Newswise — Montréal —Mainstream criticism of people who deny climate change essentially portrays climate skeptics as being out of touch, ignorant or somehow incapable of understanding the facts about climate change.


However, early results of ongoing research by Jacob Lipsman, a University of Kansas doctoral student in sociology, examines alternative reasons for climate change denial. The research specifically examines the economic, social or cultural influences on individuals or entire communities remain skeptical of climate change.


"The most obvious example of this is the instance of an individual who works for an industry, such as in oil and gas production, that may be negatively impacted by regulatory policy," said Lipsman. "This also functions on the community level; for instance, in southeast Louisiana, oil and gas represents a disproportionate source of revenue for coastal parishes."


His project focuses on two Louisiana parishes adjacent to the mouth of the Mississippi River — Plaquemines and St. Bernard. Lipsman assessed perceptions of environmental risk among a vulnerable population in the region and the links between attitudes about climate change and local discursive and political processes surrounding coastal restoration issues in the region.


In Louisiana, the state has already lost over 1,800 square miles of land—an area the size of the state of Delaware— to coastal erosion. The region is a prime place to study alternative reasons for climate change denial because southeast Louisiana communities rely heavily on oil and gas, commercial fishing and maritime industry — all of which would be affected by environmental regulations — for revenue.


"This land loss has major impacts on communities both directly in terms of increased flood vulnerability and indirectly through potentially decreased economic productivity," he said.


He will present findings of pilot research in the project on August 15 at the American Sociological Association 2017 Annual Meeting in Montreal.


So far in his research, Lipsman has found despite the higher than average rates of climate change denial in southeast Louisiana, parish residents have shown an environmental awareness that, on the surface, seems inconsistent with climate attitudes.


"Local residents are aware of coastal erosion and are focused on addressing this issue, whether or not they attribute this land loss to climate change," he said.


A major centerpiece of coastal policy is the Louisiana's Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, a 50-year, $50 billion series of proposals designed to restore Louisiana's coast. The coastal master plan is a major focus in local politics, particularly since the legal settlement from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill has made major funding avenues available for the execution of the master plan.


"We investigate whether this rather than an inability to understand basic science, is a contributor to climate skepticism in the region," Lipsman said.


This work could help those who advocate for climate change policies in how they engage with those who deny climate change based on economic or cultural factors, he said.


"If an individual or a community is resistant to the idea of climate change for economic or social reasons, climate advocates will not be able to effectively communicate with these individuals about climate change simply by presenting more data," Lipsman said. "By better understanding the processes of climate change denial, climate advocates will be better equipped to have an effective dialogue with individuals and communities that are skeptical of these ideas."


The project was funded on a grant from the National Science Foundation.




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The paper, “A Critical Analysis of Local Attitudes on Climate Change and Environmental Risk in Southeastern Louisiana,” will be presented on Tuesday, Aug. 15, at 8:30 a.m. EDT in Montréal at the American Sociological Association’s 112th Annual Meeting.


To obtain a copy of the paper; for assistance reaching the study’s author(s); or for more information on other ASA presentations, members of the media can contact Johanna Olexy, Senior Communications Associate, at (202) 247-9873 or [email protected]. During the Annual Meeting (Aug. 12-15), ASA Public Information Office staff can be reached in the on-site press office, located in Room 449 of the Palais des congrès de Montréal, at (202) 386-8392  (cell).


George Diepenbrock, KU News Service, wrote this press release. For more information about the study, members of the media can also contact Diepenbrock at 785-864-8853, [email protected].


Papers presented at the ASA Annual Meeting are typically working papers that have not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals.