Conventional wisdom suggests that farmers who make their living off the land would be most sensitive to the threat climate change poses to their livelihood and therefore among the most vocal of groups urging immediate measures to halt global warming.
Yet, according to one study, farmers who have been experiencing the effects of drought for years don’t believe that climate change is a man-made activity. Social researcher Geoff Kuehne, a consultant to the CSIRO-Ecosystem Sciences, says, however, that by closely examining the reasons farmers—like many others—reject the science of global warming, we can develop useful insights into how to more effectively communicate to non-believers.
For a paper published in March 2014 in the journal Society & Natural Resources, Kuehne interviewed farmers in the Loxton district of South Australia, a region that has suffered severe drought since the mid-2000s, resulting in water rationing and rapidly falling crop prices.
While the farmers he interviewed don’t believe in what scientists say causes global warming, Kuehne also says they’re not climate change deniers—they’ve been experiencing it firsthand. Instead, they’re skeptical that climate change is the result of human behavior.
Kuehne says several reasons contribute to the farmers’ skepticism:
- Farmers learn from experience, and climate change makes itself known over long periods of time.
- Farmers also get information about farming and the climate from media and other farming organizations, some of which are biased against the scientific consensus.
- Skepticism can be encouraged by social groups, too, as farmers discuss, share, and form their opinions by talking to one another.
- Farmers—like most people—are reluctant to accept beliefs that would require them to move away from home or change their livelihoods.
His advice on how to address the farmers’ skepticism can also apply to others who aren’t yet willing to believe in the causes of global warming. The place to start is he says is to recognize “that other issues may be of more immediate concern to them, such as their business viability. He adds that “may help to lessen their resistance to accepting the concept of human-induced climate change, and help them to gain the social, economic, and environmental benefits that flow from this acceptance.”
Society & Natural Resources March 2014
Geoff Kuehne, CSIRO-Ecosystem Sciences