Integration anxiety: The cognitive isolation of climate change
1 May 2018 - 14:45
Findlater, K, M., Donner, S, D., Satterfield, T., Kandlikar, M. • 2018
Experts recommend that decision-makers in climate-vulnerable sectors integrate, or ‘mainstream’, climate change adaptation into their decision-making. Farmers are often thought to do so intuitively, because many climate change impacts will manifest in similar ways to the weather and climate variability that farmers have always faced. However, there is little evidence to suggest whether farmers are already doing this, how they should go about it, and how hard it might be. Here we show that commercial grain farmers in South Africa (N = 90), as a uniquely informative group, are struggling to mainstream climate change risk management despite their apparent incentive, capacity and willingness to adapt. They perform large-scale, highly mechanized, input-intensive grain farming like their peers in higher-income countries (e.g., the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia), but without the government subsidies, crop insurance and irrigation more common in other regions. They are therefore motivated to adapt proactively because they are more vulnerable to the financial harms of weather and climate risks. Our data show that they are explicitly sensitive to the risks of climate change, generally expressing concern for its potential impacts, reporting observed changes, proposing possible adaptations, and expressing the desire to adapt proactively. However, their mental models of climate change (n = 30) are linguistically and structurally isolated from their mental models of weather and other ‘normal’ risks. They are therefore implicitly insensitive to climate change, making it unlikely that they will adapt proactively and rationally to this uncertain risk that they otherwise appear well-equipped to manage.