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Article

Global environmental change amplifies and creates pressures that shape human migration. In the 21st century, there has been increasing focus on the complexities of migration and environmental change, including forecasts of the potential scale and pace of so-called environmental migration, identification of geographic sites of vulnerability, policy implications, and the intersections of environmental change with other drivers of human migration. Migration is increasingly viewed as an adaptive response to climatic and environmental change, particularly in terms of livelihood vulnerability and risk diversification. Yet the adaptive potential of migration will be defined in part by health outcomes for migrating populations. There has been limited examination, however, of the health consequences of migration related to environmental change. Migration related to environmental change includes diverse types of mobility, including internal migration to urban areas, cross-border migration, forced displacement following environmental disaster, and planned relocation—migration into sites of environmental vulnerability; much-debated links between environmental change, conflict, and migration; immobile or “trapped” populations; and displacement due to climate change mitigation and decarbonization action. Although health benefits of migration may accrue, such as increased access to health services or migration away from sites of physical risk, migration—particularly irregular (undocumented) migration and forced displacement—can amplify vulnerabilities and present risks to health and well-being. For diverse migratory pathways, there is the need to anticipate, respond to, and ameliorate population health burdens among migrants.

Article

Humans are altering the hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere in unprecedented ways. Since the late 1980s, a range of geoscience disciplines (such as climatology and ecology) have shown humans to be a “planetary force.” The scale, scope, and magnitude of people’s combined activities threaten to take the planet’s environmental systems out of their Holocene state. This not only raises new research questions for the academic community (such as “What is the best way for a low-income, low-lying country to adapt to sea-level rise?”). It also invites the community to rethink its role in relation to the societies that fund its research and will experience profound impacts of global environmental change. In turn, this rethink raises the question of what kind of research will best suit a change of role. In recent years some global change researchers have called for a “new social contract.” These calls challenge the “old” social contract wherein academic independence was assured by governments so long as universities produced a succession of benefits to society on the basis of both fundamental (non-applied) research and “use-inspired” inquiry and invention. The new social contract directs global change researchers to produce much more of the latter, namely “decision-relevant” knowledge (for governments and other stakeholders). This means that global change research (GCR) will become less geoscience dominated and include more social science and even humanities content: after all, it is human activities that are both the cause of, and solution to, our planetary maladies. A more applied and people-focused GCR community promises to deliver many benefits in the years ahead. However, there are some problems with the way a new social contract is currently being conceived. Unless these problems are addressed, the GCR community will arguably serve societies worldwide far less well than it could and should do. This review describes the old and new social contract ideas in relation to present and future GCR. It does so both descriptively and in a critically constructive way, presenting arguments for a truly new social contract for GCR.

Article

Leslie E. Sponsel

Interest in the degradation of the “natural” environment, and the scientific, academic, and activist responses including ecology have developed in Western societies largely since the 1950s. Western ecology is a subfield of the biological sciences, and more broadly it is related to the environmental sciences, environmental studies, and environmentalism. These have all generated accumulating evidence about the ongoing ecocrises at the local, regional, and global levels, and this in turn requires remedial actions. Ecocrises are increasingly becoming an existential threat to the human species and the planet, especially the reality of global climate change. Secular approaches are absolutely indispensable and have made progress but have also proven insufficient to turn things around for the better. Spirituality pursued as an integral part of religion and also independently from it may help. Spirituality refers to mystical phenomena that include profoundly moving emotional experiences that can generate vision, meaning, purpose, and direction for an individual’s life in pursuit of the sacred. Spirituality appears to predate any religion, in the sense of formalized social institutions with a system of prescribed sacred texts, specialists, beliefs, values, and practices. Furthermore, while in recent decades affiliation with religion declined, in contrast interest in spirituality increased. Surveys indicate that individuals range from religious and spiritual, religious but not spiritual, spiritual but not religious, to neither religious nor spiritual. Ecology and spirituality are interrelated in various ways and degrees: spiritual ecology has grown exponentially since the 1990s, although it has deep roots. It is a vast, complex, diverse, and dynamic arena of intellectual and practical activities at the interfaces of religions and spiritualities with ecologies, environments, and environmentalisms. Spiritual ecology may help contribute to the reduction or resolution of many ecocrises.

