People Don't Need to 'Believe' in Climate Change to Act On It, Study Suggests
By Kristen Pope
Skiing and glacier-viewing are two of the most popular tourist draws in Washington state's North Cascades communities of Glacier and Concrete, but residents worry that uncertain snowfall and receding glaciers may put their tourism-based livelihoods in jeopardy.
To encourage tourism, these Washington communities on the slopes of Mount Baker are adapting to climate change by holding new festivals and events and expanding existing festivals, such as Cascade Days and the North Cascades Vintage Fly-In.
However, according to a recent study by Columbia University anthropologist and professor Ben Orlove and colleagues, local residents don't necessarily view these adaptations through a climate change prism. Rather, they view them from a community frame. From that perspective, residents of those communities focus on how they can adapt and promote the area's economic vitality, for example, rather than focusing on adaptation to climate change specifically.
One take-home message from their research: Understanding which frames local residents use can help engage communities and empower them to adapt to a changing world.
In addition to studying communities in the North Cascades, Orlove and colleagues studied communities in the Italian Alps and Peruvian Andes to see how people are adapting to, and talking about, climate change. Each of the communities they studied is located along streams or rivers that come directly from glaciers, so local residents could be affected by the speed of melt and resulting flow and also by related natural hazards. Each location also relies on industries, such as agriculture and tourism, dependent on local resources.
The locations selected for study represent different continents and both developing and developed countries. The communities are considered to be at the forefront of adaptation because glacier retreat is directly observable and closely linked to climate change.
The researchers wanted to learn whether residents discussed climate change adaptation through a climate change frame or a community frame. They conducted one-on-one interviews with local residents, hosted focus group discussions, and analyzed community meeting minutes. Using qualitative and quantitative analyses, they analyzed how people talked about local issues. They watched for keywords like "adaptation" and "resilience," which would signify a climate change-related frame, and terms like "heritage," "neighbor," and other similar language that would represent a community frame.
Finding a Framework
Orlove and his colleagues discovered that their study subjects use both climate change and community frames to describe the impacts of climate change, though they use the community frame more frequently.
"We find that the community frame is the dominant one in all three cases," the authors wrote in their paper. "In all three communities, people perceive climate change impacts, along with socioeconomic impacts, and they act on these impacts, but they do not link the two with predictions based on the climate change frame," they said.
The researchers found that the Washington residents don't typically discuss the scientific processes of climate change, but they see adaptation, such as expanding festivals, "through a community frame, as ways to support livelihoods, maintain awareness of the past, retain young people, and draw out-migrants back."
In the Italian Alps, residents face an impact of climate change when the local hydropower plant produces less electricity because of fluctuating flows in the glacier-fed river, or when the plant is forced to shut down periodically because of climate change-related debris flows from the glacier. With declining natural snowfall, local ski resorts are having to make more snow and using a lot of electricity to do so, further taxing already limited power sources. In response to this increasing demand for electricity, the community added biomass generation as a source of electricity. However, according to the Orlove study, residents tend to view these changes from a community frame, speaking to the economic rather than environmental benefits of the biomass plant and speaking proudly about the local electricity cooperative's history.
The Peruvian village of Copa depends on the Rio Allancay to provide water for irrigation and daily use. A receding glacier, increasing temperatures, and less reliable rainfall are leading to water supply problems, and residents are making changes like piping water and lining earthen canals to retain more water. They mainly discuss these changes from a community frame or perspective.
While the researchers found all of the studied communities making adaptations to climate change, they wouldn't necessarily describe them as such. Instead, they "articulated them through the community frame rather than the climate change frame," according to the study.
People were also more likely to mention climate change when they were talking to a researcher. "One of our most striking findings is that though people in all three settings mentioned climate change some, they mention it more often when the researcher is present," Orlove said. However, when a researcher wasn't present, they often talked about other things instead.
Acting On, Without ‘Believing In,’ Climate Change
Some think people must "believe" in climate change in order to care about the issue, but this study suggests that people can work toward climate adaptations without necessarily "believing in" climate change or seeing the issue through a climate change frame.
"Many people think that belief in climate change is a necessary precursor to action on climate change, that only by understanding the enormous scale of climate change will people develop the sense of urgency to craft solutions quickly and the commitment to carry them through," Orlove said.
But he and his colleagues found the community frame can also be a way to encourage people who "don't believe in climate change" to work toward solutions. Orlove found people were inspired to participate in projects to help the community adapt to climate change when they believed these projects would help strengthen their community and advance it.
He also notes the language used in messaging is crucial, and he believes people may feel more connected to the concept of resilience rather than adaptation. "Resilience speaks more directly to the deeply-felt wish that communities will continue to thrive and flourish," Orlove said. Being aware of language and messaging and what local communities want and need is crucial to successful climate communication.
