of particular global changes. Human activities that seem to be of only modest importance today may loom much larger in the future, either because they have increased greatly in magnitude or because new knowledge shows that they are more important than previously thought. Although the impact criterion can only be applied within limits of uncertainty, it should still be applied as one measure of the merits of proposals for investigator-initiated research. 1b: Studies of the anthropogenic sources of global change should receive priority to the extent that they emphasize interactions among social driving forces. A sophisticated understanding of anthropogenic changes in large environmental systems requires consideration of forces operating in human systems that are typically studied by separate disciplines. Not only do individual factors interact with each other, but there are also intervening variables that play important roles in determining the ultimate impact

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions of the primary forces. The significance of population growth as a source of anthropogenic change, for instance, depends on other factors, such as the level of economic development, the degree of urbanization, residential patterns within human settlements, and distances between settlements. It follows, in our judgment, that research on the human dimensions of global change should give priority to probing such multivariate relationships as a means of improving our grasp of the anthropogenic sources of global change. 1c: While there is a place for global-level studies, the emphasis in the near-term should fall on comparative studies at the national, regional, and local levels. Whether or not there are identifiable links at the global level of aggregation between driving social forces (such as population or economic development) and anthropogenic changes (such as increases in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), there may well be strong relationships among such variables at the national, regional, and local levels. We note, as well, that a variety of causal mechanisms can give rise to similar forms of anthropogenic change and that different impacts on environmental systems can arise from apparently similar human actions. To illustrate, the destruction of tropical moist forests in Brazil, Indonesia, and Zaire have similar environmental consequences (for example, the extinction of species and the release of carbon stored in trees), but the driving social forces leading to these outcomes are by no means identical in the three cases. The patterns of energy usage in Eastern and Western Europe, by contrast, are substantially different, despite similarities of resource base, history, and culture. Under the circumstances, the way to avoid drawing incorrect conclusions about one level of analysis from observations at another level is to adopt a comparative perspective, examining similar occurrences in a variety of settings and differentiable outcomes in similar settings to probe the nature of the causal mechanisms at work. The theory, methods, and data available to social scientists are best developed at these levels of analysis. At the same time, certain human interactions with global change do occur at a global scale (e.g., the impact of the spread of scientific knowledge); they deserve special study as forms of global social change. The emphasis should be on global comparative research, that is, studies at a single level of analysis that examine the range of variation in the relevant phenomena around the world and studies tracing the relationship across time between global social change and global environmental change. 1d: Although there is room for analyses on different time scales,

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions there is a need to be especially supportive of studies dealing with time scales of decades to centuries. Studies oriented to time scales of a decade or less are likely to focus on factors such as short-term fluctuations in public opinion, the impact of business cycles, and the introduction of particular public policies (for example, favorable tax treatment accorded to ranchers in Brazil). Studies framed in terms of time scales of decades to centuries, by contrast, will focus on different classes of events, such as the Industrial Revolution, long-term patterns of urbanization, and the gradual evolution of systems of private property rights. We believe that studies of shorter-term phenomena have an important place in improving understanding of the human dimensions of global change. Nonetheless, we are convinced that there is a compelling case for devoting more attention to the longer time scales in analyzing the human dimensions of global change. By and large, modern work in the social sciences has paid far more attention to short time scales. Yet global change is intrinsically a historical phenomenon that calls for an examination of long-term changes in human systems as well as environmental systems. 1e: There is a need to support studies that compare interventions at different points in the cycle of human-environment relationships and make empirical assessments of their relative effects. Human responses to global changes vary on several important dimensions. There are significant differences, for example, between responses to actual and anticipated changes and between deliberate and incidental responses. In addition, there are numerous points in the cycle of interactions between human systems and environmental systems at which humans can intervene to protect their values. Chapter 4 differentiates among three types of mitigation and among blocking, adjustment, and efforts to enhance the robustness of social systems. Research on the human dimensions of global change should seek both to identify the factors that determine when humans will opt for one or another of these responses and to assess the benefits, costs, and unanticipated effects of different types of responses in a variety of socioeconomic and political settings. 1f: Research should make a systematic effort to compare and contrast human responses at different levels of social organization. Responses to changes in environmental systems by individuals, corporations, communities, and countries may vary in terms of both the ease with which they are initiated and the consequences of pursuing them. Different types of responses may also be available at various levels of social organization. There is

