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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade 7 Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change* SUMMARY Research on the human dimensions of global change concerns human activities that alter the Earth's environment, the driving forces of those activities, the consequences of environmental change for societies and economies, and human responses to the experience or expectation of global change. Such research is essential both to understand global change and to inform public policy. Research on the human causes of global change has shown that socioeconomic uncertainties dominate biophysical uncertainties in climate impacts and possibly also in other impacts of global change. It has shown that human activities, such as deforestation and energy consumption, are determined by population growth, economic and technological development, cultural forces, values and beliefs, institutions and policies, and the interactions among all these things. Ongoing research is improving our understanding of the dynamics of several of these driving forces. It has shown, for example, that human interactions with the environment do not necessarily lead to a “tragedy of the commons” and has begun to enumerate the necessary conditions for successful long-term environmental resource management. Research on the human consequences of global change shows that they are due at least as much to the social systems that produce vulnerability as to environmental changes themselves. This work is refining estimates of impacts and identifying major sources of vulnerability. Research on * This chapter was written by the National Research Council Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change, with contributions and editing by the Committee on Global Change Research.
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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade human responses is continually developing and applying better analytical procedures to estimate the costs of global change and policy response options, considering their dependence on highly contestable judgments about nonmarket values and intergenerational equity. Much human response research is focused on the design of human institutions to reduce vulnerability and manage global resources more effectively. Research over the past decade has made considerable progress, but there are still many unresolved questions. Key research imperatives for the next decade are the following: Understanding the social determinants of environmentally significant consumption. Research should focus on the most environmentally significant consumption types, changes in consumption patterns as a function of economic growth and development, materials transformations, and the potential for related policy changes. Consumption is a key variable driving trends and patterns in the human impact on atmospheric composition, land use, and biogeochemical cycles. Understanding the sources and processes of technological change. Research must address the causes of “autonomous” decreases in energy intensity, determinants of the adoption of environmental technologies, and effects of alternative policies on rates of innovation and the role of technology in causing or mitigating global changes. Making climate change assessments and predictions regionally relevant. Research must develop indicators for vulnerability, project future vulnerability to climatic events, link climate change with social and economic changes in projections of overall regional impacts and their distribution, and improve communication and warning systems, especially in view of recent developments in forecasting. Assessing social and environmental surprises. The historical record of social and environmental surprises must be explored to clarify the consequences of major surprises, identify human activities that alter their likelihood, and better understand how communication and hazard management systems can help in responding to surprises. Understanding institutions for managing global change. Research should clarify the conditions favoring institutional success or failure in resource management; the links among international, national, and local institutions; and the potential of various policy instruments, including market-based instruments and property rights institutions, for altering the trajectories of anthropogenic global changes. Understanding land use/land cover dynamics and human migration. This research should examine and compare case studies of land use and land cover change; develop a typology that links social and economic driving forces to land cover dynamics; and model land use changes at regional
