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Laurie Yung, Nicky Phear, Alayna DuPont, Jess Montag, and Daniel Murphy

Abstract

Agricultural producers may be particularly vulnerable to climate impacts, such as drought. To better understand how ranchers respond to ongoing drought and the relationship between climate change beliefs and drought adaptation, in-depth interviews with working ranchers were conducted. Ranchers described drought conditions as unprecedented and detailed the interacting impacts of drought and nonclimatic stressors. They viewed adaptation as critical and employed a wide range of responses to drought, but lack of financial resources, risks associated with change, local social norms, and optimism about future moisture created barriers to change. Most ranchers attributed drought to natural cycles and were skeptical about anthropogenic climate change. Many ranchers likened current drought conditions to past droughts, concluding that conditions would return to “normal.” A belief in natural cycles provided a sense of hope for some ranchers but felt immutable to others, reducing their sense of agency and efficacy. Taken together, climate skepticism, optimism about future conditions, lack of financial resources, and a limited sense of agency might be reducing investments in long-term adaptation. However, the relationship between climate change beliefs and adaptation action was not entirely clear, since the handful of ranchers adapting in anticipation of long-term drought were skeptical or uncertain about anthropogenic climate change. Further, most ranchers characterized adaptation as an individual endeavor and resisted government involvement in drought adaptation. In the context of climate skepticism and antigovernment sentiment, strategies to scale up adaptation efforts beyond the household will only succeed to the extent that they build on local norms and ideologies.

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