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Stability and change in British public discourses about climate change between 1997 and 2010

Capstick, Stuart B. ORCID:, Pidgeon, Nicholas Frank ORCID: and Henwood, Karen ORCID: 2015. Stability and change in British public discourses about climate change between 1997 and 2010. Environmental Values 24 (6) , pp. 725-753. 10.3197/096327115X14420732702617

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Public understanding of climate change has been a topic of environmental social sciences research since the early 1990s. To date, temporal change in climate change understanding has been approached almost exclusively using quantitative, survey-based methodologies, which indicate that people's responses on a limited number of measures have indeed altered in response to changing circumstances. However, quantitative longitudinal evidence can be criticised for presenting an overly simplistic view of people's beliefs and values. The current study is the first to explore changes in public understanding over an extended time period using in-depth qualitative methods. The study utilises a novel longitudinal methodology to explore changes in discourses across six separate datasets collected over the period 1997-2010, comprising a total of 208 public participants from across Great Britain. We find for the first time that discourses regarding the relevance of climate change to everyday life, and concerning rationales for personal action have exhibited subtle but important shifts over this period. By contrast, other aspects of public understanding have exhibited considerable stability over time, particularly with respect to ethical principles concerning stewardship of nature, justice and fairness. We conclude by distinguishing between three scales of change in public understanding of climate change: relatively short-lived movements in attitudes as revealed by survey data and influenced by transitory phenomena; slower shifts in public discourses that track changing cultural contexts; and enduring ways of understanding climate change that are tied to longer-term ethical foundations.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Publisher: White Horse Press
ISSN: 0963-2719
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Date of Acceptance: 16 December 2014
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2023 02:17

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