Kevin Rudd described global warming as “the greatest moral challenge of our generation,” but that’s too simple. It’s the greatest economic, political, social, cultural, environmental and scientific challenge of our time.
A silver bullet won’t be found in a scientist’s laboratory, the halls of Parliament, nor a community activist’s meeting.
Nope, it’ll take a coordinated effort from researchers, corporations, politicians, innovators and communities to tackle climate change.
This is precisely why social scientists are poised to play such a crucial role. People with the breadth of understanding and skills to navigate and coordinate all of these moving parts will be absolutely crucial.
So with that in mind, here are five of the instruments in a social scientist’s toolkit that we’ll need to fight this real and present danger.
It sounds dry, but data analysis strikes at the very heart of the climate change debate. The interpretation of global temperature data is the major flashpoint for the conversation, and so understanding and communicating this information will only become more important over time.
On top of this, big data is proving to be crucial in the response to global warming.
Microsoft’s mind-boggling Madingley project is a real-time virtual biosphere – ie. a simulation of all life on earth. It creates a simulation of the global carbon cycle and predicts how it will impact everything from pollution to animal migration to deforestation.
Leaders with a deep understanding of socio-political structures and forces will be needed to enact change on a legislative and global level.
The recent failure of the Paris Accord shows just how important negotiation and diplomacy will be in order to get countries from around the world to work together.
This not only involves political guile, but also communication skills, cultural knowledge and courage to make difficult but necessary decisions.
Research and innovation
Without technological transformation in some of the world’s biggest industries, we won’t stand a chance.
Existing alternative energy sources such as solar and wind need to become more efficient, and fledgeling technologies like ocean, hybrid and bio energies need to develop to support ever-increasing energy demands.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has famously framed climate change as an issue of economic competitiveness and innovation.
The countries and businesses that are more successful at producing new energy technologies and practices will thrive.
The rest will fall behind.
With this in mind, leadership in the corporate sector naturally has a massive role to play. Far swifter and more meaningful change can come from within a business than when it’s mandated by government regulations.
Business models will need to be forward-thinking, not relying on traditional methods of production, and change company cultures in the process.
A recent example of this sort of industry leadership is Volvo who announced they will cease production of purely internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2019.
Professor Andrew J. Hoffman from the University of Michigan perfectly articulated the state of the “toxic” climate change debate:
“On the one side, this is all a hoax, humans have no impact on the climate and nothing unusual is happening.
“On the other side, this is an imminent crisis, human activity explains all climate changes, and it will devastate life on Earth as we know it. Amidst this acrimonious din, scientists are trying to explain the complexity of the issue.”
As a society we’ll need to reach some sort of meaningful consensus on the issue. From the boardroom to Twitter, we’ll need opinion leaders who can navigate the clashing world views that dictate how we view the science.
It won’t be easy, but it is necessary.
Clearly, climate change and many other global concerns are multi-faceted issues that necessitate a range of approaches and perspectives.
It’s for this very reason that Griffith University’s Dr Ben Fenton-Smith believes “there is no question that social scientists are going to be in huge demand in the next 20–30 years.
“As our use of data, technology and information increases, we are going to need social scientists to make sense of it.”
Complex problems have complex solutions.
Griffith University is introducing a brand new Bachelor of Social Science to develop the next generation of Aussie leaders keen to tackle the biggest issues facing the world today. Head over here to find out about this exciting new degree.