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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade and global scales, particularly as they affect ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles and the human consequences of environmental change. Improving methods for decision making about global change. Research should improve ways of estimating nonmarket values of environmental resources, incorporating these values into national accounts, representing uncertainty to decision makers, and structuring decision-making procedures and techniques of scientific analysis so as to bring formal analyses together with judgments and thus better meet the needs of decision-making participants. Improving the integration of human dimensions research with other global change research. Human dimensions research supports each of the other fields of scientific research on global change and also addresses key cross-cutting issues. It requires focused and coordinated support that draws on the strengths of both disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches and that takes advantage of value added by international collaborations. Improving geographic links to existing social, economic, and health data. Human dimensions data systems benefit from adding geographic information to ongoing social data collection efforts, with appropriate safeguards for confidentiality. The effectiveness of these data systems depends on adequate and stable support. The time is ripe for a careful review of the observational needs for human dimensions research, with careful attention to the ability to link to other observational systems. INTRODUCTION Study of the human dimensions of global environmental change encompasses analysis of the human causes of global environmental transformations, the consequences of such changes for societies and economies, and the ways in which people and institutions respond to the changes. It also involves the broader social, political, and economic processes and institutions that frame human interactions with the environment and influence human behavior and decisions. Significant among these are the processes and institutions that use scientific information about environmental processes and human-environment interactions as inputs to human choices that alter the course of those processes and interactions. Thus, one of the human dimensions of global change involves the practical use of scientific information and the issue of how to make such information more useful for decision making. Beginning with a focus on climate change, human dimensions research is expanding to address changes in biodiversity, land and water, pollution, and other globally significant resources and to draw on the extensive literature that addresses human-environment interactions. Human transformations of the global environment have a long history. Table 7.1 shows that, since 1700, human activity has converted 19 percent of the world's forests and woodlands to cropland and pasture. This shift has altered bio-
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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade TABLE 7.1 Changes in Land Cover, 1700 to 1980 Land Cover Type Area in 1700 (millions of hectares) Area in 1980 (millions of hectares) Forest and woodlands 6,215 5,053 Grassland and pasture 6,860 6,788 Croplands 265 1,501 SOURCE: Adapted from Richards (1990). Courtesy of Cambridge UniversityPress. geochemical cycles, land surface characteristics, and ecosystems so much that the Earth system itself has changed significantly. Human activity, especially fossil fuel consumption since the Industrial Revolution, is also responsible for substantial increases in atmospheric concentrations of such gases as carbon dioxide and methane. These increases (see Table 7.2) are mostly associated with the per capita consumption of fossil fuels and growth of the human population; deforestation and the production of cement, livestock, and rice for human consumption; the disposal of wastes from human settlement in landfills; and increased use of fertilizers and industrial and agricultural chemicals. The likely consequences of these gas emissions include a warming of the global climate and a reduction in stratospheric ozone. Such human activities have accelerated rapidly in recent decades. Between 1950 and 2000 the world's population will have increased from 2.5 billion to more than 6 billion people. Total energy consumption increased from 188,000 petajoules annually in 1970 to almost 300,000 petajoules in 1990, and per capita energy consumption increased from about 50 to 57 gigajoules.1 Between 1970 and 1990, global forest area decreased by 6 percent, irrigated area increased by almost 40 percent, number of cattle increased by 25 percent, and use of chemical fertilizers doubled.2 TABLE 7.2 Greenhouse Gas Concentrations, Preindustrial Age to 1984 Greenhouse Gas Preindustrial Age 1994 1990s Rate of Change per Year (%) CO2 280 ppmv 358 ppm 0.4 CH4 700 ppbv 1,720 ppb 0.6 N2O 275 ppbv 312 ppb 0.25 CFC11 0 ppt 268 ppt 0 (HCFC 5%) NOTES: ppmv, parts per million (volume); ppbv, parts per billion (volume); pptv, parts per trillion (volume). SOURCE: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (1996b).Courtesy of the IPCC.
