Document Type

Dissertation

Publication Date

2014

Abstract

In response to agriculture's vulnerability and contribution to climate change, many governments are developing initiatives that promote the adoption of mitigation and adaptation practices among farmers. Since most climate policies affecting agriculture rely on voluntary efforts by individual farmers, success requires a sound understanding of the factors that motivate farmers to change practices. Recent evidence suggests that past experience with the effects of climate change and the psychological distance associated with people's concern for global and local impacts can influence environmental behavior. This work examines how farmer's perceptions and psychological distance of climate change, environmental policy perceptions, and perceived impacts influence the adoption of adaptation and mitigation behaviors and support for climate change policies across California and New Zealand. A total of 11 interviews and 162 surveys were conducted in Yolo County, California and 37 interviews and 490 surveys were conducted in Marlborough and Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. I used multiple mediation models and structural equation models to understand the relationship of a variety of factors that influence climate change behaviors and policy support. Overall, I found that farmer's experiences with specific climate change events (water in California, water in Hawke's Bay, and water and temperature impacts and future concerns) were the most salient in affecting their adoption of adaptation practices. Conversely, climate change beliefs were the most direct in affecting the adoption of mitigating behaviors. I developed a limiting factors theory based on this evidence to suggest that a farmer's future adoption of adaptation behaviors will be strongly affected by the most limiting factor within their systems (in these cases, water or temperature). Furthermore, I demonstrated the effect of environmental policy perceptions and the drivers of climate change policy support across both regions. In California, in part because environmental policies were perceived to be psychologically "close" to farmers, I found that farmer's past experiences with existing environmental policies had a larger influence on their climate change beliefs, risk perceptions and climate change policy support than their experiences with biophysical climate change impacts. Similarly, in New Zealand, I found that climate change policy support was heavily affected by climate change belief, and risk perceptions, but also strongly influenced by farmer's perceptions of the costs of climate change policies and the perceived capacity that the farmer possessed about their ability to reduce their own emissions. Overall, this work suggests that farmer's perceptions of climate change events, beliefs and risk perceptions are crucial precursors to predicting the adoption of adaptation and mitigation behaviors. However, environmental policy perceptions, cost perceptions and perceived capacity are also important for predicting support for climate change policies. Additional future work can apply these theories and approaches in other regions of agricultural production to understand if there are universal predictors for climate change behaviors.

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