International Debate

“Fighting for the social sciences”

May 23, 2011 935

A new post on the Center for International Forestry Research blog sets out the importance of social sciences in understanding the causes and consequences of climatic change.

Social science is treated as the poor cousin by climate scientists, according to Dr Diana Liverman, a plenary speaker at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers held in April. Dr Liverman demonstrated how natural scientists, who receive most of the funding for climate science, tend to harbour a series of incorrect assumptions about human behaviour and societies.

Physical scientists assume that the principal threat to food security from climate change is due to effects on agricultural yields. Research has been focussed on developing drought-tolerant crops for example, instead of examining how climate change affects food prices and politics. This ignores other factors that will determine availability and access to food. Recent instability in food prices (and consequent food riots in developing nations) has been driven not just by climate or competition from biofuels, but also due to changes in energy costs, population growth, dietary changes and financial speculation, says Liverman.

Dr Liverman argued that climate modellers and other physical scientists are naive when they ‘throw their research over the fence’ and assume that data such as climatic forecasts will benefit society at large. Research from Brazil has shown that drought forecasts can exacerbate poverty because drought predictions are used to justify the withdrawal of credit and seeds to farmers.

The drivers and consequences of environmental change are not pre-determined, despite widespread views to the contrary in the natural science community.  We are wrong to assume that population size is the main determinant of deforestation, for example, when a study by Erica Lambim (Stanford University) clearly shows that population is generally less important that economic, technological and political factors. In addition, reducing population growth in developing countries will not be achieved merely by supplying contraceptives. Huge declines in fertility rates are largely due to woman’s choices and this rests on improving the status of women through literacy and employment opportunities…

Read the full blog-post here.

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