Cognitive and affective barriers to climate change adaptation: Exploring the risk and adaptation appraisals of South Australians to different climate risks

Adaptation Research Grants Program
Peng Bi
University of Adelaide

Executive summary from final report

In late 2011, the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) engaged the Discipline of Public Health at The University of Adelaide to improve knowledge of how South Australians perceived and understood the likely adverse implications arising from a changed climate, and how associated adaptation choices were represented. This research was conducted in two complementary phases, and the following report details the findings yielded from four focus groups conducted in the cities of Port Adelaide/Enfield, Noarlunga, Mount Gambier and Whyalla - and a telephone survey, conducted with a representative sample of 500 South Australians. The focus group study recruited 22 participants and elicited, in their own words, a wide range of people’s views and sense-making practices pertaining to climate change and adaptation. The major themes identified are summarised below. 

The survey study utilised Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) to further explore the salient themes identified in the focus groups. Specifically, the survey investigated the following questions: what climate change risk domains are salient to people in South Australia; to what degree are ‘human’ and ‘natural’ factors depicted as causing climate change; the kinds of affective imagery associated with climate change risk; people’s knowledge of adaptation practices; and the extent to which respondents felt they could successfully engage in adaptation practices. The principle findings from the survey are summarised below.

This study makes a novel contribution to the literature on climate change understanding in South Australia, and has gone some way toward satisfying the overarching aim of conducting research with translational application, facilitating the development of knowledge that informs best practice for strategising on climate change adaptation and communication. We envisage that this report will constitute a timely and practical resource for policy makers - especially those engaging in the development of climate change adaptation plans - fellow researchers, councils, community environment groups, and other stakeholders in South Australia who hold an interest in this most critical phenomenon. We anticipate that this study will stimulate further research attending to the examination of community understandings of climate change, especially with methods that holistically explicate the dynamic social, material and psychological processes impacting on how individuals make sense of its dangers and associated adaptation responses