Global environmental changes such as climate change, land change, and biodiversity loss are worldwide biophysical changes resulting from a combination of human activities and natural processes.  The field of human dimensions of global environmental change (HDGEC) engages in research on human activities responsible for these global environmental changes, the underlying socioeconomic forces underlying and driving those activities, the consequences of global environmental changes for human systems, and the human responses to contemporary and anticipated global environmental changes.  HDGEC draws from and integrates the traditional social science disciplines of anthropology, economics, geography, political science, psychology, sociology, and others in an interdisciplinary research field created to better understand global environmental change and to inform public policy

Practitioners working on HDGEC rely on approaches ranging from agent-based models, econometric models, and geographic information systems to surveys, focus groups, interviews, participant observations, ethnography, and archival research.  Practitioners regularly apply quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods analytical techniques to primary data they gather themselves and to secondary data they obtain from local, state, national, and international sources.  Despite the word "global" in HDGEC, much of the research focus is local because understanding global environmental changes requires place-based and context-specific knowledge.

We seek students from disciplines that span the social sciences and humanities working on a range of possible topics. Geographers could study the human impacts on marine ecosystems and how they vary over time, across space, and between economic sectors and social groups.  Economists could address the potential economic responses to climate change, their effectiveness, and their costs and benefits.  Psychologists might consider how individuals value and decide among the range of options to mitigate climate change.  Sociologists could investigate how social networks make communities and regions better able to adapt to climate change.  Anthropologists could examine the cultural attitudes and beliefs driving the human activities degrading terrestrial ecosystems.  Political scientists might examine the ability of top-down vs. bottom up institutions to protect natural resources.  Historians could explore the evolution of institutional structures driving the rush to biofuels in the United States.  And philosophers could explore the ethics underpinning international climate regimes.  In most cases, students will want to cross multiple disciplinary boundaries, drawing from many areas of social science and the humanities to answer their research questions.

The workshops will emphasize the process of research design and research implementation.  Students will be encouraged to stretch the boundaries of their respective disciplines and explore how theories and methodologies from disparate disciplines can be used to design rich research projects to study the complex dynamics of and interactions between natural and social systems.


  • Seth D. Baum

    Pennsylvania State University / University Park, Geography

    Discounting Across Space and Time in Climate Change Assessment
    Discounting concerns the comparison of values across space and time. Discounting has emerged as a dominant factor in climate change assessment yet remains the source of much confusion and controversy. Conventional discussion of discounting is also confined to a narrow set of ethical frameworks and circumstances. My dissertation begins by proposing a discounting definition that is at once easy to understand and broad in its scope. This definition is grounded in fundamental ethical concepts, clarifying the normative assumptions that underlie any treatment of discounting. The dissertation then introduces a novel psychological survey of how people discount. Results from this assessment indicate that conventional discounting treatments are too narrow. Given this result, the dissertation then revisits climate change assessment. Emphasis is placed on several important dimensions of climate change commonly neglected in discounting discussion. These dimensions include spatial heterogeneity in climate change impacts, opportunities for adaptation to climate change, and worst-case climate change scenarios. The proposed discounting definition and psychological survey facilitate important insights into the assessment of these dimensions. Furthermore, the assessment process yields important insights which improve our basic understanding of discounting.
  • Bryan Robert Bushley

    University of Hawaii, Urban and Regional Planning

    Reading Between the Trees: Impacts of Livelihood Diversification on Community Forestry Participation in Rural Nepal
    Nepal is often held up as a success story of community based forest management. For nearly three decades, the government has supported decentralization of forest management through various programs and policy reforms. Today “community forestry” is touted as an antidote to the ills of poverty and environmental degradation, providing rural communities with incentives to replant and protect ecologically threatened forests, to benefit themselves and future generations. Simultaneously, Nepal’s rural regions are undergoing rapid socioeconomic change as residents are integrated into urban and global markets, and increasingly turn to job opportunities in cities and overseas. This increased integration and mobility is resulting in diversification of household livelihoods away from local, resource-based income from agriculture and forestry, toward more remote, non-resource-based income, ranging from off-farm jobs, to seasonal migrant industrial work and remittances from international migration. This dissertation explores the implications of this spatial and occupational diversification of rural livelihoods for local participation in community forestry user groups. Combining quantitative survey methods with qualitative research, it aims to uncover how contemporary socioeconomic and cultural factors, along with corresponding shifts in gender and age dynamics, are impacting the extent, nature and equity of participation in these local forest management institutions.
  • Jennifer Suzanne Carrera

