Understanding and Responding to the Climate Change Issue: Towards a Whole-of-Science Research Agenda

By Härtel, Charmine E. J.; Pearman, Graeme I. | Journal of Management and Organization, March 2010 | Go to article overview
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Understanding and Responding to the Climate Change Issue: Towards a Whole-of-Science Research Agenda


Härtel, Charmine E. J., Pearman, Graeme I., Journal of Management and Organization


ABSTRACT

Much of human behavior and the very fabric of our economies and culture relate to the nature of our climate, its regularity/variability and severity. Climate change should therefore be a central field of inquiry in the social, behavioral and organizational sciences generally. This is especially so given that much of the observed and current climate change is attributed with a high degree of confidence to human activities and further change is anticipated. Whilst historically biophysical research has tended to dominate attention to the climate-change issue, there is an emerging literature examining laypeople's environment-related knowledge structures and the changes in attitudes, beliefs and behaviors required to effectively implement responses to the issues raised by the physical sciences. However, there are limitations in this literature, particularly regarding how scientists themselves engage with and capture emerging knowledge related to the issue. Although there is a broad consensus that the environmental problems we are experiencing are essentially social, organizational and behavioral problems, insufficient attention has been given to the issue of how to cultivate a cross disciplinary approach to address what is a complex and systemic problem (Cash et al., 2006). This article seeks to bring that issue into focus and offers a whole-of-science agenda for climate-change related research. It is essential that social, behavioral and organizational scientists accept greater responsibility for helping to address and facilitate the social, attitudinal, behavioral and management changes required to ameliorate and respond to the environmental deterioration identified by research in the physical sciences. The need for further and ongoing multi-disciplinary and international research is both necessary and pressing. Moreover, it is an ethical and practical responsibility that individuals of all scientific persuasions cannot afford to shirk.

Keywords: environmental deterioration; anthropogenic interference; climate change research; social, organizational and behavioral science; biophysical science; whole-of-science agenda; attitudinal change

Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better. - King Whitney Jr.

INTRODUCTION

Despite the popularity of such documentaries as Al Gore's (2006) The Inconvenient Truth, which led to increased public knowledge of the issue of climate change, a great deal of recent semi-popular literature on the topic still endeavors to substantiate the reality of anthropogenic modification of the atmosphere and repudiate the claims of the deniers of Global Warming (Flannery, 2006; Gelbspan, 2004; Lovelock, 2006; Lowe, 2007; Monbiot, 2007; Pearce, 2002). Whilst such attitudinal, political and analytical differences are characteristics of classic scientific discourses in the face of continued uncertainty, resistance to acknowledging that our present environmental practices are unsustainable distracts from the critical work required to address the problems and best manage the environment.

Somewhat independently, biophysical sciences on the one hand and the behavioral, social and organizational sciences on the other have significantly progressed our knowledge of the climate- change issue, yet to a large extent these developments have been independent, reflecting the differences in language, methodological and theoretical approaches, and the sheer difficulty of the integration of these disparate and broad disciplinary areas. Reflecting the urgency of the issue, significant activities around the world are taking place (for example at institutions such as the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in the UK, MIT in the US and international research programs such as the International Human Dimensions Program for Global Change Research).

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