Is climate policy more threatening than climate change?

Published online: Sep 26, 2013
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How threatening is climate change? According to a study from the University of California-Davis, climate change isn't nearly as threatening to farmers as climate policy.

"We found that the past matters," said lead author Meredith Niles, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Ecology and Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis. "Farmers' past perceptions of different environmental policies had a larger impact on their climate change beliefs and policy behaviors than their actual experience with climate change."

Published in the journal Global Environmental Change, the study drew on responses from surveys returned by 162 farmers and ranchers in 2011.

The results: in the face of drought, water shortages and heat waves largely blamed onhuman-caused climate change, farmers felt more threatened by federal climate policies.

"For me, to be concerned about it [climate change] at my level and at my point, I don't think it's useful for me. I have other more important things that affect my business or my family that I want to spend time on versus something that could happen 10,000 years from now," one farmer was quoted in saying to researchers.

Many farmers believe that adapting to changing weather isn't a new trend - it's a centuries-old, inherent part of the occupation. Even so, 70 percent agreed that government regulations make it more difficult for farmers to adapt to climate change risks.

``Theoretically, it's more likely the drought will be because of a government changing the rules on water rights and shipping some of it down south," one farmer said.

``The California Air Resources Board does not understand agriculture and how you have a dirty engine that serves a purpose on several square miles of farmland for just a few hours a year and you have to get rid of that engine and drop 30 or 40 grand for a brand new engine, which will be obsolete again in a few more years," another farmer told researchers. "They don't realize how that can break a farm.''

Researchers also found that perceptions of policies became more favorable over time, and 48 percent of the farmers say that they would participate in a government incentive program for climate change mitigation and adaption.  

"This shows that farmers are willing to overlook negative past perceptions if there are incentives offered for them," Niles said.

Another study, completed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, showed that many rural citizens have already lost interest in climate change. Nearly half of the respondents believe that climate change is just a part of normal climate patterns.