All too often, researchers in the academic world find themselves cut off from their colleagues in other disciplines by the level of specialization required in their own fields. The gap between the social and physical sciences, in particular, seems unbridgeable to many scholars. Yet many of the problems confronting the world today demand an integrated approach.
The vast issue of global change -- encompassing changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and the possibility of global warming, or the dramatic increases in world population and consequent increased pressures on land use and on political systems -- demands a problem-solving approach that integrates our knowledge about the nature of human interaction and activity with the scientific knowledge we have gained on atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial patterns of interaction.
Ecological and Social Dimensions of Global Change, published by the Institute of International Studies as part of its "Insights in International Affairs" series, is a collection of lectures by leading physical and social scientists and international legal experts on the implications of global changes in climate and in population, migration, and land use. (See the Table of Contents.) These lectures also examine the responses of the international legal and political communities to these complex changes.
The volume is composed of thirteen talks from an interdisciplinary graduate seminar conducted at the University of California at Berkeley in the fall of 1992. The evolution of this seminar provides a cogent example of how research from a specific field, brought into an interdisciplinary teaching arena, becomes enriched by the input from researchers in other fields. The seminar as originally conceived focused primarily on the ecological dimensions of global change, but the numerous and fundamental links of any given ecological issue to its surrounding social circumstances persuaded the organizers to expand the focus to include the social dimensions of these problems as well. Both the physical and social scientists involved in the seminar subsequently incorporated knowledge gained from their colleagues into their own fields of study. In addition, seminar participants in the fields of legal and political policy-making were able to integrate each discipline's contributions into the prescriptions that they offered for the problem of global change. During the course of the development of this book from the lecture series, commentaries by scholars from a different academic field were added to a few of the original lectures, further broadening the focus.
Following each of the lectures is a transcription of the discussion from the classes which deepen and elaborate some of the key theoretical, methodological, and policy questions raised by the lecturer. In addition, a short bibliography and further questions for class discussion are suggested, making this an ideal text for coursework on the subject of global change. Each section of the book -- the ecological dimensions, the social dimensions, and policy and legal responses -- is preceded by a short introduction to the central ideas encompassed by the contributors to that section.