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions much to be learned about factors controlling levels of human response to global environmental changes and determining the extent to which humans are able to coordinate their actions across several levels of response at the same time. It follows that there is a need for studies that examine two or more levels of human response on a comparative basis. 1g: There is much to be gained from studies that differentiate among distinct methods or mechanisms for influencing human behavior. Human societies have developed a variety of mechanisms for diverting behavior away from disruptive patterns and channeling it toward productive or at least benign patterns. These mechanisms may be hierarchical, as in regulations promulgated by public authorities, or decentralized, as in the supply and demand relationships of markets. They may be traditional, as in indigenous systems for managing common property resources, or modern, as in resource regimes devised by legislatures. They differ as well in terms of the mix of rewards and punishments they use to influence human behavior. There is a need to learn more about these mechanisms as applied to the problems posed by global environmental changes and to think about the consequences they are likely to produce in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. 1h: There is a need for studies of the robustness of human systems (including social, technical, agricultural, economic, and political systems) in the face of global environmental change. Human systems are robust in the face of global change to the extent that they can adapt to perturbations in environmental systems without extreme hardship. Robustness may involve resilience, that is, a return to a previous state, or it may involve adaptations that lead to a new, but desirable, state. Examples of robustness include the ability to substitute energy conservation for fuels under conditions of shortage or one crop for another under conditions of drought. Though it is easy enough to provide examples, the concept of robustness and related concepts such as resilience and resistance are still in need of development for applications to human systems. Studies of the ways human systems change in response to environmental change can help develop those concepts and build knowledge about the determinants of robustness in complex social systems. As changes in environmental systems become more pervasive, the need to improve our understanding of robustness in social systems will increase rapidly. 1i: Proposals deserve priority to the extent that they are likely to enhance understanding of processes of decision making and

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions conflict management in response to global environmental changes. Because knowledge about likely global changes is always incomplete or imperfect and because alternative responses will affect human values and interests in different ways, conflicts are inevitable at whatever level decisions are taken. Rational responses to global environmental changes will consequently require the establishment of institutional arrangements to evaluate available knowledge relating to such changes, facilitate decision making about responses to the changes, and manage the resultant social conflicts. Given the widespread frustration associated with policy making concerning environmental issues and the magnitude of the human responses needed to address many global changes, a concerted effort to improve the quality of collective decision making in this area is warranted. 1j: Special attention should be given to proposals that suggest effective methods of enhancing the partnership between the natural sciences and the social sciences or encouraging interdisciplinary research efforts among the social sciences relating to global environmental change. We discuss ways to train scientists and structure rewards to encourage interdisciplinary research in a later section of this chapter. Here we simply note that research projects differ in the extent to which they provide opportunities for overcoming the barriers to collaboration among the various sciences. A project dealing with the design of institutions for the sustainable use of renewable resources such as forests or fisheries, for example, offers more scope for collaboration between natural scientists and social scientists than a project dealing with the behavior of public officials in environmental regulatory agencies. In our judgment, preference should go to proposals that seem especially promising as vehicles for bridging these disciplinary gaps. 1k: Proposals deserve serious consideration to the extent that they include effective plans for increasing international collaboration . The case for international collaboration in this field of research rests on several considerations. Such collaboration can contribute to fulfilling the need for comparative studies noted earlier in this section. Equally important, collaboration with counterparts in other countries can expose researchers to different intellectual traditions and to the divergent conceptual, methodological, epistemological, and normative premises embedded in these traditions. Because of the global nature of the changes of interest, it is essential to overcome intellectual parochialism in dealing with this subject. In our judgment, there is much to be said for promoting active collaboration between U.S. researchers

