Karen O'Brien

Karen O'Brien
University of Oslo · Department of Sociology and Human Geography

PhD in Geography, Pennsylvania State University

About

132
Publications
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Introduction
Skills and Expertise

Publications

Publications (132)
Article
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Calls for transformations are clear and multiple pathways and alternative visions for the future have been defined. Yet, there is very little shared understanding of how such transformations come about and how knowledge-action gaps will be filled. This Special Feature focuses on how we can go beyond talking about transformation—the “blah blah blah”...
Article
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College and university students are eager to engage with transformative solutions to the climate crisis, but often struggle to see openings or possibilities where they can leverage their actions and really “make a difference.” While climate change education often focuses on the physical dimensions of climate change and the evaluation of political,...
Article
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Climate change, biodiversity loss, the COVID-19 pandemic, and growing inequity and poverty are some of the key global challenges facing us today. These multiple and interacting crises have elicited growing appeals to the need for transformation. Yet while the scholarly literature on transformations is expanding rapidly, the concept risks becoming a...
Chapter
Can we imagine a cultural transformation that catalyses policies and actions to meet climate and sustainability goals? How would such a transformation come about? Specifically, what factors and experiences might contribute to cultural tipping points for sustainability, i.e. a point in time where sustainability is prioritised, promoted and more impo...
Article
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Research on global environmental change has transformed the way that we think about human-environment relationships and Earth system processes. The four Ambio articles highlighted in this 50th Anniversary Issue have influenced the cultural narrative on environmental change, highlighting concepts such as “resilience,” “coupled human and natural syst...
Technical Report
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The IPBES Bureau and Multidisciplinary Expert Panel, in the context of the extraordinary situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and considering the role that IPBES can play in strengthening the knowledge base on biodiversity, decided that IPBES would organize a “Platform workshop” on biodiversity and pandemics, in accordance with the procedures...
Article
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Formalised knowledge systems, including universities and research institutes, are important for contemporary societies. They are, however, also arguably failing humanity when their impact is measured against the level of progress being made in stimulating the societal changes needed to address challenges like climate change. In this research we use...
Article
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Young people represent a powerful force for social change, and they have an important role to play in climate change responses. However, empowering young people to be “systems changers” is not straightforward. It is particularly challenging within educational systems that prioritize instrumental learning over critical thinking and creative actions....
Article
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There is growing interest in studying processes of human sensemaking, as this strongly influences human and organizational behavior as well as complex system dynamics due to the diverse lenses people use to interpret and act in the world. The Cognitive Edge SenseMaker® tool is one method for capturing and making sense of people’s attitudes, percept...
Article
Harriet Bulkeley’s article raises some of the persistent challenges of integrating social science perspectives into climate change research. In this commentary, we consider a broader and deeper approach to integration that introduces multiple entry points for engaging with climate change research, education, and training. We argue that an integrati...
Article
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The policies and decisions made today will influence climate and sustainability outcomes for the remainder of this century and beyond, and youth today have a large stake in this future. Many youth are expressing dissent toward economic, social, and environmental policies and practices that contribute to climate change in diverse ways, but clearly n...
Article
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The most critical question for climate research is no longer about the problem, but about how to facilitate the transformative changes necessary to avoid catastrophic climate-induced change. Addressing this question, however, will require massive upscaling of research that can rapidly enhance learning about transformations. Ten essentials for guidi...
Chapter
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The chapter presents the history and current thinking on vulnerability as a concept in interdisciplinary environmental studies, arguing that it has proven valuable for understanding why some groups are more affected than others by the negative consequences of environmental challenges such as climate change. Citing key literature, we trace the conce...
Article
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Carbon roadmaps and pathways are important for describing, planning and tracking the technical, managerial and behavioral changes that are consistent with the Paris Agreement. Nevertheless, roadmaps and pathways for decarbonization often gloss over a fundamental question: ‘How do deliberate social transformations happen?’ Often the social complexit...
Book
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'Perspectives on transitions to sustainability' presents a variety of analytical perspectives on systemic change, exploring what insights they collectively offer for policy, governance and knowledge creation. The report includes five academic papers drafted by internationally recognised experts in the field of sustainability transitions. For each o...
Article
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The concept of transformation in relation to climate and other global change is increasingly receiving attention. The concept provides important opportunities to help examine how rapid and fundamental change to address contemporary global challenges can be facilitated. This paper contributes to discussions about transformation by providing a social...
Article
In an Editorial now published in “Global Environmental Change”, 18 climate policy researchers argue that analyses of equity and justice are absolutely essential for our ability to understand climate politics and contribute to concrete efforts to achieve adequate, fair and enduring climate action for present and future generations. Climate change ac...
