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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions
Clearly, political-economic institutions can affect the global environment along many causal pathways. We have identified some of the important areas in which more knowledge could add greatly to understanding of the causes of global change. One is the comparative study of the effects of different imperfect-market methods of environmental management—including the various pricing systems and regulatory approaches in operation around the world, market-like approaches not in use but potentially usable, and various mixtures—to determine their effects on global environmental variables as a function of where and when they are used, and on which human activities. Theoretical work classifying and analyzing the varieties of market imperfection could also make great contributions to understanding if directed toward the kinds of market imperfection characteristic of global environmental resources. A second important research area concerns the comparison of national policies in terms of their origins and their environmental effects. A third concerns the commonly alleged short-sightedness of corporate decisions about the environment. Under what conditions do capitalist actors adopt practices of natural resource use or waste management that preserve environmental values? What national policies affect the likelihood that they will adopt such practices? A fourth concerns the variation in development policies adopted by countries that are similar to each other in terms of level of development and dependency. To what extent is such variation dependent on the political structure of the state, national political culture, level of centralization of decision-making power, and other variables at the national level?
Widely shared cultural beliefs and attitudes can also function as root causes of global environmental change. Many analysts focus on broad systems of beliefs, attitudes, and values related to the valuation of material goods. An early argument in this vein attributed the modern environmental crisis to the separation of spirit and nature in the Judeo-Christian tradition (White, 1967); another traces the rise of capitalism with its materialist values and social and economic structures back to Protestant theology (Weber, 1958). The Frankfurt school of critical theory accorded a similar role to the spread of purely instrumental rationality (Hab-