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UBC Theses and Dissertations

On the implications of governance institutions for sustainability and climate change adaptation : a study of Whitehorse, Yukon Vadeboncoeur, Nathan Noel


Climate change will pose a challenge to governance structures in areas like the Canadian North (Berkes et al. 2005:225). Climate research has often been divorced from its social context (Cohen et al. 1998:341) and its normative aspects have long been ignored (Swart et al. 2003:S20). Using the city of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, as an example, this thesis explores how social context can influence the approaches of governance institutions to environmental policy. This study examines the environmental beliefs of members of the City of Whitehorse and Yukon Territorial Government (YTG) to establish if there are institutional cultural norms promoting a particular environmental orientation among employees. Institutions have been shown to exert pressures on their employees to conform to institutional cultural norms (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983), and there is a broad literature establishing connections between environmental beliefs and values and environmental actions (e.g. Van Liere and Dunlap, 1980; Stern et al. 1995a; Stern et al. 1995b; Stern et al. 2000; Poortinga et al. 2004; Schultz et al. 2005). Thus, institutional environmental belief norms may influence the way City and YTG employees perceive environmental issues and affect the way they plan adaptation strategies. We found some evidence that social forces within institutions influence environmental beliefs. Beliefs regarding one’s confidence in technology to address environmental problems are likely influenced by on-the-job socialization, while other beliefs are not, and may be selected for through selective hiring. Personal definitions of sustainability were strongly related to institutional affiliation, as were perceptions of a sustainability policy document. Our results indicate that definitions of sustainability, and to a lesser extent, environmental beliefs, are influenced in part by institutional cultural norms. These norms have the potential to affect policy choices and shape the adaptation strategies of governance institutions.

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