‘What Does It Matter to Them?’
Carla Roncoli, senior research scientist at Emory University, is among many communications experts emphasizing the importance of learning more about how people perceive climate change in different locations. "You have to understand what are people concerned about," Roncoli said. "What does it matter to them? What are the values that [inform] their actions and their decisions?"
Roncoli points to the example of African farmers she's worked with. While rain is important to them, they often view it differently than western scientists might. While scientists might be most interested in the quantity of rainfall, the farmers are often more interested in the process, according to Roncoli. "They look at when it rains, how long it rains for, whether it's during the day or the night," Roncoli said. "Those are the kinds of parameters they're interested in, not so much the sheer quantity."
She says these factors are important because they help the farmers determine which crops to plant and how to vary depending on whether they're expecting three months of rain or five.
"Many people around the world have their strongest social ties to the neighbors and relatives with whom they live," Orlove said. "They look to these communities for support, they look to these communities for solutions." That point underscores the value, the researchers say, of taking the needed time to work at the community level and learn how people frame climate change conversations.
Orlove points out that while governmental solutions and intergovernmental cooperation are necessary, so too are community contributions.
"If climate change is a global issue, adaptation is often a local response," Orlove said. "So for the people themselves the community is where they look first for solutions, and this study shows the enormous potential within communities."
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By Karen Charman
When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse<p>Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.</p><p>Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/27/us/donald-trump-taxes.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">self-dealing</a> and abusing their positions of authority. One example is Trump's first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who aggressively worked to overturn Obama's climate regulations, spent most of his time in <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-epa-head-steps-down-after-wave-of-ethics-management-scandals/2018/07/05/39f4251a-6813-11e8-bea7-c8eb28bc52b1_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">private meetings</a> with fossil fuel and chemical company executives, sidelined career EPA staff and reconfigured independent scientific advisory boards to make them more supportive of the industries EPA is charged with regulating. Dubbed "<a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-pruitt-leaves-20180705-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one of the most scandal-plagued Cabinet officials in U.S. history</a>," Pruitt resigned in disgrace after revelations about his multiple brazen abuses, including using the agency as his personal concierge service and piggy bank.</p><p>Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/andrew-wheeler-acting-epa-administrator-former-number-two-before-scott-pruitt-resignation/" target="_blank">former coal industry lobbyist</a> and longtime Republican Washington insider, took over and has continued Trump's deregulatory agenda apace.</p><p>At the Department of Interior (DOI), a sprawling agency that oversees 75 percent of the country's public federal lands and includes the U.S. Geological Survey, which is tasked with evaluating natural hazards that threaten life and the health of our ecosystems, Trump installed another flamboyant anti-environmentalist to head the agency. Like Pruitt, Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/05/07/epa-dismisses-half-of-its-scientific-advisers-on-key-board-citing-clean-break-with-obama-administration/" target="_blank">ditched more than 200 advisory panels</a>, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. Described by one environmental group as "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/interior-secretary-zinke-resigns-amid-investigations/2018/12/15/481f9104-0077-11e9-ad40-cdfd0e0dd65a_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation's history</a>," Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.</p><p>The DOI is now run by Zinke's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of <a href="https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/05/this-is-still-happening-david-bernhardt-trump-lincoln.html" target="_blank">several government ethics complaints</a> for various violations favoring polluting industries.</p><p>More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19032015/u-delaware-refuses-disclose-funding-sources-its-climate-contrarian" target="_blank">funded by fossil fuel interests</a>, was hired for a <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/12/912301325/longtime-climate-science-denier-hired-at-noaa" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">top job</a> advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Legates has called for <a href="https://www.democracynow.org/2020/9/18/noaa_david_legates_climate_crisis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increasing carbon emissions</a>.</p><p>The Trump administration has done much more than stack government agencies with fossil fuel industry proponents. It has removed or diluted discussion of climate change from as many government platforms as it can and decimated independent scientific advisory boards that provide unbiased, fact-based information the government needs to enact policies that protect the public. It has also <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/482352-trump-budget-slashes-funding-for-epa-environmental-programs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slashed environmental agency staffing and budgets</a>.</p>
The Damage So Far<p>A September 17 <a href="https://rhg.com/research/the-rollback-of-us-climate-policy/" target="_blank">report</a> by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. These include repealing Obama's main climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce dirty emissions from power plants; increasing pollution from cars by rolling back fuel economy standards and challenging California's longtime authority to set stricter emissions standards; targeting controls on hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners that also destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer; and allowing unreported and unregulated emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, by oil and gas companies.</p><p>Besides these measures, Trump is also trying to gut core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, all of which were enacted to protect human health and preserve a livable world.</p><p>The Paris agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and hopefully cap it at 1.5 degrees C or lower. We are now at approximately 1.2 degrees C and counting.</p>
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By Jan Ellen Spiegel
It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.
