Society's responses and knowledge gaps

Sarah E. Cornell, I. Colin Prentice

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Society’s needs for the knowledge that Earth system science can provide are urgent, but the challenges of knowledge integration and application are substantial. This closing chapter explores some of the issues that arise with the move towards an increasingly ‘applied’ Earth system science. Introduction At the start of this book, we traced the development of Earth system science from its early foundations, including its evolving interfaces with other academic disciplines and policy. Here we take an exploratory forward look, with a particular focus on some of the more contentious issues that currently surround climate science. We draw attention to unaddressed knowledge gaps and unstated conceptual problems, which we believe are making it harder than it need be to establish an effective communication and accommodation between policy-making and science. We argue that it is important to recognize what science can and cannot achieve, and what scholarship could achieve in the service of good policy-making, if the right questions were addressed and methodologies developed. Nothing we say should be interpreted as diminishing the value of Earth system science as a fundamental investigation of the interacting biological and physical/chemical processes that have sustained life on Earth. However, much of the funding that has supported the rapid advances in this field of research during the past two decades has been made available by governments with a more focused agenda, keen to assess the likely magnitude and consequences of anthropogenic climate change and (increasingly) the options for mitigation of, and necessities for adaptation to, climate change on a policy-relevant timescale. Like it or not, scientists have thereby become embroiled in debates and controversies for which they were not well prepared.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnderstanding the earth system
Subtitle of host publicationGlobal change science for application
EditorsSarah E. Cornell, I. Colin Prentice, Joanna I. House, Catherine J. Downy
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780511921155
ISBN (Print)9781107009363
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


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