Writing in the latest Nature Geoscience, Reiner Grundmann of the University of Nottingham calls out a problem that I wish I’d understood years ago about our understanding of, and response to, climate change and the family of problems to which it is connected. (I hope that link works, let me know in the comments if it doesn’t.)
Some top notch scientists over a number of decades have characterized and clarified the physical science part of the problem, and it’s only natural to then turn to those scientists in our discussion of what to do about it. But as Grundmann argues (and as I came to learn only slowly and painfully), the “what to do about it” stuff lies in a domain different from the physical sciences:
Climate change is a challenge, as acknowledged by the various proposals. Nevertheless, climate science provides no help to meet this challenge, once it has been acknowledged. The essential expertise for making progress with climate change mitigation and adaptation lies in the social sciences, including economics but also including a variety of other disciplines such as cultural studies, history, sociology and policy research. We need to understand the different social contexts of climate policy before we can find pragmatic steps to manage the problem. It is high time the expertise of the social sciences is recognized and assembled.
This line of argument maps nicely to the issues I grappled with in writing my book on water scarcity in the western United States. It’s why I turn to the human disciplines – law, policy studies, political science, economics – in talking about what the solutions might look like.