Article
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Since it was first proposed in 2000, the concept of the Anthropocene has evolved in breadth and diversely. The concept encapsulates the new and unprecedented planetary-scale changes resulting from societal transformations and has brought to the fore the social drivers of global change. The concept has revealed tensions between generalized interpret...
Article
Climate change is recognized as an urgent societal problem with widespread implications for both natural and human systems, and transforming society at the rate and scale that is mandated by the 2015 Paris Agreement remains a major challenge. Do we need to be open to new paradigms for social change? In this opinion piece, I draw attention to the em...
Article
Kelman makes an important point about the power of constructive group dynamics in collective action, and he emphasizes the drawbacks of placing responsibility on individuals. He is not alone; Shove is also critical of limiting climate policy objectives to individual attitudes, behaviors, and choices
Article
This month, representatives from more than 190 nations are gathering in Paris to participate in the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21). There is widespread demand for a universal and binding political agreement that will limit the global average temperature increase to less than 2°C above its preindustrial value. But an agreement by itself does...
Article
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While the concept of the Anthropocene reflects the past and present nature, scale and magnitude of human impacts on the Earth System, its true significance lies in how it can be used to guide attitudes, choices, policies and actions that influence the future. Yet, to date much of the research on the Anthropocene has focused on interpreting past and...
Book
This book presents a new perspective on adaptation to climate change. It considers climate change as more than a problem that can be addressed solely through technical expertise. Instead, it approaches climate change as an adaptive challenge that is fundamentally linked to beliefs, values and worldviews, as well as to power, politics, identities an...
Chapter
How do we adapt to changes for which we ourselves are responsible? This question is philosophical and personal – as well as deeply political – and it is critical to current discussions and debates about human responses to climate change. As climate change adaptation moves to the forefront of policy debates, there is increasing interest in how socie...
Chapter
We started this book by posing the question, How do we adapt to changes for which we ourselves are responsible? The subsequent chapters provided diverse examples of how and why adaptation to climate change is a social, cultural, political, and human process, intricately linked to wider processes of change. Embedded in these processes are issues rel...
Chapter
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Introduction Following summaries of what we know about climate change impacts, vulnerabilities, and prospects for adaptation (Chapter 18) and reasons for concern (Chapter 19), this chapter summarizes what is currently known about options regarding what to do in responding to these risks and concerns. In terms of "what to do" to address climate chan...
Article
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Transformation as an adaptive response to climate change opens a range of novel policy options. Used to describe responses that produce non-linear changes in systems or their host social and ecological environments, transformation also raises distinct ethical and procedural questions for decision-makers. Expanding adaptation to include transformati...
Article
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Elderly people are known to be more vulnerable than the general population to a range of weather-related hazards such as heat waves, icy conditions and cold periods. In the Nordic region, some of these hazards are projected to change their frequency and intensity in the future, while at the same time strong increases are projected in the proportion...
Chapter
There is clear evidence that humans are influencing the climate system, ocean chemistry, biodiversity, nutrient cycles, ecosystem services and many other processes (IPCC 2013; UNEP 2012). This is accompanied by widespread concern that environmental changes may not only have disproportionately negative consequences for some groups, but may also even...
Chapter
Why worry about the global environment? Are the financial crisis and poverty not far more urgent? And will technological innovation not solve global warming? Looking at problems as separate and discrete can be misleading. Global environmental changes are systemic issues that are closely related to human activities. The solutions thus lie in human a...
Article
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This article reviews research on global environmental change and human security, providing retrospective and tentative prospective views of this field. It explains the roles that the concept of human security has played in research on environmental change, as well as the knowledge that it has contributed. It then discusses the Global Environmental...
Article
There are increasing calls from the global environmental change research community for new strategies for translating knowledge into action. Such calls are not new, yet they are often based on the assumption that more solutions-oriented knowledge about environmental problems will lead to desired outcomes. In this progress report, I argue that it is...
Article
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Acknowledgement This paper was prepared for the Joint Programming Initiative 'Connecting Climate Knowledge for Europe', also known as JPI Climate. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), The Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS) and the Netherlands...
Article
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This paper considers the changes in education and capacity building that are needed in response to environmental and social challenges of the 21st Century. We argue that such changes will require more than adjustments in current educational systems, research funding strategies, and interdisciplinary collaborations. Instead, it calls for a deeper qu...
Article
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Society's response to every dimension of global climate change is mediated by culture. We analyse new research across the social sciences to show that climate change threatens cultural dimensions of lives and livelihoods that include the material and lived aspects of culture, identity, community cohesion and sense of place. We find, furthermore, th...
Article
Full-text available
This article reviews research on global environmental change and human security, providing retrospective and tentative prospective views of this field. It explains the roles that the concept of human security has played in research on environmental change, as well as the knowledge that it has contributed. It then discusses the Global Environmental...
