Paper recommendation: Changing the intellectual climate

The following paper may be of interest to readers of this blog:

Changing the intellectual climate by Castree N, Adams W, Barry J, Brockington D, Büscher B, Corbera E, Demeritt D, Duffy R, Felt U, Neves K, Newell P, Pellizzoni L,Rigby K, Robbins P, Robin L, Rose D, Ross A, Schlosberg D, Sörlin S, West P, Whitehead M, Wynne B. Nat Clim Chang ; 4(9):763-768, DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2339 nclimate2339

 This is an extremely important paper that all global change, sustainability and conservation scientists should read. It highlights a very important point: that the type of research on “human dimensions” of global change represented by much existing work is too narrow.

The authors argue that critically important questions about fundamental questions of value, responsibility, rights, entitlements, needs, duty, faith, care, government, cruelty, charity and justice are under-represented in global environmental change science. (I would add the same is true for conservation biology in particular.)

An understanding of such foundational issues is, however, fundamental to making progress with global sustainability; and echoes earlier calls on addressing the “sustainability gap” (1, 2).

To date, only a relatively narrow subset of social sciences is regularly being integrated in sustainability research — including, for example, environmental economics and political science. A much broader set of disciplinary traditions, however, is needed to address the “foundational” issues (1) actually underpinning the current sustainability crisis.

The recommended paper makes a strong and convincing case that much more attention needs to go to the environmental humanities.

Concrete suggestions in the paper include that biophysical scientists ought to acknowledge that they have got used to a rather narrow type of work addressing the “human dimension” of global change; and that environmental humanists, in turn, must do more to engage with sustainability research.


1. Mind the sustainability gap. Fischer J, Manning AD, Steffen W, Rose DB, Daniell K, Felton A, Garnett S, Gilna B, Heinsohn R, Lindenmayer DB, Macdonald B, Mills F, Newell B, Reid J, Robin L, Sherren K, Wade A. Trends Ecol Evol (Amst) 2007 Dec; 22(12):621-4; PMID: 17997188 DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2007.08.016

2. Human behavior and sustainability Fischer J, Dyball R, Fazey I, Gross C, Dovers S, Ehrlich P, Brulle R, Christensen C, Borden R. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2012 Apr; 10(3):153-160; DOI: 10.1890/110079

4 thoughts on “Paper recommendation: Changing the intellectual climate

  1. Dear Joern,

    thanks for pointing this out and refering to the paper that is indeed a well-written argument for a more thorugh considerations of what does and what should constitute sustainability science.
    Together with your colleague Gerd Michelsen, I made a similar point especially for educational science in a 2013 issue of Sustainability Science (, and I hope while sustainability science gets more elaborated, we will see more disciplines and perspectives be involved in the quest for sustainability.

    Cheers, Matthias

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