    University of Illinois / Urbana-Champaign, Sociology

    Hearing the Rain: The Role of Gender, Knowledge and Community in Novel Solutions to Water Shortage in Rural India
    Global warming is predicted to have profound impacts on the world's water resources. With India's population bourgeoning and water supplies already limited, the effects of global climate change may be disastrous. Particularly affected will be poor women, who bear greatest responsibility for providing food and water for the family. In the rural Kerala village of Plachimada, poor farmers, predominantly women, mobilized to protest the extraction of groundwater by a Coca Cola bottling plant, who they argued had been responsible for wells in the area going dry. Given that Coca Cola was only one factor contributing to water shortage in the region, this study will ask why was Coca Cola considered particularly more problematic than Pepsico or the beer bottling plant also in the district? What can local knowledges and cooperative community-centered approaches to solving continuing water shortage in the region offer to addressing issues around local empowerment in addressing global climate change? How can women’s empowerment in natural resource disputes lead to empowerment in other areas? This study uses ethnographic methods to explore community member knowledge about water, conservation, sustainability, and meaning in an effort to appreciate local efforts at addressing systemic issues around water availability in the rural setting.
  • Kathryn Doherty

    Antioch University New England, Environmental Studies

    Toward a Global Consciousness: Lessons Learned from Environmental Exemplars
    My research focuses on the human responses to contemporary and anticipated global environmental change. Specifically, I am interested in why people take action to mitigate climate change. Recent polls show that most Americans believe climate change is occurring, is caused by human activities, and is a threat requiring immediate action. Unfortunately, in most cases, these new beliefs have not changed old behaviors. Social science research on climate change typically describes behaviors and policies Americans are willing to adopt and analyzes reasons for inaction, but often overlooks reasons for positive behavior change. Environmental exemplars, such as the individuals who participated in ‘The Climate Project’ presenter training initiated by Al Gore, are at the forefront of the movement to mitigate climate change. They are both concerned and taking action. What can we learn from these individuals that might help transform society from ‘concerned’ into ‘acting?’ How did the presenters become aware of and concerned about climate change? What led them from concern to action? The answers to these questions could facilitate the creation of programs designed to lead Americans toward informed environmental decisions and a global consciousness.
  • Cerian Gibbes

    University of Florida, Department of Geography

    Understanding landscape patterns in the Four Corners Area of southern Africa: An investigation of the role of resource management decisions in determining landscape change and fragmentation.
    Human activities and management decisions increasingly shape landscapes, making conservation of ecosystems challenging. Understanding causes of environmental change is necessary for efficient ecosystem and resource management. Protected areas are a commonly used conservation approach that attempts to limit the impact of human activity on the landscape, and manage the interactions between organisms and landscape composition and pattern. With increasing amounts of land being designated as protected areas, the effectiveness of protected areas as a land management option needs to be evaluated. This is of particular importance in regions where land designated as a protected area, directly limits the resource availability for local populations. Such is the case in the Four Corners Area of Southern Africa. This region has experienced continued growth of both human and wildlife populations, and is experimenting with a variety of landscape management practices including the use of protected areas and community based resource management. To contribute to the understanding of landscape changes in southern African savannas, I will investigate and compare the effectiveness of protected areas versus communally managed lands at limiting landscape degradation and homogenization. This research intends to contribute to the understanding of landscape change and enhance the understanding of land management decisions.
  • Jennifer W Howk

