How to Talk about Climate Change in the High Plains

Authors: Paul Adams*, University of Texas at Austin
Topics: Communication, Sustainability Science, Political Geography
Keywords: high plains, discourse, climate change, political geography, scaling, sense of place
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Regency Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Discourses in and about the High Plains as an environment, particularly its vulnerability to drought and dependency on a depleted aquifer, serve as a useful lens on environmental communication in general. Areas of the US most at risk from resource depletion and climate change are often dominated by discourses resistant to government measures that would support resource conservation and climate change mitigation. This resistance appears on the surface to be self-defeating and illogical because it rejects expert opinions about how to maintain a sustainable rural economy. However, there is an internal logic to these “anti-environmental” discourses and politics. Dominant environmental discourses construct symbolic hierarchies favoring the large over the small and the far over the near—hierarchies which clash with local discourses favoring the small over the large and the near over the far. Therefore talk of “global” climate change is rejected in the High Plains because it depends on a scalar hierarchy in which the global informs the local. Interview data indicates that to enhance climate change communications in the High Plains it helps to avoid delegating authority to the global scale; one should talk about adaptation and mitigation solely through local stories, that is, through references to local values, experiences, and symbols.

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