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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade These changes, which have altered global environmental parameters, are also associated with improved quality of life for many people: average life expectancy has increased 40 percent since 1955—from 47.5 years then to 65 years in 1995—and infant mortality decreased 60 percent—from 155 deaths per 1,000 in 1955 to 60 in 1990.3 The rising global averages of per capita energy use, life expectancy, and infant mortality subsume vast disparities. People do not all contribute equally to global change nor benefit equally from progress. The processes determining these changes, sometimes called driving forces, also differ substantially across regions and populations, affecting future trends in both environmental quality and human well-being. Regional differences in rates of environmental transformation reflect variations in the human driving forces of global change. In the case of greenhouse gas emissions the increase in coal production in China from 7,400 to 21,700 petajoules from 1970 to 1990 represents a doubling of per capita energy consumption due to economic development and national policies. In Mexico oil production grew from 980 to 6,046 petajoules over the same period, reflecting a doubling in per capita energy consumption, significant population growth, and national development policy choices to increase the export of oil. A loss of 40 million hectares of forest in Brazil since 1970 has significant implications for tropical biodiversity, as do losses of almost 10 million hectares each in Indonesia, Thailand, and Mexico. These trends in deforestation result from different combinations of population growth, migration, and economic and policy forces.4 A major focus of human dimensions research is explaining patterns and changes in the rates of environmental transformation in terms of driving forces that act globally, regionally, and at the level of responsible decision makers. The impacts of global change on societies and economies are expected to increase greatly in the next century. For example, much of the global change that will eventually result from past human activities has yet to occur, and current trends in these activities portend potential large increases in global change. As the major climatic changes lie in the future, so do their implications for humanity. This may also be true for the human consequences of ecological transformations now occurring through deforestation and other anthropogenic land cover changes. Thus, another major focus of human dimensions research is estimating the social and economic consequences of anticipated global environmental changes. This research integrates information about anticipated environmental changes with information on the social parameters that determine the impact of those changes: demand for affected natural resources, vulnerability of geographical regions and social groups to particular environmental changes, and the potential for adaptive response. In addition, human dimensions research addresses the workings of social systems that manage environmental resources —markets, property rights regimes, treaties, legal and informal norms, and so forth—and the potential to modify those institutions through policy and thus to mitigate global change or increase adaptive capability.
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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade In sum, human dimensions research aims at understanding how human activity drives greenhouse gas emissions, regional air quality, land cover change, and alterations in terrestrial and marine ecosystems; predicting the course of the activities that drive those transformations; estimating how changes in climate, land cover, ecosystems, and atmospheric chemistry affect food, water, natural resources, human health, and the economy; analyzing the ways that societies manage environmental resources; and analyzing the feasibility and possible costs and implications of technical, economic, behavioral, and policy responses to those environmental changes. This research builds basic understanding of human-environment interactions and provides information and responsive tools to decision makers. Although research on the social and policy aspects of environmental change has a long history, human dimensions research only became formally linked to global change research in the late 1980s. The potential for making this link was set forth in seminal writings addressed to national and international research policy makers.5 Human dimensions research became part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) in 1989 with a small National Science Foundation (NSF) program and has since become a significant component of the USGCRP. This activity, together with more general support from government, foundations, and universities for social science research on global change, has resulted in some significant accomplishments and insights in understanding the human dimensions of global climate change. CASE STUDIES: CONTRIBUTIONS OF HUMAN DIMENSIONS RESEARCH IN ADDRESSING GLOBAL CHANGE Human Dimensions Research and the IPCC Contributions to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports are a good illustration of the significance and policy relevance of human dimensions research. The year 1988 is often identified as a turning point in public and political perceptions of climate change in the United States. While the news media linked drought to global warming, scientists, environmental groups, and decision makers gathered in Toronto to declare the need for a 20 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions.6 Meanwhile, social and applied scientists were working to develop methods for assessing the economic and social consequences of climate change and examining the implications of the policies that might be used to mitigate it. The results of this research were reported to the IPCC and became an important part of international debate and decision making in response to the threat of climate change. For example, demographers, geographers, and others have estimated populations at risk from sea level rise and demonstrated the tremendous vulnerability of many large cities to climatic variations.7 The synthesized results of many country case studies indicated many billions of U.S. dollars in potential losses and protection costs associated with a 1-meter rise in sea level (see Table 7.3).
