Building peace in the minds of men and women

World Social Science Report 2013

Changing Global Environments

The environmental challenges that confront society are unprecedented and staggering in their magnitude, scope, pace and complexity. They have potentially serious consequences for the wellbeing of people all over the world. The consequences of global environmental change are unfolding now; individuals and communities are already struggling to manage often precarious livelihoods; other social, economic and political crises – including persistent poverty, increasing inequalities and social discontent – are intricately linked to and exacerbated by environmental change. Global environmental change changes everything for everyone on this planet – our life support systems, our livelihoods, our ways of life, our actions and interactions with each other. It also changes demands for and on the social, including behavioural and economic sciences.

This is the third edition of the World Social Science Report. Based on a call for proposals, over 150 authors from all over the world have contributed articles. The Report issues an urgent call to action to the international social science community. Social scientists need to collaborate more effectively with colleagues from the natural, human and engineering sciences to deliver relevant, credible knowledge that can help to address the most pressing of today’s environmental problems and sustainability challenges. And they need to do so in close collaboration with decision-makers, practitioners and the other users of their research.

A new kind of social science is needed, one that is bolder, better, bigger, different:

  • Bold enough to reframe and reinterpret global environmental change as a fundamentally social process
  • Better in terms of infusing social science insights into real-world problem-solving
  • Bigger in terms of the need for more social scientists to address the challenges of global environmental change directly
  • Different in the sense of changing the way the social sciences think about and do science – its theories, assumptions, methodologies, institutions, norms and incentives, to help meet the vexing interdisciplinary and cross-sector challenges society faces.

This report aims to engage social scientists working in all disciplines in academia, research institutes, think tanks, NGOs, and government agencies all over the world. The ISSC will use the report as a basis for critical discussion with its members and partners to sharpen the social science knowledge base on global environmental change and to support social science leadership in research for sustainability.

The 2013 World Social Science Report was prepared and edited by the International Social Science Council (ISSC), which became the International Science Council in 2018, with the support of high level specialists from all the over the world. It is co-published by the ISSC, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and UNESCO.





Why elephants?

Human Elephant Foundation, South Africa

“Think big, tread lightly”

The elephant is a metaphor that awakens the yearning for forgotten conversations between humans, the Earth and all living things ... we made these life-size elephants out of recycled materials ... they represent the world of nature from which we have removed ourselves and for which we increasingly yearn.

The elephant is the largest land mammal and thus a symbol of the threat of our ever increasing industrial and commercial development to life on Earth. The elephant is strong and powerful yet also very vulnerable. Elephants and human beings share many characteristics and traits. They both have a highly developed sensibility, a deep-rooted attachment to family, and similar emotional responses.

The Human Elephant Foundation tries to reignite and keep alive the relationship between humans and nature that has been lost, and to encourage everyone to do something meaningful with his or her life. It initiates and facilitates discussion and innovative problem-solving for a more respectful and sustainable world. It aims to bring individuals and businesses together to stimulate their imagination and creativity: the huge problems we face, as this report shows, require the ability and desire to break new ground and generate fresh ideas. Life-size elephants, made out of recycled materials in different regions of the world, could help mobilise communities to get involved in broader human and environmental issues.

The artist and creator of the elephants featured in this report, Andries Botha, lives and works in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is very conscious of the fragile coexistence of people with other forms of life, and has tried to unravel the mystery and responsibilities of living alongside plants and animals. This led to the formation of the Human Elephant Foundation in 2006.

For more information: