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The Cultural Theory of Risk for Climate Change Adaptation

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  • 1 North Central Climate Science Center, Natural Resources Ecology Lab, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
  • | 2 National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

The way in which people perceive climate change risk is informed by their social interactions and cultural worldviews comprising fundamental beliefs about society and nature. Therefore, perceptions of climate change risk and vulnerability along with people’s “myths of nature”—that is, how groups of people conceptualize the way nature functions—influence the feasibility and acceptability of climate adaptation planning, policy making, and implementation. This study presents analyses of cultural worldviews that broaden the current treatments of culture and climate change mitigation and adaptation decision making in communities. The authors use insights from community-based climate research and engage the Cultural Theory of Risk conceptual framework to situate community understandings of, and responses to, climate impacts. This study looks at how the issue of climate change manifests socially in four cases in the United States and Tuvalu and how ideas about climate change are produced by the institutional cultural contexts across scales from the local to the global. This approach helps us identify local and regional priorities and support the development of new relationships for adaptation research and planning by helping to diagnose barriers to climate change adaptation, assist improved communication through framing/reframing climate issues based on shared understandings and collective learning, and help move from conflict to cooperation through better negotiation of diverse worldviews.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: Shannon M. McNeeley, Ph.D., North Central Climate Science Center, Natural Resources Ecology Lab, NESB A309, Colorado State University, 1231 East Drive, Fort Collins, CO 80523. E-mail: shannon.mcneeley@colostate.edu; hlazrus@ucar.edu

Abstract

The way in which people perceive climate change risk is informed by their social interactions and cultural worldviews comprising fundamental beliefs about society and nature. Therefore, perceptions of climate change risk and vulnerability along with people’s “myths of nature”—that is, how groups of people conceptualize the way nature functions—influence the feasibility and acceptability of climate adaptation planning, policy making, and implementation. This study presents analyses of cultural worldviews that broaden the current treatments of culture and climate change mitigation and adaptation decision making in communities. The authors use insights from community-based climate research and engage the Cultural Theory of Risk conceptual framework to situate community understandings of, and responses to, climate impacts. This study looks at how the issue of climate change manifests socially in four cases in the United States and Tuvalu and how ideas about climate change are produced by the institutional cultural contexts across scales from the local to the global. This approach helps us identify local and regional priorities and support the development of new relationships for adaptation research and planning by helping to diagnose barriers to climate change adaptation, assist improved communication through framing/reframing climate issues based on shared understandings and collective learning, and help move from conflict to cooperation through better negotiation of diverse worldviews.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: Shannon M. McNeeley, Ph.D., North Central Climate Science Center, Natural Resources Ecology Lab, NESB A309, Colorado State University, 1231 East Drive, Fort Collins, CO 80523. E-mail: shannon.mcneeley@colostate.edu; hlazrus@ucar.edu
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