Understanding our responses to environmental change

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Cultural dimensions of climate change are underestimated, overlooked and misunderstood

New paper in Nature Climate Change

The impact of climate change on many aspects of cultural life for people all over the world is not being sufficiently accounted for by scientists and policy-makers. Our latest paper, ‘Cultural Dimensions of Climate change responses and adaptation’ published in Nature Climate Change, shows that cultural factors are key to making climate change real to people and to motivating their responses.

The paper highlights the cultural experiences that bind our communities and are under threat as a result of climate change. The paper argues that governments’ programmes for dealing with the consequences of climate change do not give enough consideration to what really matters to individuals and communities.

Culture binds people together and helps them overcome threats to their environments and livelihoods. Some are already experiencing such threats and profound changes to their lives. For example, the Polynesian Island of Niue, which experiences cyclones, has a population of 1,500 with four times as many Niueans now living in New Zealand. The research shows that most people will resist migrating because of having a strong cultural attachment to a particular place. There is strong evidence to suggest that it is important for people’s emotional well-being to have control over whether and where they move. We argue that these psychological factors have not been addressed. Furthermore, if the cultural dimensions of climate change continue to be ignored, it is likely that both adaptation and mitigation responses will fail to be effective because they simply do not to connect with what matters to individuals and communities. It is vital that the cultural impact of climate change is considered, alongside plans to adapt our physical spaces to the changing environment.

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