7

Conclusion

The scientific community has entered a new phase in its efforts to understand the human dimensions of global change. Earlier efforts succeeded in establishing human dimensions research as a coherent intellectual enterprise and a legitimate field of study for those desiring to advance understanding of the complex interactions among physical, biological, and social systems involved in global environmental change. What is more, a number of groups working largely independently have developed generally similar research agendas in this area, listing a variety of important topics concerning the human sources and consequences of global change and the probable responses of social systems to large-scale environmental change.

Now it is time to take the next steps in the scientific endeavor, establishing well-defined science priorities for human dimensions research and devising science and implementation plans for the highest-priority areas in the same way that such plans have been developed to guide major research programs in the natural science of global change. This report articulates selections of science priorities and proposes a strategy for developing science and implementation plans in a manner that is not only efficient but that also allows for input from a broad spectrum of members of the relevant communities of scientists and of research sponsors and consumers.

The research programs outlined here will contribute substantially to the increasingly important goals of conducting integrated assessments of global change issues and engaging in policy-relevant analyses of mitigation and adaptation strategies. Integrated assessment requires a concerted effort to understand all the



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OCR for page 33
Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change 7 Conclusion The scientific community has entered a new phase in its efforts to understand the human dimensions of global change. Earlier efforts succeeded in establishing human dimensions research as a coherent intellectual enterprise and a legitimate field of study for those desiring to advance understanding of the complex interactions among physical, biological, and social systems involved in global environmental change. What is more, a number of groups working largely independently have developed generally similar research agendas in this area, listing a variety of important topics concerning the human sources and consequences of global change and the probable responses of social systems to large-scale environmental change. Now it is time to take the next steps in the scientific endeavor, establishing well-defined science priorities for human dimensions research and devising science and implementation plans for the highest-priority areas in the same way that such plans have been developed to guide major research programs in the natural science of global change. This report articulates selections of science priorities and proposes a strategy for developing science and implementation plans in a manner that is not only efficient but that also allows for input from a broad spectrum of members of the relevant communities of scientists and of research sponsors and consumers. The research programs outlined here will contribute substantially to the increasingly important goals of conducting integrated assessments of global change issues and engaging in policy-relevant analyses of mitigation and adaptation strategies. Integrated assessment requires a concerted effort to understand all the

OCR for page 33
Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change elements in a cycle, including anthropogenic sources of environmental change, earth system processes, the impacts of environmental change on social systems, and human responses to actual or anticipated impacts. To date, the USGCRP has emphasized the element of earth system processes in this cycle. Although this research remains crucial, the goal of end-to-end assessment calls for equally serious attention to the other elements of the cycle as well as a new emphasis on the feedback loops linking these elements. We believe that the research programs recommended here will contribute significantly to achieving this goal over the next 5 to 10 years.