Article
This progress report considers the need for developing a critical body of research on deliberate transformation as a response to global environmental change. Although there is a rapidly growing literature on adaptation to environmental change, including both incremental and transformational adaptation, this often focuses on accommodating change, ra...
Chapter
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Executive Summary Actions that range from incremental steps to transformational changes are essential for reducing risk from weather and climate extremes (high agreement, robust evidence). [8.6, 8.7] Incremental steps aim to improve efficiency within existing technological, governance, and value systems, whereas transformation may involve alteratio...
Book
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Responses to Environmental and Societal Challenges for our Unstable Earth (RESCUE), ESF Forward Look – ESF-COST ‘Frontier of Science’ joint initiative
Article
This article examines whether some response strategies to climate variability and change have the potential to undermine long-term resilience of social–ecological systems. We define the parameters of a resilience approach, suggesting that resilience is characterized by the ability to absorb perturbations without changing overall system function, th...
Article
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This paper reviews how the fields of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) have contributed to the understanding of how cities’ are responding to climate change risks and hazards. A primary objective of the discussion is to highlight the connections, tensions, and areas for cross-fertilization between the two fields as d...
Article
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Climate adaptation has become a pressing issue. Yet little attention has been paid to the consequences of adaptation policies and practices for sustainability. Recognition that not every adaptation to climate change is a good one has drawn attention to the need for sustainable adaptation strategies and measures that contribute to social justice and...
Article
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Despite widespread and growing public recognition of the linkages between environmental change and economic activities, geographic research efforts to date have paid only limited attention to the connections and interactions between climate change and globalization. As a consequence, critical linkages, feedbacks, and synergies between these two pro...
Article
This progress report discusses the role that human geography can potentially play in a paradigm shift in global environmental change research. As the global discourse shifts from understanding and explaining environmental problems to addressing them quickly and effectively, there is a need to integrate insights from the social sciences and humaniti...
Article
Values play a significant role in climate change debates. To date, however, the use of the term values has been narrowly focused on monetary worth, relative worth, or fair return on exchanges. This article argues that another, broader interpretation of values, one concentrating on intrinsically desirable principles or qualities is needed to underst...
Article
In this article, we discuss the limitations of current approaches to climate change adapta tion, which focus predominantly on sectoral and technological approaches and reflect objective, third-person analyses. We then consider how Integral Theory can contribute to new understandings of adaptation by making room for many disciplines, perspectives, a...
Article
Introduction, Climate change is now considered by many to be the most complex and serious environmental issue that human societies have ever faced. The science is unequivocal – human activities are influencing the climate system, contributing to increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, the widespread melting of snow and ice, and risi...
Chapter
Introduction Over the past two decades, human security has developed into an important international discourse that draws attention to the well-being of individuals and communities in the face of multiple stressors and threats. By embracing both normative and ethical perspectives, human security draws attention to the factors that influence the cap...
Book
Presenting human security perspectives on climate change, this volume raises issues of equity, ethics and environmental justice, as well as our capacity to respond to what is increasingly considered to be the greatest societal challenge for humankind. Written by international experts, it argues that climate change must be viewed as an issue of huma...
Article
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"Social contracts play an important role in defining the reciprocal rights, obligations, and responsibilities between states and citizens. Climate change is creating new challenges for both states and citizens, inevitably forcing a rethinking of existing and evolving social contracts. In particular, the social arrangements that enhance the well-bei...
Article
The coverage by E. Kintisch of the Copenhagen Climate Conference (“Projections of climate change go from bad to worse, scientists report,” 20 March, p. [1546][1]) follows the dominant mode of media reporting that has emerged in the weeks following the conference—that of impending doom. As
Article
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This paper describes an initiative to develop a model for understanding the multi-faceted nature and effects of vulnerability. The model is designed to enable analysis and assessment of interventions that address vulnerability, a concept that is widely used across disciplines and in development planning in Africa, particularly in southern Africa. T...
Book
This book explores the connections between two of the most transformative processes of the 21st century, namely global environmental change and globalization. It presents a conceptual framework for analyzing the interactions between these two processes, and illustrates, through case studies, how these interactions create situations of "double expos...
Chapter
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Throughout most of human history the constraints imposed by local environmental conditions and their natural variability were powerful determinants of the security of individuals and societies: animals, droughts, floods, frosts, pathogens, storms, and other environmental perturbations were significant causes of mortality, morbidity and social disru...
Article
There is mounting evidence that climate change influences the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration and timing of extreme weather events, which can potentially increase the risk of disasters (IPCC, 2012). Although it is understood that many of the actions that reduce vulnerability to climate variability and extreme events can positively co...