Article

Dorothy N. Gamble

This entry describes how the viability of long-term human social systems is inextricably linked to human behavior, environmental resources, the health of the biosphere, and human relationships with all living species. New ways of thinking and acting in our engagement with the biosphere are explored, with attention to new ways of measuring well-being to understand the global relationships among human settlements, food security, human population growth, and especially alternative economic efforts based on prosperity rather than on growth. The challenge of social work is to engage in socioecological activities that will prevent and slow additional damage to the biosphere while at the same time helping human populations to develop the cultural adaptation and resilience required to confront increasing weather disasters; displacement resulting from rising seas; drought conditions that severely affect food supplies; the loss of biodiversity, soils, forests, fisheries, and clean air; and other challenges to human social organizations.

Article

Amy E. Chadwick

Climate change, which includes global warming, is a serious and pervasive challenge for local and global communities. Communication theorists, researchers, and practitioners are well positioned to describe, predict, and affect how we communicate about climate change. Our theories, research methods, and practices have many potential roles in reducing climate change and its effects. Climate change communication is a growing field that examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Climate change communication covers a broad range of philosophical and research traditions, including humanistic-rhetorical analyses, interpretive qualitative studies, and social-scientific quantitative surveys and experiments. Climate change communication examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Much of the research in climate change communication focuses on public understanding of climate change, factors that affect public understanding, media coverage and framing, media effects, and risk perceptions. Less prevalent, growing areas of research include civic engagement and public participation, organizational communication, and persuasive strategies to affect attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to the climate. In all of these areas, most of the research on climate change communication has been conducted in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Western European countries. There is a need to expand the climate change communication research into other regions, particularly developing countries. In addition, climate change communication has natural links to environmental and health communication; therefore, communication scholars should also examine research from these areas to develop insights into climate change communication.

Article

Climate change is increasingly being framed as a “climate crisis.” Such a crisis could be viewed both to unfold in the climate system, as well as to be induced by it in diverse areas of society. Following from current understandings of modern crises, it is clear that climate change indeed can be defined as a “crisis.” As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5oC special report elaborates, the repercussions of a warming planet include increased food insecurity, increased frequency and intensity of severe droughts, extreme heat waves, the loss of coral reef ecosystems and associated marine species, and more. It is also important to note that a range of possible climate-induced crises (through, e.g., possible increased food insecurity and weather extremes) will not be distributed evenly, but will instead disproportionally affect already vulnerable social groups, communities, and countries in detrimental ways. The multifaceted dimensions of climate change allow for multiple interpretations and framings of “climate crisis,” thereby forcing us to acknowledge the deeply contextual nature of what is understood as a “crisis.” Climate change and its associated crises display a number of challenging properties that stem from its connections to basically all sectors in society, its propensity to induce and in itself embed nonlinear changes such as “tipping points” and cascading shocks, and its unique and challenging long-term temporal dimensions. The latter pose particularly difficult decision-making and institutional challenges because initial conditions (in this case, carbon dioxide emissions) do not result in immediate or proportional responses (say, global temperature anomalies), but instead play out through feedbacks among the climate system, oceans, the cryosphere, and changes in forest biomes, with some considerable delays in time. Additional challenges emerge from the fact that early warnings of pending so-called “catastrophic shifts” face numerous obstacles, and that early responses are undermined by a lack of knowledge, complex causality, and severe coordination challenges.

Article

What is the role of the Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) countries in the global governance of climate change? Are they contributing to the intensification of the climate crisis or mitigating it? To answer these questions, we must examine these countries’ participation in international climate negotiations, the path of their domestic climate policies, and the trajectory of their greenhouse gas emissions. The LAC region is a moderate conservative actor in climate governance because it is not a major emitter (8% of the world total) and its average level of per capita emissions is slightly lower than the world’s average. However, the diverse climate policy experiences in the LAC region have not been able to significantly reduce emissions or change the path of development toward a low emission future. In the international realm, the region has failed to meaningfully cooperate in the United Nations climate change negotiations or incorporate climate change into their regional integration initiatives. However, the patterns of diversity and fragmentation in terms of climate commitment are probably more visible than the common ones, as LAC countries vary widely in terms of volume and trajectory of emissions, climate political instruments at the domestic level, and cooperative efforts in the international arena. As the climate crisis deepens, LAC countries will face a monumental test to adapt to increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, enhanced climate variability, and extreme weather events. It is also imperative for the region’s countries to increase their level of climate commitment and implement stronger measures both nationally and internationally, finding deeper ways to cooperate in managing one of the major global governance problems facing humanity.