Understanding our responses to environmental change

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Social Metabolism, Social Navigation and integrative approaches to inter-temporal choice

The August issue of Global Environmental Change ( 22.3 ) has a set of fascinating papers highlighting important social dimensions of environmental change.  These include a special section on ‘Hegemonic transitions and global shifts in social metabolism’ edited by Roldan Muradian and colleagues argues that the mergence of new global economic centres is inducing a major expansion in global social metabolism, or the flows of energy and materials into the world economy; a transformation in the systems of extraction and provision of natural resources, and in addition setting the scene for socio-environmental conflicts at commodity frontiers. They argue that these changes constitute global transformations marking the beginning of a new historical phase of modern capitalism with particular implications for countries rich in natural resources in Africa and Latin America.

Jonas Nielsen and Henrik Nigh use the concept of –social navigation’ to explore adaptive lives. Villagers in northern Burkina Faso experience multiple stressors – drought is intertwined diminishing food production and rising prices, – in a highly dynamic circumstances. People navigate through this landscape and between intertwined biophysical and socioeconomic drivers of change by constantly assessing and re-assessing their social situation. The authors highlight villagers’ hyper-attentiveness to emergent social possibilities and their ability to attract development project and negotiate political parties in response to multiple change, providing a rich and detailed insight into how and what people adapt to.

David Hardisty and colleagues provide a suggestion of how economics, psychology and anthropology can be integrated to inform and evaluate trade-offs between inter-temporal choices. Using some really interesting example of real-life decisions, they demonstrate how a more holistic, integrative and iterative approach provides a robust basis for decision-making and policy formulation. It really does make sense to learn from each other doesn’t it?

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