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions and the global change research communities in other countries that are allocating resources to this field of study. Recommendation 2 The National Science Foundation, other appropriate federal agencies, and private funding sources should establish programs of targeted or focused research on the human dimensions of global change. The committee concludes that there is a national need to establish ongoing programs of targeted or focused research—that is, programs that will concentrate resources to advance our understanding of topics selected by the funding sources for their obvious significance for global environmental change. It will be important to establish procedures for reviewing and updating the topics included in these programs from time to time. All topics selected for focused research should meet the following criteria: they deal with matters that are of first-order significance to understanding causes, consequences, and responses to global environmental change; they raise questions that typify larger classes of concerns relating to the human dimensions of global change; they address one or more of the major categories of global environmental change; they show promise of yielding timely advances regarding questions of broad interest to the social sciences. At the same time, the topics chosen must be sufficiently well defined to provide a basis for targeted research. In our judgment, these programs of targeted research on the human dimensions of global change should resemble the focused programs that the National Science Foundation currently operates in other areas (for example, atmospheric sciences, long-term ecological research, Arctic systems science). Among other things, this suggests the value of establishing scientific advisory panels to provide outside guidance for the managers of these focused programs. While scientists located at any research center should be encouraged to submit proposals to these focused programs of research, we anticipate that many proposals will come from the national centers for research on the human dimensions of global change recommended in a later section of this chapter. Proposals submitted to targeted programs should be subject to the guidelines outlined under recommendation 1. In addition, any project

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions funded through the focused programs will necessarily deal directly with at least one of the substantive topics spelled out in the relevant program announcement. Programs of focused or targeted research might be located either in the NSF or in appropriate mission agencies. As already noted, programs in mission agencies should have the guidance of social scientists drawn from agency staff or outside advisory groups. The committee has not conducted an exhaustive review of all potential topics for the programs of targeted research recommended here. But after extensive discussion, we agree that each of the following topics meets our criteria for inclusion in the initial phase of focused research dealing with the human dimensions of global change. Thus, the following are good examples of appropriate focused research programs. Several of them could be managed by federal mission agencies with appropriate staffing and oversight. 2a: Energy Intensity. Why do economies differ so markedly in their energy intensity? How and why does the consumption of energy per unit of gross national product change over time? What do the answers to these questions imply about opportunities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions? Carbon dioxide is the single, largest contributor to the greenhouse effect that underlies projections of global climate change over the next several decades; the use of fossil energy to drive agricultural and industrial production is the largest source of anthropogenic carbon dioxide. Not only do the economies of nations differ greatly in their energy intensity, but there has also been considerable change in the energy intensity of some, but not all, economies over the last 20 years. An understanding of the sources of these variations is important in its own right. Research on this issue can provide insights as well into other aspects of the global industrial metabolism. Since changes in energy intensity in recent years have been, at least in part, a response to shortages and to the development of new technologies, research on this topic can contribute to our general understanding of the ways in which socioeconomic systems respond to environmental changes. 2b: Land Use and Food Production. What factors change systems of land use and food production toward either degradation of resources or sustainability? How do such changes correlate with population growth, technological development, and the evolution of social institutions? Changes in patterns of land use, resulting in the conversion of forests and wetlands and in the

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions introduction of irrigation systems, constitute one of the principal sources of climate change and the loss of biodiversity. Many of these changes are related to the production of food for human consumption. By comparing systems that vary along a continuum from extensive to intensive patterns of land use, it is possible to elucidate the social driving forces leading to change in patterns of land use. This leads directly to a consideration of sustainability treated as the maintenance of the biogeochemical condition of soils and vegetation coupled with reliable crop production for users over the long-term. 2c: Valuing Consequences of Environmental Change. What alternative approaches are available for use in valuing consequences of environmental changes not well reflected in market prices? What institutional arrangements would we need to establish to ensure the effective use of the most promising of these approaches? Many of the large-scale consequences of anthropogenic changes in environmental systems are subject to a high degree of uncertainty, occur over long time periods (sometimes involving several human generations), and involve values that are not captured in a clear-cut way in market prices. Consequently, societies lack unambiguous indicators of the social costs and benefits of many global environmental changes. The long-term health effects of increased ultraviolet radiation illustrate the problems of measuring intertemporal distributions of benefits and costs. Biological diversity constitutes an example of nonmarketed resources under threat of serious degradation. Loss of geopolitical position resulting from unfavorable impacts of climate change on agricultural productivity exemplifies another class of nonmarket effects. Research on methods of valuing these kinds of consequences—especially methods capable of producing at least ordinal rankings—could yield high returns measured in terms of improving the quality of public discussion of appropriate ways of responding to global environmental changes. Valuation research should explicitly address the subjective nature of valuation and the phenomenon of differences in valuation, for instance, by exploring ways of soliciting valuations from different actors as part of the social decision process. 2d: Technology-Environment Relationship. What determines whether technologies developed and adopted in industry, agriculture, and other economic sectors mitigate or exacerbate global environmental change? What are the roles of factor prices, regulatory practices, systems of property rights, standards of performance, and other characteristics of the decision environment in

