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Simon D. Donner

Doubts about the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change persist among the general public, particularly in North America, despite overwhelming consensus in the scientific community about the human influence on the climate system. The public uncertainty may be rooted in the belief, held by many cultures across the planet, that the climate is not directly influenced by people. The belief in divine control of weather and climate can, in some cases, be traced back to the development of agriculture and the early city-states. Drawing upon evidence from anthropology, theology, and communication studies, this article suggests that in many regions this deeply ingrained belief may limit public acceptance of the evidence for anthropogenic climate change. Successful climate change education and outreach programs should be designed to help overcome perceived conflict between climate science and long-held cultural beliefs, drawing upon lessons from communication and education regarding other potentially divisive subjects, such as evolution.

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Philip Potter, Navin Ramankutty, Elena M. Bennett, and Simon D. Donner

Abstract

Agriculture has had a tremendous impact on soil nutrients around the world. In some regions, soil nutrients are depleted because of low initial soil fertility or excessive nutrient removals through intense land use relative to nutrient additions. In other regions, application of chemical fertilizers and manure has led to an accumulation of nutrients and subsequent water quality problems. Understanding the current level and spatial patterns of fertilizer and manure inputs would greatly improve the ability to identify areas that might be sensitive to aquatic eutrophication or to nutrient depletion. The authors calculated spatially explicit fertilizer inputs of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) by fusing national-level statistics on fertilizer use with global maps of harvested area for 175 crops. They also calculated spatially explicit manure inputs of N and P by fusing global maps of animal density and international data on manure production and nutrient content. Significantly higher application rates were found for both fertilizers and manures in the Northern Hemisphere, with maxima centered on areas with intensive cropland and high densities of livestock. Furthermore, nutrient use is confined to a few major hot spots, with approximately 10% of the treated land receiving over 50% of the use of both fertilizers and manures. The authors’ new spatial disaggregation of the rich International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) fertilizer-use dataset will provide new and interesting avenues to explore the impact of anthropogenic activity on ecosystems at the global scale and may also have implications for policies designed to improve soil quality or reduce nutrient runoff.

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Kieran M. Findlater, Milind Kandlikar, Terre Satterfield, and Simon D. Donner

Abstract

Despite long-standing assertions that climate change creates new risk management challenges, the climate change adaptation literature persists in assuming, both implicitly and explicitly, that weather and climate variability are suitable proxies for climate change in evaluating farmers’ risk perceptions and predicting their adaptive responses. This assumption persists in part because there is surprisingly little empirical evidence either way, although case studies suggest that there may be important differences. Here, we use a national survey of South Africa’s commercial grain farmers (n = 389)—similar to their peers in higher-income countries (e.g., North America, Europe, Australia), but without subsidies—to show that they treat weather and climate change risks quite differently. We find that their perceptions of climate change risks are distinct from and, in many regards, oppositional to their perceptions of weather risks. While there seems to be a temporal element to this distinction (i.e., differing concern for short-term vs long-term risks), there are other differences that are better understood in terms of normalcy (i.e., normal vs abnormal relative to historical climate) and permanency (i.e., temporary vs permanent changes). We also find an interaction effect of education and political identity on concern for climate change that is at odds with the well-publicized cultural cognition thesis based on surveys of the American public. Overall, studies that use weather and climate variability as unqualified proxies for climate change are likely to mislead researchers and policymakers about how farmers perceive, interpret, and respond to climate change stimuli.

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