"If an issue involves the possibility of a species going extinct, for instance, and nobody knows about it, does it matter? It's only through our valuation system that a bird or lizard gets protected. Scientists need to communicate properly. Scientists and social scientists need to do triage together to determine the best ways to approach a problem and allocate resources. The social process is important. How do you know what's a concern? In some parts of the world climate change is not a concern because people are dealing with serious problems existing now. Social scientists can help drive broader discussions." Says Ron Mitchell, professor of political science at the University of Oregon.
Climate change inherently asks us to confront humanities relationship to nature, and it takes all disciplines to get a good picture of what that looks like. The image above is a nod to the social psychological processes of the diffusion of responsibility- where everyone stands around, and nobody helps the victim. With global warming we have a shared responsibility to work together, find a solution, and take action.Ron Mitchell is co-principal investigator of DISCCRS "DISsertation initiative for the advancement of Climate Change ReSearch" along with founder Sue Weiler of Whitman College, a liberal arts school in Walla Walla, Wash. The initiative seeks to prepare PhD graduates for careers in the field of climate change by bringing together natural and social sciences, humanities, mathematics, and engineering all to the same table to communicate together. No easy task.
Yet Mitchell has seen a growing number of people interested in the multi-disciplinary approach. At the last meeting, DISCCRS III, there were 235 applicants for 36 slots. DISCCRS IV will be Nov. 2-9, 2008, at the Saguaro Lake Ranch near Mesa, Ariz. To be eligible, an applicant must have earned a doctorate between April 1, 2006, and March 31, 2008, in any discipline.
"There now is more synergy among the social, physical and life scientists attending," he said. "I think that's where we got to this year. We are seeing a movement toward mutual respect...With climate change, you can't get a question right or an answer right if you are not thinking interdisciplinarily. That is the main motivation of my working with DISCCRS."