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Public and expert perceptions of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary

Thomas, Merryn Jane ORCID: 2013. Public and expert perceptions of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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As coastal communities become increasingly exposed to the risks posed by sea-level change, understanding their beliefs and responses becomes more important. While studies have identified differences in lay and expert understandings of climate change, little research has investigated how these groups understand sea-level change. This thesis uses a mental models approach to explore and compare expert and public perceptions of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary, a threatened coastal environment in the southwest of the United Kingdom. A three-phase methodology is adopted. First, expert perceptions are investigated through semi-structured interviews, probability elicitations and cognitive mapping with experts in the field of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary (N=11). Second, public perceptions are investigated through mental models interviews that include a semi-structured discussion, a picture sorting task, and a cognitive mapping session (N=20). Third, perceptions raised during public interviews are explored by way of a wider survey of members of the public living around the Severn Estuary (N=359). These perceptions are then compared and contrasted. A grounded approach is utilised to explore themes emerging from expert and public qualitative interviews, while regression analyses explore the relationships between themes explored in the quantitative public survey. Results show areas of public understanding consistent with expert understandings: most public respondents think that sea levels will rise, leading to increased flooding and property damage. However, the Severn Estuary public does not feel well informed about sea-level change, and there are a number of key differences between expert and public perceptions. For example, there is low public salience of some of the key drivers of sea-level change and its indirect impacts. Perceptions are influenced by many factors including information sources, the ways in which individuals think about the future, and the biases that they hold. Many findings are consistent with climate change research more generally. For example, respondents tend to express low concern about sea-level change in relation to other matters such as the economy; they feel detached from the issue, seeing it as something that will happen in the future to other people; and they perceive that neither the causes of nor responses to sea-level change are their responsibility. From an applied perspective, the study fills a research gap in how the Severn Estuary public perceives sea-level change in their region, and provides insights into how it might best be communicated. From a methodological perspective, the study illustrates the utility of using mixed methods, interdisciplinary approaches for investigating public and expert perceptions of specific climate change risks.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Funders: Cardiff University President's Scholarship
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2022 09:38

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