16 June 2014

Personal experience influences our perception of reality more than theoretically based information. These are the findings of a study of how Swedish farmers view climate change.

Bild på ökenliknande landskap/GoogleFarmers are seen as a strategically important group in relation to climate change. They both influence and are influenced by climate change, to a greater extent than many others. Therese Asplund has been studying how farmers perceive and think about the issue of climate change. She defended her thesis at Water and Environmental Studies, Linköping University, within the Centre for Climate Science and Policy Research (CSPR).

cowIn the industry publications ATL and Land Lantbruk, climate change is represented as scientifically proven. Ms Asplund studied ten years of issues of these magazines (2001-2010), and shows that they discuss climate change in terms of climate politics, conflict and economic challenges.

It was when she held her focus group discussions that her study took a major change in direction. She had prepared a battery of questions around how farmers live with and prepare for climate change. But the discussions went in a completely different direction:

“The participants began by explaining that they didn’t really believe in climate change,” she explains. “Or at least that they were caused by humans. Natural climate change exists, and has always existed.”

What lies behind this conviction is the farmers’ own experience. Many of them have had long working lives and, for example, remember mild winters in the 1960’s. They are also sceptical since the message from climate researchers and the media is so unanimous.

“They think the information about climate change is too homogeneous. It would be more credible if more contrasting perspectives were put forward,” says Ms Asplund.

Climate researchers and media people are judged as less credible, as they are assumed to lack experience of agriculture.

Ms Asplund carried out a total of eight focus group meetings with farmers from across Sweden. The picture that emerged is fairly uniform, and confirms previous findings showing that information alone – no matter how well-grounded scientifically – does not change people’s attitudes or behaviour.

“Their experience-based knowledge is so strong that it takes precedence over analytical, theoretically-based knowledge,” Ms Asplund argues.

She considers how our understanding is shaped by how the message is framed through the words and metaphors chosen. For those people who see climate change as natural, terms like “cyclical, recurring patterns, and fluctuations” are key and the time perspective is very long. On the other hand, for those who see current climate change as caused by man, concepts like “increasing temperatures” and “melting ice” are more important, and the perspective is more short-term.

Ms Asplund defended her thesis on 23 May.

Related links