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions determining which technological options are pursued and adopted? Basic research on conditions governing the occurrence and diffusion of innovations can provide a basis for analyzing the focused question of what institutional factors influence the extent to which successful innovations have beneficial or detrimental environmental effects. Progress in this area has great potential to underpin the development of policies aimed at mitigating environmental change or increasing the robustness of social systems in the face of change. 2e: Decision Making in Response to Global Environmental Change. How do individuals, firms, communities, and governments come to perceive changes in environmental systems as requiring action? How do they identify possible responses and assess the probable consequences of such responses? Are there cultural differences in the way human communities deal with such issues? Uncertainty is a prominent feature of most global environmental changes. Because of the complexity of large physical and biological systems, it is often impossible to predict major changes in environmental systems; it is even hard to attach probabilities with any confidence to different possible trajectories of change. To understand human responses to global change, therefore, we need to learn more about individual and collective attitudes toward risk, factors affecting propensities to launch anticipatory responses, and the complexities of collective decision making when consequences may be profound but not experienced until much later. In this context, it may prove helpful to consider the literature on risk assessment and human behavior in the face of natural hazards as sources of insights into human responses to global environmental changes. 2f: Environmental Conflict. How will global environmental changes intensify existing social conflicts or engender new forms of conflict? What techniques of conflict resolution or conflict management are likely to prove effective in coming to terms with these conflicts? Global environmental changes are likely to cause major realignments of ideologies and interests and, in the process, to intensify existing conflicts and precipitate new forms of social conflict among groups espousing divergent belief systems, holding different value priorities, or pursuing incompatible interests. There is a need to think systematically about conflicts arising from the expectation that future global change will benefit some social groups, countries, or generations at the expense of others; from direct consequences of global environmental change, such as migrations of environmental refugees or pressures to redraw borders in the face of changes in agricultural productivity; and from long-

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions range or indirect consequences, such as disruption of ecosystems due to acid precipitation or loss of global biological diversity re-suiting from activities occurring within the domestic jurisdictions of single countries. Some of these types of conflict will prove resistant to resolution through ordinary procedures for handling social conflict, such as diplomacy or negotiation. It is therefore important to consider the effectiveness of alternative approaches to conflict resolution or management that may help in dealing with specific categories of conflicts arising from global environmental changes. 2g: International Cooperation. What can we learn from the recent experience with marine resources, ozone depletion, and transboundary pollution that is relevant to international efforts to deal with climate change and the loss of biodiversity? When do governments resort to international cooperation in dealing with environmental changes, and when are the resultant regimes likely to prove effective? Efforts to cooperate in coming to terms with environmental changes raise questions about collective-action problems occurring at all levels of social organization. Recently, there has been a striking growth of research interest in these problems at the international level. Partly, this reflects a widespread conviction that international cooperation will be necessary to solve all the major problems arising from global environmental changes. It also stems from a sense that the study of international cooperation is an area in which major advances in understanding of collective-action problems in general are now within our grasp. DATA NEEDS Like others who have wrestled with the problem, the committee has found it difficult to arrive at simple and straightforward answers to questions regarding data needs for global change research. Given the nature of the subject, it is possible to make a strong case for the relevance of a wide array of data sets in studies of global environmental change. Yet it is not feasible to collect and disseminate data on everything that may prove important for global change studies, because of the extreme cost. Nor is it easy to resolve the organizational issues arising in this field. The argument for centralization in acquiring and disseminating data relating to global change rests on grounds of standardization and efficiency. The counterarguments concern the dangers of entrusting this function to those with little understanding of particular areas, including the human dimensions of global change or, worse,