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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade TABLE 7.3 Impacts of a 1-Meter Sea Level Rise in Selected Countries Country People Affected (millions) Economic Loss (billions of U.S. dollars) Land Area Lost (km2) Protection Cost (billions of U.S. dollars) Bangladesh 71 NA 25,000 1+ China 72 NA 35,000 NA Egypt 4.7 59 5,800 13.1 Japan 15.4 849 2,300 156 Netherlands 10 186 2,165 12.3 United States NA NA 31,600 156 NOTE: NA, not available. SOURCE: Bijlsma (1996). Courtesy of Intergovernmental Panel on ClimateChange (IPCC). To estimate the potential effects of global warming on the world's food system, agronomists and economists linked the output of climate models to crop yield and economic models.8 Figure 7.1 shows several important results of these studies, including the sensitivity of impact assessments to the results of different climate models, the considerable potential for adaptation to alter the impact of climate change, and the relative vulnerability of developing countries. Also important to the IPCC and other assessments are efforts to calculate the costs and benefits of various mitigation strategies, such as carbon taxes and carbon sequestration through reforestation, including estimates of nonmarket values. For example, the estimated costs of a carbon tax to achieve a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions ranged from $50 to $330 per ton of carbon in the IPCC study,9 depending on the economic assumptions and model used. Forest plantations and forest management have the potential to sequester up to 75 billion tons of carbon a year.10 Studies of the economic feasibility of this strategy have been used as a basis for discussions in the negotiations for the Framework Convention on Climate Change and have informed debate on strategies such as joint implementation of carbon reductions through aid for forest and energy efficiency projects. Also considered by the IPCC was the issue of deforestation in Amazonia, where human dimensions research has informed policy decisions in Amazonian nations, especially Brazil, and in international organizations such as the World Bank. In the late 1980s international attention focused on Amazonia, where rapid deforestation was linked to climate change, loss of biodiversity, and threats to indigenous peoples. 11 Human dimensions research revealed the causes of forest destruction; for example, the building of highways opened the forest to migrants, many of whom did not know how to farm cleared land or manage forests sustainably.12 Biases in agricultural subsidies, tax incentives, and high inflation promoted extensive land clearing for ranching.13 Detailed social and spatial analyses of relationships among deforestation, secondary growth, and demo-
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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade FIGURE 7.1 Change in global, developed country, and developing country cereal production, cereal prices, and people at risk of hunger in 2060 under different climate change scenarios (% change from a base estimate for 2060). NOTES: GISS, Goddard Institute of Space Science; GFDL, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory; UKMO, U.K. Meteorological Office; CC, climate change scenario including direct CO2 effects; Adaptation 1 (AD1), adaptation level involving minor changes to existing agricultural systems; Adaptation 2 (AD2), adaptation level involving major changes. Reference scenario assumes no climate change. SOURCE: Rosenzweig and Parry (1994). Courtesy of Macmillan Magazines Ltd.
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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade graphic characteristics showed heterogeneous patterns that challenged simple explanations of land use change and showed the need for local strategies for ecosystem protection.14 Partly as a result of these research insights, countries such as Brazil have altered taxation and subsidy structures that favored ranching and have adopted policies for more sustainable development of forest lands. Multilateral development agencies now undertake environmental assessments for transportation and other development projects. Popular accounts are now more sensitive to the varied causes and responses to Amazonian deforestation. Consequences of Climate Change and Variability at the Regional Level Researchers have compiled data on overall losses from climatic disasters and have shown that economic damages are increasing dramatically, especially in the United States. For example, hurricane and flood losses have reached more than $1 billion annually in recent years and have stressed both federal disaster relief and private insurance systems.15 Although these increased disaster losses may be due to climate change, much of the increase is a result of increasing vulnerability resulting from more people living in hazard-prone locations, increasing property prices, and inadequate land use and building regulations. In the developing world, millions of people have been displaced by cyclones, flooding, and droughts, as population growth, migration, and poverty expose more people to climatic extremes.16 The human consequences of climate change and variability depend critically on the vulnerability of human populations and on their ability to adapt, as well as on climatic events. Studies have also identified a serious threat of changes in the patterns of diseases and pests associated with climate change and variability. 