Social comfort zones for transformative conservation decisions in a changing climate

Authors: Sara Nawaz*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Anthropocene, Global Change, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Climate change, novel interventions, pathway survey, forests, anthropogenic responsibility
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 13
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Scientists and practitioners are increasingly considering novel management interventions that mitigate the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. However, public groups seem to have entrenched resistance to interventionist approaches. We used a decision pathways survey of publics in Canada and the United States (n=1490) to test two propositions relating to climate-motivated interventions for conservation: (i) most public groups will be uncomfortable with interventionist options for conserving biodiversity, and (ii) people are unlikely to shift their opinions because of a reluctance to intervene in natural systems. Our design tested and re-tested levels of comfort with interventions for forest ecosystems at three different points in the survey. We re-examined comfort in light of different nudges (including new information from “trusted experts”) and in reference to a particular species (bristlecone pine). In contrast with expectations that the public will be uneasy with interventionist options, we found moderately high levels of comfort with climate-related interventions in forests. We also found a pronounced shift towards increased comfort in response to new information; those initially comfortable with interventions tended to remain so, and those initially uncomfortable or uncertain became more comfortable after the introduction of specific examples. In short, comfort with interventions was generally high and, where uncertainty or discomfort did exist, such positions did not appear to be strongly held. We argue that a new decision logic, one based on ‘anthropogenic responsibility’, is beginning to replace a default reluctance to intervene in nature.

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