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions to those having no direct stake in the progress of research at all. Despite the difficulties, the committee has made certain judgments regarding data needs for a national research program on the human dimensions of global change. Recommendation 3 The federal government should establish an ongoing program to ensure that appropriate data sets for research on the human dimensions of global change are routinely acquired, properly prepared for use, and made available to scientists on simple and affordable terms. There is a national need to (i) inventory existing data sets relevant to the human dimensions of global change, (ii) critically assess the quality of the most important of these data sets, (iii) make determinations about the quality of data required for research on major themes, (iv) investigate the cost-effectiveness of various methods of improving the quality of critical data sets, and (v) make decisions regarding new data needed to underpin a successful program of research. There is no dearth of data relevant to the human dimensions of global change. In some areas, in fact, the quantity and quality of data available to social scientists compare favorably with the data available to natural scientists. Yet little has been done to take stock of the data currently available and, especially, to consider data problems in the light of careful judgments regarding the types and quality of data needed to conduct innovative research. It follows that we need to know more about what is already available to scientists working in this field. The committee also recognizes that the collection and dissemination of data relating to the human dimensions of global change could become a bottomless pit in terms of time, energy, and financial resources. There is therefore a need to establish priorities and to devise economizing strategies in this area. To illustrate, comparative work using countries as the unit of analysis can tap into the vast array of statistical data on economic, political, and social factors already collected and organized for analysis at the country level. For some work of this kind, especially when new country-level data must be developed, it may make sense to adopt a strategy of always including a few countries that are large and pivotal in environmental terms (for example, the United States, the Soviet Union, two or three European countries, China, India, and Brazil) but merely sampling other countries. While individual investigators will continue to play key roles

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions in the collection and analysis of data, there is a persuasive case for creating a federal program to deal with the issues identified in the preceding paragraphs. Public agencies collect the bulk of the relevant data in the first place; they should be made aware of the data requirements of those working on the human dimensions of global change in planning their data collection strategies. In addition, the magnitude of the issues relating to the quantity and quality of relevant data is such that individuals or private groups cannot hope to handle them effectively or efficiently. For these reasons, we recommended in Chapter 6 that the information network for global research include the human dimensions and that the federal government seriously consider establishing a national data center on human dimensions with appropriate independent oversight. Members of the committee expressed mixed feelings about several current proposals for mechanisms to collect and disseminate data on all aspects of global change and, more particularly, about NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) program and its Data and Information System (EOSDIS). There is widespread agreement on the need to make data and information relating to global change easily accessible to all interested users on an inexpensive basis. But opinions vary regarding the desirability of creating a national ''information utility'' in this area. In part this reaction reflects differing assessments of actual or potential deficiencies in existing mechanisms for collecting and disseminating data. In part it stems from deeper differences about the relative merits of centralized arrangements organized and operated by government agencies in contrast to decentralized arrangements provided by private operators in response to rising demand. The committee notes as well that a large fraction of the total U.S. Global Change Research Program focused budget is slated to go to NASA and that the EOS program will consume most of this funding, facts that raise questions about the achievement of a proper balance in allocating funds among global change research priorities. As noted in Chapter 6, the committee recommends that social scientists should be included in all phases of the design and operation of EOS and EOSDIS. Such an approach is critical to strengthening the partnership between the natural sciences and the social sciences as recommended earlier in this chapter. What is more, the study of human dimensions has important needs that should be taken into account in developing EOS and EOSDIS. Appropriately collected remotely sensed data, for example, can be used creatively to address the human dimensions, and this potential

