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Climate Change and Sociology

The ASA and National Science Foundation have jointly published a summary of an important workshop on the issue of climate change research. It examines a critically important dimension of earth's climate variation:  Basic research on social determinants affecting global climate change. This report, Workshop on Sociological Perspectives on Global Climate Change, focuses on human sociology and behavior as it relates to the precipitous changes in the chemical and physical health of the earth's biosphere (see March 2010 Footnotes).

Geological, atmospheric, terrestrial, biological, oceanographic, and chemical processes come to mind with reflexive speed when we contemplate what leverage points are key to solving these problems. But as we have explored our planet's faster-than-geologically-normal climate change, we have come to understand that a scientifically robust and complete approach requires research evidence on social mechanisms underlying our society's institutional and individual behaviors, beliefs, and incentives regarding energy use and efficiency. The consequences of human sources of carbon emissions and environmental change are key to designing and implementing sound policies to address adverse human impacts.

To advance research on global climate change, the National Science Foundation convened faculty, graduate students, and policy experts at a two-day workshop to address two questions: What do we know and what do we need to know about the social dimensions of global climate change? This report is a roadmap to reduce gaps and produce a more empirically valid advancement of scientific information and knowledge for policymakers to focus on the key elements in climate change: Social determinants of human behavior and the human participant in climate change.1e4d80

In its 2009 Ecological Impacts of Climate Change report, The National Academy of Sciences said, "Climate Change is one of the defining issues of the 21st century . . . .  Humans are challenged to find . . . policies, practices, and standards of behavior to provide long-term economic opportunities and improved quality of life around the world while maintaining sustainable climate and viable eco-systems." The social sciences are key in meeting these challenges, and sociology is especially central to understanding the social structural dimensions of climate change and strategies for mitigating and adapting these factors.