Potential Climate Voters<p>In a September 1 memo on climate and the election, Andrew Baumann, vice president of the consultants Global Strategy Group, wrote: "Few issues have seen as dramatic a shift in public opinion as climate change has over the last few years. Only marriage equality and the recent shift in views around racial justice outpace the rapid growth in the salience of climate change as an issue."</p><p>Calling it a "winning political issue" the memo says: "First, it is clearly a motivator for both younger and Latinx voters. Second, it has the power to move swing voters, particularly center-right white women."</p><p>Baumann points to a finding that when a group of such women were asked generic ballot questions, Democrats trailed by nine percentage points. But when the question was revised as a choice between:</p><p>"A Democrat who supports taking strong government action to combat climate change.<br>A Republican who opposes taking strong government action to combat climate change."</p><p>… the result was a 29 percentage point shift, putting Democrats ahead by 20 percentage points among that same group.</p><p>"I think it is playing a role," says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, a longtime outspoken climate activist who is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and also on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. If Democrats win back the Senate, he stands to play an even more pivotal climate role as part of the majority. He is not up for re-election this year.</p><p><span></span>"I think from the Democratic side it's playing a role in generating enthusiasm – particularly making younger voters feel that they have a real stake in this election. On the Republican side, I think things have moved enough that candidates can no longer get away with simply scoffing about climate change."</p>
Climate a Top Concern for Youths, Latinx<p>So who's still thinking climate? Mostly young voters – 18 to 25 or 29 and Latinx voters.</p><p>Climate and the environment are the top concern among young voters, just above racism and healthcare according to <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CIRCLE</a>, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which focuses on the political life of young people in the U.S. For Latinx youth, it drops a bit but remains in the top three.</p><p>The issues young people care about have an impact on how they volunteer their time, says Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE. He says that's played out most notably through the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on climate change and the environment along with other key activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.</p><p>He points to polling this summer that showed that 83% of 18-to-29-year-olds felt they had the power to change things. "Young people feel much more empowerment than in 2016 and 2018," Lundberg says. "It's intentional these movements are carving out space for young people. It's an important strategy."</p><p>In positions of power in these organizations, young people have developed peer-to-peer outreach on activism. And Lundberg says young people have made the leap that connects activism to voting as a lever for change. "In the past in very close races, young people breaking heavily have provided the margin of victory," he says.</p><p>CIRCLE is highlighting 10 U.S. Senate races as ones in which young voters can be decisive. Several of them have notable climate or environmental components – most prominently the Colorado and Montana races.</p><p>The Republican incumbents in each state – Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana – are running against a popular Democratic governor – John Hickenlooper in Colorado, now out of office — and Steve Bullock, still the governor of Montana. Both governors have had to balance their state's fossil fuel economic interests with supporting climate change solutions.</p>
Tying Climate Change to the Economy<p>In August, Data for Progress, a progressive research think tank, released polling on climate change – including in the battleground Senate elections in Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – showing voters back a Senate candidate supporting strong climate action.</p><blockquote>Climate change as 'mobilizing issue … key persuasion issue.'<br></blockquote><p>It also showed that linking climate change to the economy may be key. That means talking about clean energy and jobs together, says Danielle Deiseroth, climate data analyst for <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank">Data for Progress</a>. She says that in addition to jobs, climate change issues include climate justice and economic equality – both of heightened interest because of fallout from western wildfires.</p><p>"Climate change, we've observed over the last year or so, is a key mobilizing issue and a key persuasion issue," she says. "Climate issues can only grow support for Democratic candidates.</p><p>"I think it's pretty naive to say climate is the key issue for voters. For a lot of voters it really exemplifies so many things that are wrong with the Trump presidency," Deiseroth says.</p><p>So a factor among others. Helpful, but pivotal only in narrow circumstances.</p><p>At the League of Conservations Voters, a progressive environmentalist organization putting a lot of money and effort into the 2020 races, Senior Director of Political Affairs Craig Auster says: "I'll push back that climate change doesn't matter or isn't registering."</p><p>"It's still showing up in several Senate races. It's been playing a role in almost all of them."</p><p>Candidates are still talking about it, he says, pointing to Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and other states where ads are addressing climate and environmental issues. That shows the candidates believe their opponent is vulnerable on the issue or they're strong on it, he says.</p><p>Like others, Auster calls climate a motivator.</p><p>"Climate change matters," he says. "We have proof point after proof point about what's happening, whether it's a hurricane, a superstorm, derechos in Iowa, or wildfires out west.</p><p>"Pre-COVID it was top tier for Democratic voters along with healthcare. If COVID didn't happen I think climate would be a big deal."</p>
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