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions can be expanded with efforts to validate remote indicators of human activity against ground data. In addition, many of the data requirements for research on the human dimensions of global change involve improved methods for ground observation. For this reason, we recommend that the social sciences be strongly represented on science advisory panels for EOS and EOSDIS. HUMAN RESOURCES AND ORGANIZATION No amount of planning for the conduct of research on the human dimensions of global change can produce significant results in the absence of a community of social scientists ready, able, and willing to make a commitment to this field of study. In part this is a matter of motivating or capturing the interest of individual scientists. In part, however, it has to do with the actions of organizations in rewarding or discouraging those desiring to work on global change issues and in providing the support needed for designing and implementing research projects in this area. In this section, we address two major program elements dealing with the interlocking issues of human resources and organization. Recommendation 4 The federal government, together with private funding sources, should establish a national fellowship program. Through it, social and natural scientists prepared to make a long-term commitment to the study of the human dimensions of global environmental change could spend up to two years interacting intensively with scientists from other disciplines, especially scientists from across the social science-natural science divide. In the university world, academic departments organized around established disciplines control the rewards available to researchers. Those who wish to succeed in this world consequently experience strong incentives to develop courses that fit into the mainstream of their home disciplines and to conduct research whose products are publishable in the most prestigious journals of these disciplines. While this institutional structure should not be thought of as completely impervious to change, we do not expect any fundamental transformation of the existing order during the foreseeable future. Over the short-term, at least, researchers interested in the human dimensions of global environmental change will find themselves operating within these structural constraints. It is imperative to find ways to allow individual scientists to

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions push beyond the boundaries of their home disciplines in thinking about global change without jeopardizing their career trajectories. One way to accomplish this goal is to create a prestigious nationwide fellowship program designed to allow individuals desiring to retool or enhance their knowledge of the human dimensions of global change to spend considerable periods of time (up to two years) interacting intensively with social scientists and natural scientists from other disciplines working in the area. Such fellowships should be open to advanced graduate students, postdoctoral scientists, and mid-career scientists on a competitive basis. They should carry large enough stipends to attract the best and the brightest and be prestigious enough to count heavily in evaluations of career performance. While individual fellows should be allowed considerable freedom to design their own programs, we expect that many will choose to associate themselves with one of the national centers for research on the human dimensions of global change called for in our next recommendation. Recommendation 5 The federal government should join with private funding sources to establish about five national centers for research on the human dimensions of global change and to make a commitment to funding these centers on a long-term basis. There is no surefire method of getting results in any field of scientific inquiry. Every method has its drawbacks; no method by itself is sufficient to do the job. Nonetheless, the committee believes that, in the social sciences at least, well-funded national research centers have played an important role in producing some of the most impressive advances in both basic and applied research. Exemplary cases include the Office of Population Research at Princeton in the field of demography, the National Bureau of Economic Research in quantitative macroeconomics, and the complex of research centers at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the area of arms control. Not only have such centers provided critical mass by bringing together groups of individual scientists with overlapping interests, but they have also served to surmount some of the institutional impediments to progress in interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary fields of study. The human dimensions of global change is an emerging field of inquiry that is ripe for this sort of treatment; about five national centers for research in this general area should be established over the next 3-5 years.

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions Those involved in the establishment of these centers should be guided by several important considerations. It is essential to ensure that the centers are able to survive on a long-term basis so that they can concentrate on the subject matter at hand rather than being forced to fight for their institutional survival on a continual basis. A smaller number of centers with institutional and financial security would be preferable, we believe, to a larger number plagued with insecurity. Every effort should be made to organize the centers in such a way as to strengthen the partnership between social scientists and natural scientists working on global change issues. Whether this implies appointing natural scientists to the staff of each center, collocating the centers with strong programs on the role of environmental systems in global change, or some combination of these approaches is a matter best left to those responsible for drawing up detailed blueprints for individual centers. The goal of strengthening the links between the natural sciences and the social sciences is a central rationale for having research centers. There are, in addition, questions relating to the division of labor among centers. The substantive centers should not seek to duplicate the work of the national data center discussed in the preceding section. Rather, the national data center should interact with each of the substantive centers to ensure that relevant data are collected and made available in an appropriate manner. The question of a division of labor among the substantive centers themselves is another matter. It seems doubtful to us that the basic research needed in this area can be clearly divided among the centers. Yet it may make sense to direct the attention of individual centers toward particular topics at the applied level. For instance, some centers may devote particular attention to global environmental changes that are systemic in nature, like climate change or ozone depletion, while others deal more with cumulative changes, like the loss of biodiversity or desertification. We have identified several distinct models that are worthy of consideration by those responsible for setting up the national centers: (i) interdisciplinary research centers located at individual universities (for example, the Office of Population Research at Princeton), (ii) semiautonomous centers loosely affiliated with individual universities (for example, the Scripps Oceanographic Institution), (iii) physically separate centers operated by consortiums of universities (for example, the National Center for Atmospheric Research), (iv) completely independent or freestanding centers (for example, Resources for the Future or the Rand Corpo-

