Fundamental human dimensions research pursues questions driven by concerns with problems of climate change rather than resulting from the priorities of the social science disciplines (CCSP 2008). The relevance of disciplinary concepts to climate problems does not always seem the same from a disciplinary standpoint as from a climate problem perspective. For example, household energy consumption is an important contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, but understanding it requires concepts from multiple disciplines. Efforts to explain it only in terms of environmental attitudes (psychology), social position (sociology), or household income (economics) are likely to seem naive or seriously incomplete to scientists who take a broader view of the climate research agenda.
The problem of linking the disciplines to climate questions is in part one of developing theories and methods. Issues such as environmentally significant consumption, land-use change, and valuation of environmental resources, among others, do not yield easily to discipline-specific concepts, theories, or methods. Arguably, multidisciplinary approaches are more likely to yield useful tools for answering questions about human-climate interactions. The roles of disciplinary tools must be worked out over time in research teams and the wider community. Without sufficient support for such teams to work together over time, progress will be slow. That has been a goal of this book by making theories and methods more accessible to both the natural and social sciences.
Climate change impacts and responses are observed in physical and ecological systems. Adaptation to these impacts is increasingly being observed in both physical and ecological systems as well as in human adjustments to resource availability and risk at different spatial and societal scales. One finds elements of effectiveness, efficiency, equity, and legitimacy that are important in judging success in terms of the sustainability of development pathways into an uncertain future. Adger, Arnell, and Tompkins (2005) argue that each of these elements of decision making is implicit within presently formulated scenarios of socioeconomic futures of both emission trajectories and adaptation, though with different weighting. The processes by which adaptations are to be judged at different scales involve new and challenging institutional processes. The future of the planet, and its sus-tainability, hang on whether we can successfully make changes from business-as-usual to sustainable practices and behavior at a variety of scales from local to global.
The link between climate change and sustainability science is fundamental. We can neither ignore climate change in the pursuit of sustainability, nor sustainability in the pursuit of dealing with climate change. In fact, climate
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Figure 8.1 Changing pattern of temperature and precipitation for Japan Source: Hasumi and Emori 2004
change research is one of the key areas that allows for the application of principles of sustainability science. Moreover, in both areas one has to deal with complex systems, and with a broad array of disciplines. Developed countries need to deal with emissions in a radical way, if they hope to bring along the developing countries. Moving towards more public transportation, more energy efficient buildings and residences, and changes in lifestyle are among the first things that come to mind in how we can move towards sustainability (Pachauri 2008). Another big area is moving towards agricultural sustainability (Ruttan 1999). Remarkably, as the world's population has increased, so has our capacity to produce food, and to avoid devastating famines (except for regions where political processes have limited people's access to food supplies intentionally). Yet, there is preliminary evidence of declines in agricultural research productivity and that yield increases have slowed down despite investments in research. Great hope is being placed in molecular biology and genetic engineering to lead us out of this bottleneck (Ruttan 1999:5962). Growing erosion worldwide, growing limitations on access to water, pest control, and climate change further limit the likely incremental yield gains from agriculture. While there is evidence that in some places, and up to some levels of CO2 concentration, there could be a "fertilization effect" wherein there is a positive effect on the growth rate of plants from increasing carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, there is also evidence that not all plants respond favorably, and that some respond negatively - and that effects will vary across agroclimatic regions. The same can be said for predicted changes in temperature, with modest positive results around a 2.5 degree increase, but severely negative ones if the increase goes over 5 degrees C° above current levels (Ruttan 1999).
Current climate change and the anticipated changes represent a major impediment to sustainability (Swart, Raskin, and Robinson 2004). Climate change is expected to exacerbate the loss of biodiversity and increase the risk of extinctions. Water availability and quality are expected to decrease further in arid and semi-arid regions. The risk of flood and drought will increase, as will the inundation of coastal low-lying areas. Vector-borne diseases will spread with climate change beyond their current ranges, as will morbidity and mortality due to heat stress, as temperatures rise. Climate changes, and their downstream consequences, are expected to be without precedent and will test our capacity to adapt to these changes, and to develop anything resembling sustainability (Hay and Mimura 2006). Some regions will be challenged more than others. For example, the frequency of extreme high temperatures, and of heavy rainfall events, are expected to increase in Japan (see Figure 8.1). Glacial melt in the Himalayas will accelerate with global warming, and cause downstream flooding. Tropical cyclones are expected to increase 5-10% in intensity over the next four decades (Walsh 2004), and precipitation associated with these cyclones to increase by 25%. Millions of people will be negatively affected by the expected sea level rise and coastal flooding, with more than 10% of the population of Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangladesh affected, and many of the Pacific island countries. Sustainability is more likely to be achieved if one can increase the ability of societies to adapt to multiple stresses, including climate change. A proactive approach to adapting to forecasted climate change is likely to lead to more sustainable solutions and reduced human vulnerability.
In areas where vulnerability seems to be high, as in many parts of Africa due to a combination of environmental and human limitations, it is all the more imperative that sustainability science provide guidance to what should be priorities to move those regions towards sustainability: the existing infrastructure over many areas is inadequate to permit sustainable development, health conditions are precarious, access to education at all levels remains a problem, and there is poor enforcement of environmental regulations even when legislated. There is a need to put in place the sort of interdisciplinary sustainability science centers that can skip a generation and move young people to have the right tools to address the challenge of moving towards sustainability (Obasi 2004).
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