    Harvard University, Government

    Losing Ground: Climate Change, Political Uncertainty, and Social Mobilization in Four Alaskan Communities
    Alaska’s rural communities are slipping off the face of the Earth. Out of 213 rural and predominantly Native villages throughout the state, 184 are threatened by profound erosion brought about by a mutually-reinforcing combination of rising sea levels, increasingly strong winter storms, and melting permafrost. Four communities—Shishmaref, Kivalina, Newtok, and Koyukuk—are in imminent danger of complete obliteration; the others stand to lose runways, roads, and other public structures. These rural villages are the canaries in the coal mine of global climate change, and they offer a unique window onto the social, political, and cultural effects of warming. Despite many shared characteristics, Alaska’s four most endangered villages demonstrate tremendous divergence in their responses to the disaster bearing down on them. Empirically, this research project employs a comparative historical approach and sustained fieldwork to explore how Alaska’s experimental alternative to the reservation system—the Native corporation—has conditioned local norms of political participation and grievance construction. Theoretically, I use the Alaskan case to generate new and more global hypotheses about what matters most in complex, historically informed intersections of public and private actors who are operating under very uncertain conditions and in a nearly perpetual state of environmental emergency.
  • James M Jeffers

    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Geography

    Institutional Decision-Making and Vulnerability to Climate Change in Coastal regions of Ireland
    This study seeks to expand the geographical coverage of information about vulnerability to natural hazards and to fill an important gap in knowledge about public decision-making in the face of environmental change. Not only are patterns of human vulnerability to coastal hazards little known for Ireland but the interaction of scientific knowledge about environmental change with collective decision-making about appropriate public policy, is poorly understood at the community scale, across most of the world. Existing socio-environmental models of vulnerability will be applied to coastal areas of Ireland to provide a basis for assessing emerging patterns of vulnerability to environmental hazards. This information will inform a follow-up exploration of the role of knowledge about hazards, climate change and vulnerability in policy choices faced by key decision makers who have responsibilities for urban coastal communities. These places are undergoing a mix of societal changes driven both by forces of globalization and more localized soci-environmental shifts. Political restructuring within the island of Ireland, transformations of governance and demography within the European Union, as well as differential participation for Ireland’s two states within the global economy have also combined with site-specific changes in the coastal environment to create a complex menu of public issues and choices.
  • Martha L Lincoln

    City University of New York (CUNY) / Graduate Center, Anthropology

    Preparing for Disaster: Climate Change and Public Health Policy in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta
    My proposed research project will focus on public policy that addresses the health effects of climate change in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, a region that the International Panel for Climate Change has identified as extraordinarily vulnerable to typhoons, flooding, drought, and outbreaks of infectious disease. Despite this alarming vulnerability, Vietnam's climate change mitigation efforts, disease prevention programs, and disaster management infrastructure currently represent an inefficiently coordinated multipartisan effort by various foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations. Simultaneously, Vietnam’s transition from state central planning to a market economy has contributed to the population’s increased vulnerability, with a decrease in institutional adaptation to environmental risks (Adger, 2000). Via a careful analysis of the conflicts and challenges inherent in Vietnam's attempts to address the predicted rise in infectious disease, my proposed project will seek to create space for reframing public health policy in terms that address the economic, political, and sociocultural needs and values of poor residents of the Mekong Delta. I aim not only to provide an experience-near portrait of a population facing unprecedented ecological and epidemiological transition, and maximize the value of anthropological insights in crafting robust responses to the largest problem confronting global society. Documentary research and contact with relevant actors will support an ethnographically grounded dissertation, to be completed following fieldwork at sites in the Mekong Delta.
  • Peter D. Richards

    Michigan State University, Geography

    Mechanized Agriculture and Amazonian Deforestation
    Brazil’s ‘arc of deforestation,’ broadly encompassing the southern and eastern fringes of the Amazon forest, is the largest and most active frontier of deforestation and land cover change in the world. Recently, researchers have become increasingly concerned about the expansion of mechanized agriculture in the region. The impact of this expansion on the Amazon’s forest, however, remains unclear and so far only anecdotal information has been advanced regarding the extent to which the conversion of pastures by such operations has sparked indirect, or compensatory deforestation by displaced ranchers. This study will provide an empirical assessment of direct and indirect deforestation attributable to mechanized agriculture in the Amazon Basin. Satellite-based remote sensing classifications, field research, and spatial econometric data will be integrated to provide a more complete understanding of land cover change and agricultural transformation occurring in the Brazilian Amazon. I propose to assess to what extent pastures are being converted for intensive crop production throughout the basin and examine whether mechanized production is displacing smallholder producers and ranchers and “pushing” them into forested areas or ‘leapfrogging’ pasture lands and directly converting forests to mechanized agricultural production, thus disaggregating Amazonian deforestation into its proximate and underlying causes.
  • Camille Washington-Ottombre

