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Climate change policy adapation among California farmers


REACH IGERT trainee Meredith Niles studied socio-economic and political climate change impacts that may affect agricultural communities. She examined policy adaptation — how farmers perceive and may respond to climate change policies — and argued that understanding policy adaptation is as important as understanding biophysical adaptation. Niles conducted a series of 11 interviews and a mail survey of 162 farmers in Yolo County, California in 2010-2011. She examined the influence of climate change experience (i.e. perceived change in water availability over time) and past environmental policy experiences on farmers’ attitudes about climate change. These attitudes included climate change belief, risk perceptions, and policy adaptation, which she measured as perceptions of future climate change regulations and willingness to participate in a government incentive program for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Her results suggest that policy adaptation and policy experiences are a key component of farmer’s climate change perceptions. She found that farmers ranked climate change regulations as their greatest future concern compared with water and temperature impacts. Perceptions of climate change risk influenced policy adaptation measures while climate change beliefs did not. This suggests that communicating climate change risk rather than influencing climate change beliefs may be a more effective tool in climate change policy support and program participation. Niles also found that perceptions of past environmental policies strongly influenced farmer’s climate change beliefs and future concern for climate change policies. Notably, farmers’ past environmental policy experiences did not influence their overall willingness to participate in a government incentive program for climate change.

Address Goals

Niles’ research has tremendous implications for policymakers who seek to create programs that help mitigate contributions to climate change from agriculture. Her work suggests that farmers are willing to overlook their concerns with previous policies if climate change programs are based on incentives. Coupling regulatory measures with technical assistance, cost-share and other incentive-based programs can potentially contribute to greater farmer participation and community buy-in. More generally, the strong role of farmers’ previous experiences with policy in affecting their beliefs about climate change and attitudes toward policy suggest that future climate change and environmental behavior research should consider policy attitudes and experiences as a key independent variable. Niles’ results also demonstrate the need to consider policy adaptation in additional climate change and agriculture research to more completely consider the suite of climate change impacts that may affect agricultural communities.