About this Research Topic
Rising global temperatures, melting glaciers, rising seas, and more violent and moisture laden storms present a perilous situation for coastal populations around the world, particularly where concentrated in cities. The science of this impending situation is well known within the academic community and among a wide range of practitioners. The general public is alert to this situation as well, but as residents of the world’s littoral zone consider the prospect of relocation to cope with changing environmental conditions deep cultural roots, extensive social networks, personal economic investments, and political obstacles complicate effective adaptation. The rich science of climate change has not fully integrated these human considerations into the vast body of literature on the subject.
Singular human adaptations to a changing climate must add up to enable a sustainable transition – that is, the accumulation of numerous adaptations that align toward a viable human outcome. A successful sustainable transition to climate change will rely on excellent science, but also effective governance, social and cultural adaptations, changing understanding of risk, and viable strategies for managing both environmental and social change. Planning for this transition requires thinking on the temporal and geographic scales of human actions – which typically does not correspond to political tenures nor political boundaries. The demand for this transition is most pronounced in coastal cities where human populations are concentrated and hinges on incorporating scholarship attentive to the complex issues bound up in social and cultural processes. We have assembled a group of scholars from around the globe who are attentive to the importance of merging social science, humanities, and planning with basic sciences and engineering. Ultimately, we hope to foster a broader and more firmly rooted incorporation of what some have called “the human sciences” into the fabric of climate change studies.
In the case studies assembled here, based on the output from the October 2019 Delta/Coastal Cities and Environmental Change Workshop in Shanghai, China, the authors speak to the issues of cultural traditions, environmental management, social governance, risk culture, relocation, and landscape appreciation. Risk is rooted in local culture and environmental conditions. Governance, likewise, resides in place and time specific settings. Landscape appreciation and attachment to place are powerful social/cultural forces that often defy sound scientific logic. The case studies will emphasize the crucial role these factors play in managing and guiding adaptations and transitions. We see these topics as critical to our ability to fathom the viability of scientifically sensible approaches among different people, in different geographic settings, and with distinct cultural pasts. These human dimensions will ultimately guide adaptation as much as the essential scientific foundation that has provided insights into global environmental change. This Research Topic seeks to illustrate the importance of these topics to our colleagues in the sciences and to ultimately infuse climate change studies with a more robust understanding of human processes that will shape the global response to environmental change.
Keywords: human adaptation, cultural and social change, governance, environmental management
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