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September 12, 2016

Responding To: The Challenge of Climate Change

Interdisciplinary Training as a Means to Combating Climate Change

Peter Armbruster

Mitigating the effects of global climate change will be the most important and challenging problem to confront humanity over the next 100 years because the effects are so dramatic and pervasive. Global climate change is disrupting agricultural production, global health, and the basic ecosystem functions that sustain life on Earth. Scientific knowledge and new research will provide many of the key insights necessary to address these problems, but science alone will not be sufficient. Many of the most important solutions will be developed at the interface of science and policy. To bridge this interface, we need people with interdisciplinary training who understand diverse aspects of the underlying science of climate change AND how to effectively develop and implement policy solutions.

As an example, consider the challenge of feeding a growing human population in the face of dramatic climatic shifts that render previous agricultural varieties and practices impractical throughout many regions of the world. Genetically modified crops will present important resources to meet agricultural demands under these conditions. Climatologists and geographers will play an important role in predicting where certain new crops can be grown. Plant physiologists and geneticists will make contributions by developing appropriate genetically modified crop varieties. However, these accomplishments alone won’t feed the world’s population. Scientifically literate legal and policy experts will need to develop regulatory policy to govern the development and use of new crops varieties. Experts in social science and ethics must educate and inform public perceptions about the safety and ethical issues concerning the production of such crops. No single person can meet all of these challenges. Effective collaboration amongst experts from a wide range of disciplines will be necessary. Yet many of the relevant disciplines use different dialects, conceptual models, and cultures of practice. Thus, we need people with interdisciplinary training who can work across these boundaries as part of a team to effectively develop and implement creative solutions to this and the many other pressing problems we will face as a society in confronting global climate change.

Peter Armbruster is a faculty member in the Department of Biology at Georgetown University. He studies the molecular physiology of climatic adaptation in the invasive and medically important mosquito, Aedes albopictus.

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