17 The 1993 Midwest floods were associated with multiple epidemics in the United States. Heavy rains in Milwaukee overwhelmed the sanitation system, creating a plume of farm waste and contaminated runoff in Lake Michigan that later entered the water supply, resulting in a large outbreak of Cryptosporidium (400,000 cases, with more than 100 deaths). In Queens, New York, an exceptionally hot, humid summer boosted local mosquito populations, leading to local transmission of malaria. In the southwestern United States, intense rains provided a sudden burst of food supplies for rodents, following a six-year drought that significantly reduced rodent predators (owls, coyotes, and snakes). The 10-fold rise in rodents led to transmission of a “new” disease—hantavirus pulmonary syndrome—with a case fatality rate of 50 percent. In Southern Africa, prolonged drought, punctuated by heavy rains in 1994, precipitated an upsurge of rodents, crippling agricultural yields in Zimbabwe and leading to plague in Mozambique and Malawi. In India in 1994 flooding following a summer of 51°C temperatures across the plains led to an outbreak of rodent-borne plague, as houses with stored grains heated up, generating clouds of fleas. In addition to severe human losses in the affected regions, measured economic
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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade losses included $2 billion to $5 billion by international airline and hotel chains from lost tourism. Extreme weather events compounding local vulnerabilities (multiple stresses) can disrupt predator/prey relationships (functional biological diversity) and can generate biological surprises, such as population explosions of pests and pathogens that can affect human, plant, and animal health. The impacts of extreme events and epidemics can ripple through economies, affecting agriculture, productivity, trade, and tourism, in addition to their direct effects on regional human health and well-being. There is, of course, much uncertainty about the role of climatic change in causing ecological changes that have costly effects on humans. A major recent example that highlights the difficulty in assigning causation is the collapse of the commercially important northern cod populations off the coast of eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This collapse led to a costly program to compensate the over 30,000 people who could no longer work as fishers or fish processors. Debates continue about the roles of the North Atlantic Oscillation and other, more specific, climatic and oceanographic changes relative to the role of overfishing.18 There is also uncertainty about the links from ecological consequences to human consequences because of gaps in knowledge about the ability of human communities to respond effectively to anticipated ecological changes. In those regions where climatic variability is associated with El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events, there is hope that improved understanding of sea surface temperatures and associated changes in atmospheric circulation will result in advance warnings of droughts, floods, and epidemics and reduced losses.19 This type of human dimensions research highlights the importance of improved understanding of climate change and variability, the need to consider social vulnerability and adaptive capacity when forecasting the consequences of global change, the potential benefits of predicting climatic extremes, and the need to evaluate carefully options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. KEY SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONS Key scientific questions for research on the human dimensions of global change can be grouped into four broad interrelated interdisciplinary categories: What are the major human causes of changes in the global environment and how do they vary over time, across space, and between economic sectors and social groups? What are the human consequences of global environmental change for key life support systems, such as water, health, and agriculture, and for economies and political systems? What are the potential human responses to global change? How effective
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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade are they and at what cost? How do we value and decide among the range of options? What are the underlying social processes or driving forces behind the human relationship to the global environment, such as human attitudes and behavior, population dynamics, and economic transformation? How do they function to alter the global environment? Research on the human dimensions of global change has value both as basic science and for informing environmental decisions. It increases basic understanding of how past human activities have created present environmental conditions, how past environmental changes and variations have affected human wellbeing, and how people have responded to these variations and changes. By developing understanding of human-environment dynamics, human dimensions research improves the knowledge base for anticipating future environmental changes and for informing policies aimed at reshaping the environmental future. Studies of the human consequences of and responses to global