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 Matthew J. Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller
When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn't rank very high.
Why It Matters<p>This is not just a matter of growling stomachs. This is a straight-up education and health issue.</p><p>When students don't really know if they'll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For instance, it can affect <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105318783028" target="_blank">academic performance</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sleep quality</a>. It can also lead to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318783028" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poor mental and physical health</a> outcomes for college students.</p><p>Food insecurity can also result in disrupted eating patterns if there is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627945/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not enough food or the variety</a> or <a href="https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">quality of what someone eats</a> is low.</p>
Campus Food Pantries<p>Previous strategies by <a href="https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696254.pdf" target="_blank">colleges and universities</a> to fight hunger in their student bodies have varied widely. They include campus food pantries, emergency cash assistance and nutrition education through noncredit classes or workshopse.</p><p>These strategies were put to the test during the spring 2020 semester, when nearly <a href="https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Hopecenter_RealCollegeDuringthePandemic.pdf" target="_blank">three in five students</a> said they had trouble meeting their own basic needs during the pandemic.</p><p>College food pantries saw <a href="https://www.utrgv.edu/newsroom/2020/05/01-utrgv-student-food-pantry-seeing-recent-increase-in-demand-during-covid-19.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">big increases</a> in demand. Others said they <a href="https://www.theprospectordaily.com/2020/09/22/uteps-food-pantry-is-running-out-of-food/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were getting less donated food</a>. This made it even harder to meet the rising food needs of students.</p><p>Campus food pantries largely rely on local or regional food banks, which have been dealing with <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/2020/10/04/indiana-food-banks-call-more-food-stamps-meet-publics-need/3523683001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">greater demand</a> than they are able to meet during the pandemic.</p><p>The many students who are attending college remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like food pantries.</p>
Federal Help<p>Other potential ways to get more food are government programs like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility" target="_blank">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, known as SNAP. Yet the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students" target="_blank">college SNAP rule</a>, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.</p><p>Such regulatory hurdles were created under the assumption that most students can rely on their parents to get enough to eat. However, college students have vastly different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.</p><p>Decreased reliance on parental financial support is <a href="https://ir.library.louisville.edu/jsfa/vol47/iss3/5/" target="_blank">especially common</a> for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up <a href="https://1xfsu31b52d33idlp13twtos-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Race-and-Ethnicity-in-Higher-Education.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">45% of enrolled college students</a>.</p><p>Under normal circumstances, many college students might rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.</p>
Short-Term Solutions<p>Universities and colleges can make it a priority to ensure students are aware of all available campus resources and services. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.</p><p>Campus food pantries are not a fully effective and efficacious solution for the scale of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increase access to food for students.</p><p>Campuses without food pantries can start one, making use of resources the <a href="https://cufba.org/resources/" target="_blank">College and University Food Bank Alliance</a> provides. Schools with food pantries can try to get them to <a href="https://www.swipehunger.org/5campuspantry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reach more students</a>.</p><p>Universities and colleges can also lean on one another for support. The <a href="http://wp.auburn.edu/endchildhungeral/alabama-campus-coalition-for-basic-needs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs</a> is a great example of this. It brings together 10 universities across the state of Alabama collectively working to address student food insecurity.</p>
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