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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding preferences for climate change adaptation for protected areas : the psychology of individual risk perceptions Tam, Jordan Yukho


Protected areas (PAs) are a cornerstone of conservation strategy and investment. Unfortunately, climate change and its impacts will render many PAs less effective at safeguarding the species and ecosystems they were designed to protect. To cope with climate change, a number of adaptations for conservation management have been proposed. However, adaptation responses are not without risks. One way to consider the problem of adaptation is as an issue of risk management. In this vein, identifying the factors that shape risk perceptions and the acceptability of those risks is a key question for conservation. To assess whether greater certainty of future climate change and negative feelings are significant factors in determining risk perceptions and acceptability, a 2x2 factorial experiment was conducted via online surveys. Environmental worldviews were also measured using the New Ecological Paradigm (NEP) scale. The experimental design largely failed to produce any detectable effects. In general however, a high tolerance for adaptations was observed. This study also found that adaptation policies appeared to sit along a continuum of risk and of acceptability, which were also significantly and negatively correlated. The most acceptable and least risky policies tended to be those most similar to current conservation practices. Overall, people who had more pro-environmental worldviews (as revealed by higher NEP scores) perceived all adaptations as being equally risky or more risky than people with lower NEP scores. However, despite more pessimistic risk perceptions, high NEP scorers found three policies more acceptable than the low NEP group. These findings appear to support the central tenet of Cultural Cognition theory that risk perceptions are manifestations of personal beliefs and values. Additionally, there was evidence (though non-significant) that people who were fearful and angry saw adaptations as generally more risky and less acceptable than calm individuals. Certainty of climate change did not appear to have much influence on risk perceptions and acceptability. Though more research is needed to make concrete policy recommendations, this study does suggest that risk perceptions matter in shaping people’s willingness to support adaptation and should be a focus of conservation managers.

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