Climate warming is one of the truly global environmental problems. It affects almost all systems of the world, including sea-level, hydrological regime, vegetation, agricultural production, marine life, and so on. On the other hand, most environmental problems are described as specific phenomena - as declining water quality or loss of forest or biodiversity in a particular place - yet these can also be viewed in global perspective. In arid regions, for example, the construction of large reservoirs and irrigation systems has greatly enhanced agricultural productivity. Such transformations of hydrology and landscape have clear local effects, yet as humankind comes to view the biophysical phenomena found in a place as iterations of larger processes, we recognize that the world is characterized by linkage and connection. Water shortage or soil degradation in one area may lead to food shortage or air pollution in another.
Humans have created new global cycles and scales of interaction with nature. The exchange of people, ideas and materials can stimulate human creativity, yet at present there is little agreement of how to establish patterns of exchange that will simultaneously enhance human wellbeing and ecological integrity. This is the fundamental problem of our time.
Projects in this domain examine the manner in which contemporary environmental problems both contribute to and result from global phenomena and processes. These research projects focus on specific social and environmental contexts in which environmental problems are found, the linkages of these problems to social and material phenomena in other places, and on the conceptual models used to describe such interconnection.
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