In this archive piece Harold Jacobson and Edith Brown Weiss explain how the Council’s Committee for Research on Global Environmental Change led the way in researching how countries implement and comply with international environmental agreements. Jacobson and Brown Weiss lay out how the group defined implementation and compliance and ask multiple questions that are relevant today in terms of more comprehensive climate change accords. Though the project focused on what countries do when they are signatories to an accord, not what happens when they pull out—as the Trump administration did with the Paris Agreement—understanding state behavior on this topic, and how social scientists wrestled with it over 20 years ago, remains valuable.
climate and environmental change
Veronica Herrera continues the “Just Environments” series by examining the ways in which low-income communities that are impacted by toxic contamination mobilize grassroots movements as forms of resistance and vehicles for claims-making. Focusing on neighborhoods in Buenos Aires and Bogotá, Herrera notes that community residents partner with better-resourced actors to frame environmental protections as legal rights, effectively forging new types of environmental citizenship.
Continuing our archival posts on the work of The Council's Committee for Research on Global Environmental Change, here Richard Rockwell provides a detailed account of the various ways in which the social sciences can contribute to a wide array of research puzzles at the intersection of human and social activity with the environment. Rockwell also argues that engaging with natural scientists on these questions will strengthen the social sciences more broadly.
Antonio La Viña continues the “Just Environments” series with an analysis of climate justice challenges and opportunities, particularly from the perspective of vulnerable countries, in light of the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The framing of issues of mitigation and adaptation to climate change in terms of justice—assistance, liability, and accountability—is now part of the global debate. Though the absence of the United States from global climate processes is less than ideal, La Viña suggests that this opening can provide opportunities to address climate justice and for other countries to emerge as global leaders.
Drawing upon a long history of anti-racist, feminist, and decolonial struggles, Malini Ranganathan continues our “Just Environments” series with an essay that suggests freedom can serve as a powerful analytic through which to reimagine environmental justice. Ranganathan makes the case that a comprehensive understanding of freedom must include (though, crucially, is not limited to) the ability to live in a safe and clean environment. Situating environmental harms within a broader emancipatory politics, she brings us closer to redressing multiple, intersectional injustices.
Human Processes in Earth Transformation: A Proposed Council Program on the Social Sciences and Global Environmental Changeby Items Editors
In 1988, the Council embarked on an ambitious new initiative on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change. In tandem with Items’s new series on “Just Environments,” we are publishing the first of a set of archival essays detailing the development and progress of this program. Anticipating a research agenda on what has come to be called the “anthropocene,” executive associate Richard Rockwell describes an initial planning conference at Brown University and presciently writes, “The time has surely come to incorporate social perspectives more adequately into research on humans as forces in nature.”
Alexa Dietrich co-launches the “Just Environments” series by reflecting on the environmental challenges faced by transnational communities—in this case, families that live on opposite sides of the US-Mexico border, whose lives are separated by stringent immigration policies. In highlighting the connections between immigration and the environment, Dietrich argues that a more humane approach to legal residency is critical to bolstering local resilience to climate change on both sides of the border.
Why has climate change been so difficult to address through democratic institutions and processes? The SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program established a working group to engage this question. Robert O. Keohane and Nancy L. Rosenblum, cochairs of the working group, provide a sense of the issues that have animated its work thus far: mobilization for climate change, the politics of mitigation strategies, and the often neglected role of emotion in democratic participation.
In this contribution from the Items archive from 2007-8, Eda Pepi and Peter Sahlins reflect on an earlier Council program from the 1990s on the intersection of the environment with human action. In many ways ahead of its time, the SSRC’s Global Environmental Change program connected social scientists and climate scientists, and developed agendas that have shaped today’s interdisciplinary research on the human causes and consequences of environmental change.
Elena Turevon is a 2014 International Dissertation Research Fellowship recipient and a graduate student at Duke University. In this Research Snapshot, she examines the social consequences of climate change by focusing on Andean entrepreneurs who work as both miners and mountain guides in Peru's Cordillera Blanca. The Research Snapshots series is an initiative aimed at highlighting important and innovative research by SSRC fellows who are currently conducting or who have recently returned from doing international research.