New Book Argues that Social Sciences Are Critical to Climate Conversation: Climate Change is a "People Problem"

Pope Francis recently made an impassioned plea for a “cultural revolution” to combat climate change, calling for collective action and “a conversation which includes everyone.”

Thus far, the climate conversation has often neglected the contributions of one key group: social scientists. According to the new book “Climate Change and Society: Sociological Perspectives,” engaging the social – and not just natural – sciences is essential for effecting large-scale change.

“Though more work always remains, the physical sciences have accomplished their core task when it comes to climate change,” said Bill McKibben, a professor at Middlebury College and author of “The End of Nature.” “We know what we need to know about the causes and consequences of our actions. What we don’t know is how to stop ourselves, which is why this book—and the social sciences—are so important from here on out.”

 “Climate Change and Society: Sociological Perspectives” is scheduled for release from Oxford University Press in September.

Edited by environmental sociologists Robert J. Brulle, PhD, a professor in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Riley E. Dunlap, a professor at Oklahoma State University, the book breaks new ground by presenting climate change as a thoroughly social phenomenon, embedded in behaviors, institutions and cultural practices. 

“Climate change is a social problem,” said Brulle. “If you want to deal with climate change, you have to deal with human behavior."

"We need to expand the conversation to include sociologists who can help address these human dimensions of climate change and answer questions like, how can we change our culture of consumption, how will we respond to extreme weather events caused by climate change and how do we bridge the political divide on this issue," Brulle said. 

This collection of essays summarizes existing approaches to understanding the social, economic, political and cultural dimensions of climate change. From the factors that drive carbon emissions to those that influence societal responses to climate change, the volume provides a comprehensive overview of the social dimensions of climate change.  

The book is scheduled for release from Oxford University Press in September. It is available for pre-order from the publisher and from

According to the authors, an improved understanding of the complex relationship between climate change and society is essential for modifying ecologically harmful human behaviors and institutional practices, creating just and effective environmental policies and developing a more sustainable future. “Climate Change and Society” provides a useful tool in efforts to integrate social science research, natural science research and policy-making regarding climate change and sustainability.

“Our goal is to create intellectual space for more critical perspectives on climate change, as current efforts have yielded little progress in dealing with this urgent problem,” said Dunlap.

Produced by the American Sociological Association's Task Force on Sociology and Global Climate Change, this book presents a challenging shift from the standard climate change discourse and offers a valuable resource for students, scholars and professionals involved in climate change research and policy.

All proceeds from the book will go to the American Sociological Association.

“With one hundred percent of the profits from this book going to the ASA, this project represents a voluntary effort by people who believe this issue merits this level of attention,” said Brulle.

In addition to the editors, among the prominent contributors are Thomas Dietz, PhD, a professor of sociology and environmental science and policy and assistant vice president for environmental research at Michigan State University; Charles Perrow, PhD, professor emeritus of sociology at Yale University; J. Timmons Roberts, professor of sociology and environmental studies at Brown University; and Kathleen Tierney, PhD, director of the Natural Hazards Center, as well as a professor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Brulle is a professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University, and Past Chair of the American Sociological Association's Section on Environment & Technology. He is author of “Agency, Democracy, and Nature: The U.S. Environmental Movement from a Critical Theory Perspective” and co-editor of “Power, Justice and the Environment.” He was a 2012-2013 fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

Dunlap is Dresser Professor and Regents Professor of Sociology at Oklahoma State University, past president of the International Sociological Association's Research Committee on Environment & Society and former chair of the American Sociological Association's Section on Environment & Technology. He is senior editor of the “Handbook of Environmental Sociology” and “Sociological Theory and the Environment,” and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.