Public Policy

R.G. Sposato (chair); L. Whitmarsh; A. Blöbaum; R.I. McDonald. Location: A7

Climate Change Adaptation – Challenges and Chances

R. G. Sposato, N.F. Pidgeon, & L. Whitmarsh

Climate change has long been recognised as a formidable global challenge. Recent debates around appropriate responses to climate change have seen a substantial shift towards a more balanced attention to both mitigation and adaptation. This transition however is not yet fully reflected in environmental psychology research. The current research represents an effort to further our understanding of climate change adaptation as a new puzzle piece in the research field around climate change perceptions and citizenship. To that end two studies were carried out. Study 1 (N=288) finds that patterns of predictors vary between behaviour intentions and policy support but also between adaptation and mitigation measures. Interestingly climate change scepticism is found to be a strong, and more importantly, positive predictor of adaptation intentions. Study 2 (N=250) indicates that framing the climate change discourse in terms of adaptation as opposed to mitigation can induce less partisan reactions; in particular among right leaning audiences. The discussion addresses to what extent trade-off effects between adaptation and mitigation efforts are of concern and then turns to delineate how various aspects of adaptation measures might serve as a catalyst in engaging previously unengaged publics; potentially providing valuable insight for communicators and policy makers.

UK public perceptions of shale gas hydraulic fracturing: The role of audience, message and contextual factors on risk perceptions and policy support

L. Whitmarsh, N. Nash, P. Upham, A. Lloyd, J. Verdon, & M. Kendall

There is growing recognition of the need to understand public attitudes to energy sources, such as shale gas, and to feed these views into decision-making. This study represents the first detailed examination of UK public attitudes to shale gas fracking, including experimental analysis of the effects of different information messages and the relative influence of different audience, message and contextual factors on support and risk perceptions in respect of shale gas fracking. Using an online survey (N=1,457) of the UK public, we find considerable ambivalence about shale gas, but also greater awareness of potential risks than benefits. Prior knowledge is a positive influence on attitudes, although demographics, political affiliation and environmental values are strongest influences. When provided with either environmental or economic information about shale gas, participants became more positive – irrespective of their prior environmental values or whether information was framed in terms of losses or gains. As expected, prior attitudes predicted how information was received: there was more attitude change amongst the most ambivalent respondents. We conclude that additional information about shale gas is more likely to be effective in terms of attitude change if focussed on this ‘undecided’ group.

Environmental psychology knowledge for administrative decision makers – improving mitigation measures

A. Blöbaum, G. Lettmayer, E. Matthies, A. Türk, & I. Kaltenegger

Measures that have been identified in the frame of policies and programmes of mitigation or adaptation to climate change, often encounter barriers. Main barriers are human behaviour and preferences of those affected by the respective measures. As a consequence, even theoretically highly relevant programmes and policies do not lead to the expected results. OECD (2012) underlines that policies affect behaviour not only directly via prices or regulations, but also by indirect impacts on individual perceptions of “morally ideal actions”, contributing to shape attitudes and motivations. The main objective of our project is to analyse and demonstrate how an adapted and “translated” knowledge of environmental psychology may support administrative decision makers in the establishment and successful implementation of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. After case study analysis of European cases of mitigation/adaptation measures set by public authorities and face-to-face interviews with N = 8 Austrian administrative decision makers (at municipal level, federal province level, national level) we conducted a theory-based training event for administrative decision makers. We present and discuss main results of the interviews and the case study analysis and we give a forecast on the one-year coaching and monitoring of decision makers’ daily work and the evaluation programme.

The Goldilocks Principle of support for climate change action: Framing climate change at a distance that’s just right

R. I. McDonald & B.R. Newell

Climate change may be perceived as temporally, socially, spatially and hypothetically distant from the self. Though research on personal experience suggests that psychological proximity may increase support for climate action, existing work has not examined interactions between the four dimensions of psychological distance. Using an edited news article, we manipulated the psychological distance of climate change impacts in terms of their spatial (near, far), social (near, far), temporal (near, far) and hypothetical (certain, uncertain) distance (N=808), and examined the impact on willingness to engage in or support climate change action. Our data demonstrate that when impacts are framed as far in the future, framing them as either spatially or socially close promotes support for climate action, relative to when climate impacts are close on both spatial and social dimensions, or far on both spatial and social dimensions. A second study (N=204), using a modified paradigm, replicated this interaction. This interaction suggests that to encourage action on climate change, impacts should be framed at a distance that’s just right: psychologically near enough to be considered personally relevant, but no so near that they are seen as threatening or insurmountable, nor so far that they seem irrelevant.