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Human Footprints on the Global Environment: Threats to Sustainability . Cambridge, MA : MIT Press . 328 pages. ISBN 9780262512992 , $27.00 paperback . Eugene A.Rosa, AndreasDiekmann, ThomasDietz, and Carlo C.Jaeger ( Eds .). 2009 .

The contributors to Human Footprints on the Global Environment set out to assess advances in scholarly understanding of the human dimensions of global environmental change and to identify gaps, opportunities, challenges, and limitations for future research. The book examines the human side of “coupled human and natural systems” (CHANS) in which “cycles of reciprocal causation via feedback loops [. . .] cause [. . .] human components to influence each other and the natural systems” (p. 296). Accordingly, key human drivers identified in the landmark 1992 U.S. National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences study Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions serve as a loose organizing template for the chapters: population change, economic growth, technological change, political–economic institutions, and attitudes and beliefs. In order to provide a sense of timeliness, these drivers are situated in the larger context of accelerated pace, scale, and global spread of environmental impacts. Since the volume's contributors come from a variety of disciplines, half of them are sociologists, the book will be of interest to a wide readership.

Following an introductory overview by Rosa and Dietz, Beck provides a synopsis of his theory on world risk society. In the face of spreading environmental risks, such as nuclear power, he argues, traditional cleavages and corresponding social categories such as social class can no longer provide comfort and identity. Instead, “subpolitics” emerges as a new institutional form of political action outside of and beyond the representative institutions of the nation state. While the influence of subpolitics from below through transnational alliances and from above through international organizations have clearly been on the rise, Beck also notes that this “cosmopolitan moment” affords nation states extended scope for action.

Dietz, Rosa, and York review perspectives from ecology and the social sciences about the interconnectedness of CHANS, with a focus on factors that explain variation across nation states. The authors conclude from their ambitious assessment that fundamental differences remain, for example, regarding the relationship between economic growth and environmental degradation––ecological modernization theorists posit a negative correlation, world systems theorists a positive one. Next, Moran examines progress made in understanding of land cover/land use change. In contrast to Dietz, Rosa, and York, Moran considers this topic as “one domain in which the social sciences and the biophysical sciences come together to ensure robust science of the environment” (p. 137).

Oran Young assesses knowledge about the effectiveness of international environmental regimes. He suggests that while “the sterile debate about whether international regimes matter” may be laid to rest, and although progress has been made in identifying the determinants of regime effectiveness, significant conceptual and methodological problems continue to stand in the way of producing a reliable ranking of environmental regimes.

McCay and Jentoft review recent advances in research on the management of common pool resources. They note that research on self-regulation has produced numerous successful cases but that the approach “bears the risk of interpretation as being prescriptive (thou shalt be small-scale and self-governed) and overly optimistic (when left to their own devices people will reach viable solutions to their collective dilemmas)” (p. 211). The authors propose an ethnographic perspective that emphasizes the embeddedness of property rights and institutional arrangements in “discrete and changing historical moments, social and political relations, and environmental conditions” (p. 212). In this view, tragedies of the commons may result from the dismantling of social bonds under modernity rather than ahistorical individual rational behavior.

In their appraisal of research on vulnerability, Kasperson, Kasperson, and Turner note the lack of an integrative framework and argue that because of disciplinary debates in the social sciences and lack of sustained research funding, cumulative progress “has fallen far short of what could and should have been achieved.” They see hope in the gradually unfolding conceptual shift toward coupled human–ecological systems and corresponding attempts to develop causal maps of the “factors, structures, and processes that produce differential vulnerability to stresses and perturbations.”

The contributors to this volume identify a number of conceptual and empirical issues to be addressed (and better funded) during the coming decade, summarized also in the concluding chapter by Rosa and Dietz. In their respective chapters, Dietz and colleagues urge a focus on the commonalities that have been generated rather than what separates social and ecological science. Young urges regime effectiveness scholars to consider cognitive dimensions, domestic politics, and nonstate actors. Kasperson and colleagues point to the pressing need for testing and concrete applications of competing vulnerability conceptualizations. Most authors agree on the need for comparisons of sufficient size to warrant integrated, quantitative, multivariate analysis. At the same time, they recognize that factors that “ultimately reside in human choice and actions [. . .] are barely on the radar screen of effort and understanding” (p. 307).

Ultimately, the degree to which Human Footprints may dissatisfy readers looking for new insights is a reflection of how successfully global environmental change research has socialized an entire generation of environmental studies scholars; for this reason alone, Human Footprints deserves to be part of any respectable collection.