    Purdue University, Forestry and Natural Resources

    Simulating Social and Land-Use Adaptations to Climate Change on Mount Kenya
    Current research forecasts that the toll of climate change will be particularly heavy on farming communities in developing countries. With limited access to agricultural chemical inputs and modern technologies, those communities will need to rely on collective action to adapt to climate change. This project studies and simulates the social and land-use adaptations to climate change on the slopes of Mount Kenya in Kenya. I will analyze four farming communities from the bottom to the top the mountain: Ivondo (arid), Kambita (semi-arid), Kianjuki (semi-humid), and Ndunduri (humid) building on and adding to datasets collected through a NSF Biocomplexity project. This research aims at quantifying and qualifying adaptation capacities as well as adaptation pathways of social and land-use systems on Mount Kenya. In order to do so, this work analyzes and simulates the dynamic role of social capital and networks, institutions, and land-use diversification in adaptation processes. This research combines qualitative research methods such as role-playing games, surveys and interviews with computer models including agent-based and neural network models to study adaptation processes dynamically. The agent-based model and other results of this research will be used to test the robustness of various adaptation scenarios with local farmers, extension agents, and decision-makers.
  • Alice Roberta Wiemers

    Johns Hopkins University, History

    Community and Climate Change in Northeastern Ghana: Local Authority and Natural Resource Management under Decentralization
    Over the last forty years, drought, desertification, and rising land values have been concrete manifestations of global climate change in northeastern Ghana, as elsewhere in the West African Sahel. Dramatic floods in 2007 were a reminder that climate instability continues to shape the area’s physical, social, and political landscapes. Recent decentralization initiatives have put increasing responsibility on Ghana’s local governments to respond to the challenges of climate change. These demands have been acutely felt in the northeast, where natural resources play a critical role in local politics. In addition to government officials, local politics involve chiefs, earthpriests, NGOs, and religious leaders. Disputes among these authorities often hinge on competing historical claims to land and natural resources. In this context, it is unclear that local governments can mobilize the resources necessary to cope with climate change. My project seeks to understand the historical and social contexts in which local governments attempt to employ decentralized environmental management. Together with archival and ethnographic fieldwork, I will map resource flows connected with land and natural resources. By examining changing local political economies of environmental management, I will elucidate the implications of decentralization for governments’ ability to cope with climate change in Ghana and elsewhere.
  • Alice Brooke Wilson

    University of North Carolina / Chapel Hill, Anthropology

    Interrogating Agricultural Sustainability: Food Sovereignty and the Defense of Maize in Central Mexico
    This dissertation research aims to be part of developing a new analytical framework for understanding and enhancing agro-ecological sustainability in the context of the global food sovereignty movement. Modern industrial agriculture contributes to global environmental change on multiple levels, including the annual consumption of 70 percent of the world’s available fresh water, loss of agricultural biodiversity from the transgenic seed industry, and high levels of climate-affecting pollution from synthetic fertilizers, agrichemical and factory-farm runoff. The social, health, and environmental costs of food have been largely externalized as global agriculture has industrialized over the last fifty years, but cannot be ignored indefinitely. Increasingly, sustainable agriculture has shown the potential to repair soil damage, capture carbon, contribute to rural economies, and improve health. This dissertation research will investigate understandings of alternatives to industrial agriculture as framed by a social movement of self-described “traditional” corn farmers in central Mexico, Defensa del Maiz (in Defense of Maize). Their “defense” of traditional agricultural provides a vital lens through which to study how conceptions of the environment, economy, and society are actively re-worked, in order to expand current understandings of human behaviors that contribute to ecological sustainability and mitigate climate change.