change help inform judgments about what kinds of responses would be most desirable (e.g., mitigation, adaptation options) and about how to organize those responses to achieve the desired effects. Below we describe the major science issues, review progress that has been made in understanding them, and identify some lessons that have been learned from previous research. What Are the Major Human Causes of Changes in the Global Environment? What has been learned in recent years about human causes of global environmental change? One major focus of research has been the explanation of changes in the composition of the Earth's atmosphere. Looking at the atmosphere through human history, one finds that the concentrations of several gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide) changed only a little for more than a thousand years and then started to increase rapidly around 1800. The obvious hypothesis to explain these data is that prior to industrialization in the nineteenth century the related basic cycles of the Earth's environment were in approximate equilibrium and aggregate human activity was too small to be detectable in globally averaged data; then, increasingly since the Industrial Revolution, aggregate human activity has changed the composition of the atmosphere, in particular adding measurably to the concentrations of certain gases. Similarly, looking at the history of land use and land cover, one finds significant changes occurring, although over longer time periods. The obvious hypothesis to explain these observations again is that human beings altered the land and used resources to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population and an expanding industrial economy. Research into the direct human causes of global change has thus focused on changes in land and
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GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: Research Pathways for the Next Decade Hammitt, J.K., R.J. Lempert, and M.E. Schlesinger. 1992. A sequential-decision strategy for abating climate change. Nature 357(6376):315-318. Hanemann, W.M. 1994. Valuing the environment through contingent valuation. Journal of Economic Perspectives 8:19-43. Hanna, S., ed.. 1996. Rights to Nature. Island Press, Washington, D.C. Hanna, S., and M. Munasinghe, eds. 1995a.Property Rights and the Environment: Social and Ecological Issues . The World Bank and the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics, Washington, D.C. Hanna, S., and M. Munasinghe, eds. 1995b.Property Rights in a Social and Ecological Context: Case Studies and Design Applications. The World Bank and the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics, Washington, D.C. Hardin, G. 1968. The tragedy of the commons.Science 162:1243-1248. Hayami, Y., and V. Ruttan. 1985.Agricultural Development: An International Perspective. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Hayflick, L. 1994. How and Why We Age. Ballantine Books, New York. Hecht, S.B., and A. Cockburn. 1989.Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon . Verso, New York. Hempel, L.C. 1996. Environmental Governance: The Global Challenge. Island Press, Washington, D.C. Herman, R., S.A. Ardekani, and J.H. Ausubel. 1989. Dematerialization. Pp. 50-69 in Technology and Environment. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. Holtz-Eakin, D., and T.M. Selden. 1995. Stoking the fires? CO2 emissions and economic growth. Journal of Public Economics 57:85-101. Homer-Dixon, T.F. 1991. On the threshold: Environmental changes as causes of acute conflict . International Security 16(2):76. Homer-Dixon, T.F., and M.A. Levy. 1995. Environment and security. International Security 20(3):189. Homer-Dixon, T.F., J.H Boutwell, and G.W. Rathjens. 1993. Environmental change and violent conflict. Scientific American 268(2):38-45. Hope, C., J. Anderson, and P. Wenman. 1993. Policy analysis of the greenhouse effect: An application of the PAGE model. Energy Policy 21(March):327-338. Hourcade, J., and T. Chapuis. 1995. No-regret potentials and technical innovation: A viability approach to integrated assessment of climate change. Energy Policy 23(April/May):433-446. Hugo, G. 1996. Environmental concerns and international migration. International Migration Review 30(1):105-131. Hutchings, J.A. 1996. Spatial and temporal variation in the density of Northern Cod and a review of hypotheses for the stock's collapse. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 53:943-962. Inglehart, R. 1990. Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J. Inglehart, R. 1995. Public support for environmental protection: Objective problems and subjective values in 43 societies.Political Science and Politics 15:57-71. Inglehart, R. 1997. Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic and Political Change in 43 Societies. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 1996a. Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific and Technical Analyses, R.T. Watson et al., eds. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 1996b.Economic and Social Dimensions of Climate Change 1995, J. Bruce et al., eds. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. International Energy Agency. 1997. Indicators of Energy Use and Efficiency: Understanding the Link Between Energy and Human Activity. International Energy Agency, Paris.
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