Environment

Social Science Perspectives on Drivers of and Responses to Global Climate Change

The research reviewed from these social science disciplines highlights that among the key human factors contributing to climate change are the roles of and connections among economic conditions and development; demographic growth and changes; power, social stratification and inequality; technology; infrastructure; and land-use change.

The drivers of climate change are explored in a wide range of scientific and climate assessment literatures. “Anthropogenic” drivers refer to the human actions that cause climate change and the societal factors that shape and condition those actions. Emissions and atmospheric concentrations of long-lived greenhouse gases, especially carbon emissions, have increased dramatically since the pre-industrial period. That increase is due primarily to human activities associated with fossil-fuel use and agriculture, while other land-use changes, such as deforestation, provide significant but smaller contributions.

An advanced review article in WIREs Climate Change summarizes recent anthropological, archaeological, geographical, and sociological perspectives on the anthropogenic drivers of climate change, with a particular focus on drivers of carbon emissions. Attention is also given to some of the ways in which these social science disciplines contribute to research on mitigation and adaptation. While each of these four disciplines has unique perspectives and makes noteworthy contributions to our shared understanding of the human dimensions of climate change, they also complement one another and contribute to integrated, multidisciplinary frameworks.

The article begins with discussions of temporal dimensions, identifying and presenting interactions between long-term and near-term human drivers of carbon emissions. Next, descriptions of the disciplines’ contributions to the understanding of mitigation and adaptation are provided. The conclusion includes a summary of key lessons offered by anthropology, archaeology, geography, and sociology as well as suggestions for future research.

As a whole, the research reviewed from these social science disciplines highlights that among the key human factors contributing to climate change are the roles of and connections among economic conditions and development; demographic growth and changes; power, social stratification and inequality; technology; infrastructure; and land-use change. These factors’ near- and long-term dynamic interactions across spatial scales and institutional contexts shape the pathways and options for mitigation and adaptation. While far from an exhaustive review of what the four disciplines have to offer, the article covers important contributions from anthropology, archaeology, geography, and sociology that inform knowledge of drivers and responses to climate change.

 

Kindly contributed by Andrew K. Jorgenson.

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