Battling inertia: the role of social science in sustainability

Battling inertia: the role of social science in sustainability

It’s a question many of us have asked ourselves: why, in the face of prolific and proliferating environmental issues, do our societies continue to do so little to avoid these impending catastrophes? Or, as the editors of the recently published Social Science and Sustainability would put it: ‘What are the reasons for inertia?’

Image: CSIRO Publishing

It’s a fair question to ask, and one that many people no doubt find themselves paraphrasing loudly and with great frustration at various times during their week. Unfortunately, as one of CSIRO’s Research Directors, Anna Littleboy, tells us in the book’s foreword, ‘…this is a highly complex field of study that has evolved dramatically over the past decade.’ And, as such, there is no straightforward reply to our frustrations.

Nevertheless, with the publication of this text, CSIRO Publishing has offered the more intrepid among us an opportunity to explore the depths of the dense and intimidating jungle that is the nexus between the economic, social, and environmental sciences. Armed with this book, one has a shot at grappling with the complexities of this increasingly important field of thought.

While the text is undoubtedly a great resource for those seeking to understand the “science” in social science, it offers even the average reader some real meat in the form of survey results for Australian opinions on climate change and our broader cultural values regarding ecosystems. This information is at once intriguing as well as a catalyst for introspection. Nevertheless, this book is a thoroughly academic piece and would most benefit those with prior knowledge or particular use for the lessons it contains.

The contributing CSIRO scientists take the reader through a series of chapters aimed at reconciling the two subjects named in the book’s title. After establishing context in discussing the need for sociology in dealing with environmental issues like sustainability, we are taught how to approach the task of changing hearts and minds, before being treated to the personal learnings of Dr Lucy Carter, who describes an ‘ambitious project which attempted to create and use knowledge differently to address a sustainability challenge’. There is real value in this kind of personal insight, handed from the applied scientist to the reader through print.

Several Australian case studies of broader relevance dot the pages, with the reader able to peruse the differing perspectives and challenges of sustainability from the Red Centre to the Eastern Coast. But, as stated previously, the real value of this resource is for those with a practical use for it. Readers with a relevant purpose will find this book a powerful ally. As Brian Head states in the closing chapter, ‘Social science insights are essential for making evidence-informed policy choices, increasing community resilience in the face of disruptive change, and building adaptive capacity in all sectors.’ So, if that applies to you – read this book!

Purchase your copy of Social Science and Sustainability from CSIRO Publishing.

Banner image courtesy of Timon Studler on Unsplash


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