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions ration), and (v) government operated research centers managing both intramural and extramural research programs (for example, the National Institutes of Health). In our judgment, there is a persuasive case for maintaining relatively close ties between universities and the national centers. Most of the theoretically significant advances in our understanding of human behavior have occurred in university settings in contrast to independent centers, which show a marked tendency to focus more on applied research and to become associated with one or another ideological perspective. At the same time, there may well be topics relating to the human dimensions of global change that lie at the intersection between basic and applied research and that are therefore most appropriately investigated at a government-operated research center, like the proposed National Institutes of the Environment. FUNDING What would this national research program on the human dimensions of global change cost? While the committee did not regard the drawing up of detailed cost estimates as part of its mandate, we can provide a good sense of the order of magnitude of funding needed to implement the program we have recommended. In arriving at the estimates reported in the following paragraphs, we have been guided by the following assumptions. First, it makes sense to phase in the program over a period of several years; the figures we provide for a program in full-swing should not be interpreted as a discontinuous jump from one fiscal year to the next. If the funding is available, the phase-in could be accomplished in three years. Second, we assume that all five program elements are necessary to forge a comprehensive national research program on the human dimensions of global change and that it is important to strike a proper balance among the individual program elements with regard to funding. Third, we have turned for guidance, wherever appropriate, to the focused budget of the U.S. Global Change Research Program for fiscal 1991. Investigator-initiated research on human interactions was funded in 1991 at a level of $3.6 million per year (through NSF). We believe that this program element can and should be tripled to a level of about $11 million. It is difficult to make an accurate estimate of the current level of funding for targeted or focused research on the human dimensions of global change. In our judgment, however, there is a convincing case for funding research of

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions this sort at a level comparable to that for investigator-initiated research. This would add about another $11 million per year at the end of the phase-in period. A fellowship program in full operation that awarded 100 two-year fellowships per year to graduate and postdoctoral students and mid-career scholars would cost $10 million per year if the average annual cost were $50,000 per fellowship, including indirect costs. A commitment to provide each of the national centers with a small but strong core staff and a measure of stability within their larger institutional settings could be maintained for about $1 million per center per year. Five such centers could be funded for $5 million a year. The matter of funding for data acquisition and dissemination is, in many ways, the hardest to resolve. There are good reasons to believe both that this program element can absorb almost unlimited funds and that there is a tendency to favor the allocation of resources to this function as the lowest common denominator among decision makers who disagree on substantive priorities. Nonetheless, we believe that the fiscal 1991 budget, in which a little over 20 percent of the funds allocated to human interactions research goes to data acquisition and dissemination, reflects an appropriate judgment concerning the priority to be given to data issues in a national research program on the human dimensions of global change. On this basis, we recommend that funding for the acquisition and dissemination of data on the human dimensions be increased over the transition period to a level of $8-10 million. Adding up these estimates for the individual program elements brings us to our final recommendation: Recommendation 6 The federal government should increase funding for research on the human dimensions of global change over a period of several years to a level of $45-50 million. The committee has concluded not only that this level of support would make possible the establishment of a balanced national research program on the human dimensions of global change but also that the research community will be able to take on such a commitment over a three-year period if the funding is available. For the sake of comparison, this level of funding would represent about 5 percent of the fiscal 1991 budget for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) or 4 percent of the proposed fiscal 1992 budget, in contrast to the 3 percent currently budgeted. In

OCR for page 235
Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions light of the National Research Council's conclusion that the human interactions science priority is "the most critically under-funded in the fiscal 1991 budget for the USGCRP" (National Research Council, 1990c:95), an increase of this magnitude over a short time period seems fully justified. In our view, support for appropriate parts of the research program outlined here could come from an emerging Mitigation and Adaptation Research Strategies program as well as from the Global Change Research Program.