BECS Update
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Environmental Change
and Society
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Spring 2019



Increasing evidence of the impacts of climate and other global environmental changes on our health, economies, and ecosystems highlights the centrality of social and behavioral sciences for identifying equitable and effective solutions to build a more resilient nation. The 4th National Climate Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on warming of 1.5°C confirm that the climate is changing, that the changes are due to human activities, that each additional unit of warming is projected to result in adverse consequences for ourselves, our ecosystems, and our economies, and that it is possible with sufficient political will, including timely and significant investments, to reduce the magnitude of climate change. Human activities, behaviors, and social organizations are at the heart of the challenges and the solutions to climate change.

The coming year will be exciting for BECS, with projects under development that focus on understanding how societal values, norms, socioeconomic factors, markets, and policies affect behavior and decision making at all scales, including individuals, communities, businesses, and governments. Over the coming months, a series of stakeholder meetings are planned with federal agencies and other interested parties to advance discussions on common areas of interest and possible engagement. Examples of topics BECS will explore include
  1. bringing social science insights into effective transdisciplinary collaborations;
  2. identifying innovative tools, methods, and analyses to clarify the interactions of human and natural systems under climate change;
  3. risk management and solution-based research;
  4. management of societal transitions to address the social, political, economic, and equity dimensions of environmental change; and
  5. a framework for climate-related financial disclosures.
These topics build off an exciting workshop held in February 2019 on climate resilient pathways and social science research to action, held in collaboration with the Social Science Coordinating Committee of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. 

Kris Ebi
Board Chair



We have had an exciting and busy past year with BECS─a new chair, a great strategic planning session, a new mission statement, and lots of outreach:

BW + 10, Tenth Anniversary of the Behavioral Wedge at Vanderbilt University
I participated in this dynamic workshop organized by BECS board member Mike Vandenbergh (Vanderbilt University) and his colleague, Jonathan Gilligan.  The workshop explored the potential of the household sector for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the related actions and research needed to support such reductions. Also discussed were strategies for an interdisciplinary effort to identify a private sector wedge – the reasonably achievable emissions reductions over the next decade from private initiatives that target emissions not just from households, but also from corporations, religious organizations, civic and cultural organizations, and other private sector actors. BECS is currently developing an activity on the “private sector wedge” in this area spearheaded by board member Mike Vandenbergh. More information about this program

University of Maryland networking event for graduate students
I have had the pleasure of interacting with a number of students at a few different universities over the past few months. It has been amazing and inspiring to learn about their current work and future career aspirations. In addition to Vanderbilt University, in April, I participated in a “speed networking” event in Washington D.C. to provide graduate students from the University of Maryland’s graduate workshop on the “Fundamentals of Scholarly Communication and Public Engagement” the opportunity to learn more about work at the intersection of science and policy.

Harvard Law School’s Climate Solutions Living Lab
Later that month I attended an event for Harvard Law School’s Climate Solutions Living Lab under the direction of Professor Wendy Jacobs, Director of the Harvard Law School Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic. The Climate Solutions Living Lab brings together advanced students in law, business, public health, design, public policy and engineering to work on multi-disciplinary teams over a semester to develop projects that are designed to produce quantifiable reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, quantifiable public health benefits, and other social and environmental benefits. The projects must be feasible, fundable, permittable, replicable, and scalable. The overall objective is to have these projects carry through to implementation. I learned about fascinating activities related to reducing emissions of HFCs used in cooling equipment across the Harvard campus and extracting heat from the Merrimack River to displace the use of natural gas. The student solutions were quite impressive! The image above shows students from the lab (left to right): Frank Sturges, Martin Wolf, Sejong Youn, Bridget Nyland, Mariana Pereira Guimarães. 
More information about the Lab's projects.

Thanks again to our fantastic Board Members and Committee Members who serve on our activities and provide evidence-based advice to the nation!

Toby Warden



A Systems Approach to Reducing Consumer Food Waste 

The Board is pleased to announce this new study that will examine consumer food waste in the United States at home and away from home. A multidisciplinary committee will apply knowledge from the social and behavioral sciences to identify strategies for behavior change with consideration to interactions and feedback within the broader complex, dynamic food system.

More information about the study



Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop 

This proceedings is based on a workshop that BECS, along with the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate and the Water Science and Technology Board oversaw with bi-national collaboration between the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, with support from the George and Cynthia Mitchell Endowment for Sustainability Sciences, and the Mexican Academy of Sciences, Academy of Engineering, and National Academy of Medicine. It brought together experts from both countries who discussed the key sustainability challenges facing stakeholders in the Mexico – U.S. drylands region and binational priorities for research that could promote sustainable development.  

More information about the report and workshop



BECS Welcomes New Board Member

A warm welcome to our new BECS Board Member Cathy Whitlock. Cathy is a professor of earth sciences at Montana State University and her research interests include Quaternary environmental change, paleoecology and paleoclimatology with a focus on vegetation, fire, and climate history. Following the 1988 Yellowstone fires, Whitlock and her team developed analytical tools to reconstruct past fires from macroscopic charcoal particles preserved in lake sediments; these methods are now used by fire-history researchers around the world and have helped establish a vibrant global paleo-fire community. Cathy is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Learn more about Cathy Whitlock



December 3-4, 2019  BECS Bi-Annual Board Meeting will take place at the Keck Center in Washington, DC. The meeting will include a special, full day seminar on December 3rd to explore smart cities, urban climate resilience, and human-systems integration. This activity will be carried out in collaboration with the Board on Human-Systems Integration. For questions about the meeting, please contact Toby Warden at
The Board on Environmental Change and Society (BECS) mobilizes social and behavioral sciences to identify equitable and effective solutions to the challenges at the intersection of environmental change and society. Such solutions must consider drivers of behavior and decision making at all scales, including individuals, communities, businesses and governments. Critical drivers include societal values, norms, socioeconomic factors, markets, and policies. The Board draws on interdisciplinary expertise to address the social, political, economic and equity dimensions of environmental change.

The board’s work is funded by the National Science Foundation.
Copyright © 2019 National Academy of Sciences, All rights reserved.

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