The Emotional Geographies of Climate Change in Three U.S. Contexts

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Rhian Stotts, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
As climate scientists continue to address the biophysical impacts of climate change, social scientists are becoming increasingly engaged in examining the ethical, political, and sociocultural effects of these changes. One emerging area of research is emotional geography, which involves the study of how the environment is conceived of through emotions. While emotions have long been viewed as part of the private domain, and therefore separate from public behavior, scholars are exploring the ways in which emotional responses mediate and influence such things as political and economic decision-making. As such, understanding peoples’ emotional responses to climate change, and to the uncertainty of its future impacts, is necessary for developing plans for mitigating and adapting to climate change. With this goal, the 2014 Global Ethnohydrology Survey, conducted in association with the Arizona State University Decision Center for a Desert City, employed structured, open-ended interviews focused on respondents’ emotional responses to climate changes that have already occurred as well as the uncertainty associated with future unknown changes. Respondents were also given a close-ended survey focused on connection to place, local ecological knowledge, and basic demographics.  Data were collected with residents in Kodiak, Alaska, the Gulf Coast of Alabama, and Phoenix, Arizona: sites that are particularly vulnerable to predicted climate changes, including fluctuating weather patterns, rising sea levels, and increased aridity. Additionally, respondents in all three sites demonstrate a high degree of skepticism towards human causes of climate change which allows for a comparison of emotional responses between those who are knowledgeable of human-induced climate change and those who deny the human causes of climate change, both within and between sites. The results from our analysis contribute to a better understanding of how residents of vulnerable communities relate to their environment and provide opportunities to improve climate communication and action.