Climate Research: More weight for the human factor

Here the latest Press Release from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). I would add a sixth challenge without which the other five will remain beholden to the old and persistent ways of doing things that got us into this situation in the first place, namely an epistemological change in our way of thinking about homo (not so) sapiens as player in the world. A change that would replace the dead old narratives of salvation, what Jean-François Lyotard called the grand narratives, with a new narrative — as it seems that humans  are indeed unable to generate enough of what Keats called “negative capability” and always need some sort of soteriological “story.” Such a new narrative — non-linear, but structurally tensed with the logic of catastrophe theory — would lead to a new ecological thought that would reposition human economic and techno-scientific intervention in our earth household.


Climate scientists want to better understand societal processes

Climate research needs a reorientation towards giving greater weight to the human factor, some leading figures of the international scientific community wrote in an appeal published in “Science” this Thursday. Economic, social and cultural processes have to be better integrated in models of earth system analysis that are typically geophysical. The usefulness of sustainability research is the main focus. “Research has to better understand how people respond to environmental change”, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber says, director of the interdisciplinary Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “To achieve progress, we need a new balance of natural and social sciences.” The physicist Schellnhuber is one of the authors of the appeal.

Amongst the other authors are the president-elect of the International Council for Science (ICSU), Yuan Tseh Lee, a Nobel prize winning chemist, and the council’s executive director, Deliang Chen. The ICSU is a non-governmental organisation with a global membership of more than 150 national academic bodies and international scientific unions. Other co-authors are Elinor Ostrom, Nobel laureate in economics, Heide Hackmann, secretary general of the International Social Science Council in Paris, and several climate researchers.

The researchers identified five grand challenges of scientific importance and of relevance to decision-makers in politics and the economy, and based on a consultation process involving more than 1000 individuals from 85 countries. 1. Improve the usefulness of forecasts of future environmental conditions. 2. Develop and enhance observation systems to manage global and regional environmental change. 3. Determine how to anticipate, avoid and manage disruptive global environmental change. 4. Identify how to catalyze adoption of institutional, economic and behavioral changes towards global sustainability. 5. Improve our understanding on how to strengthen incentives for technological, political and social innovation.

This conjoint challenge of natural and social sciences calls for scientific funding agencies to coordinate across national borders and borders of scientific disciplines. “That’s the only way of sensible spending”, says Schellnhuber. “And there has to be some redistribution in favour of the social sciences.” The aim is, says the appeal in “Science”, “to mobilize the scientific community around a focused decade of research to support sustainable development in the context of environmental change.”

Weblink to press release

Article: W.V. Reid, D. Chen, L. Goldfarb, H. Hackmann, Y.T. Lee, K. Mokhele, E. Ostrom, K. Raivio, J. Rockström, H.J. Schellnhuber, A. Whyte: Earth System Science for Global Sustainability: Grand Challenges. Science 12 November 2010 330: 916-917 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1196263]

For further information please contact the PIK press office:

Phone: +49 331 288 25 07

Press and public relations
tel: +49 331 288 25 07
fax: +49 331 288 25 70

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
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P.O. Box 60 12 03
D-14412 Potsdam

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1 Response

  1. Poo says:

    Sorry, I cannot concentrate this a.m. having just returned from a visual tour of a soup pot, mountains and Bourg d’Oeuil. I am now motoring down the mountain in a south westerly direction to San Sebastian. Hey, even an old guy can dream can’t he?

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