Integrated earth system science: research practice and communication for solutions to twenty-first century sustainability challenges
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 19:01 authored by Martin James Rice
Scientists' growing awareness of human transformation of an interconnected Earth system (ES) and the need to pursue global sustainability has led to continued calls for integrated ES research. Yet, there have been few studies that consider if ES research is integrated enough to contribute to solutions to twenty-first century global environmental problems. This thesis, therefore, aims to: (i) describe what integrated ES research is and what it has accomplished, (ii) illuminate the level of opportunity to practise and publish integrated ES research that identifies, analyses and communicates ES-derived challenges, and (iii) elucidate how ES research can become more integrated and better positioned to support humanity's responsible engagement within the Earth system. This research analyses the accomplishments of ES science and synthesises the experiences of the global environmental change research community at bringing natural and social sciences together to study changes to an integrated ES and the implications for global sustainability. Despite advances in ES science, this study reveals how, to date, integration of the natural and social sciences has been limited. Furthermore, this research reveals a pattern where the same barriers to integrated research have persisted over the past three decades. In addition to barriers to science integration, the communication of ES research findings can be challenging. Yet, effective communication is vital in order to help governments and society understand and respond to global environmental challenges. This thesis, therefore, examines the performance of two main channels of ES science information: interdisciplinary environmental journals and the mass media. The research findings show that environmental journals possess narrow disciplinary reach and they pursue an integrative review process to varying degrees of intensity. The mass media has a vital role to inform the public as a prerequisite for democratic politics, yet a review of the literature describes tensions between science and the mass media. Such tensions and media coverage of alleged climate research misconduct formed the basis of a survey this project developed for an interface group of researchers and journalists knowledgeable in science who have a vested interest in evidence-based reporting. The thesis contends that (i) interface journalists, by collaborating with scientists to communicate evidence-based ES science findings, can support mainstream journalists to better inform the public about the urgency to respond to ES-derived sustainability challenges; (ii) interdisciplinary environmental journals can help communicate solutions to global environmental challenges by integrating knowledge more broadly from different disciplines, pursuing rigorous interdisciplinary reviews, and publishing research at the nexus of science and action; and (iii) by collaborating together, researchers, funding agencies and academies can develop new opportunities to overcome persistent barriers and provide the necessary institutional support for integrated ES research. By transcending traditional disciplinary, sectoral and international boundaries, ES research can become integrated in ways that will better contribute to solutions to twenty-first century sustainability challenges.