Climate change, place and community: An ethnographic study of the Hunter Valley, New South Wales
Researchers: Professor Linda Connor, A/Prof Glenn Albrecht & A/Prof Nick Higginbotham
Australian Research Council Discovery Grant, 2008-2011, $422 000
This project will investigate the ‘lived experience’ of global warming (GW) and climate change (CC) over time in Hunter Valley communities. The threat of GW linked to greenhouse gas production from human activity now dominates public discourses about the future of life on the planet. Sir Nicholas Stern’s report on the economic impacts of CC emphasises the threat CC poses to ‘the basic elements of life for people around the world’ (2006: vi). Scientific studies, such as the latest CC predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2007) and CSIRO (2006), are receiving extensive public attention through mass media and internet. Concern about CC and GW has shifted from the ‘green’ political margins to the mainstream. A growing number of politicians and their constituents now recognise that CC is not ‘just’ an environmental issue, but also an unprecedented cultural, economic and ethical challenge for humans. Different domains of CC discourse, informed by science, politics and public perceptions, are rapidly changing and giving rise to new types of debates and disputes at local, regional, national and international levels.
The scale of the CC challenge and the public attention it has received in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales have inspired this proposal for a study of ‘climate change in place.’ The Hunter region’s economy is highly dependent on the mining and burning of coal. Many residents have well-paid jobs in open-cut coal mines, power stations and their service industries that have sprung up since the 1980s. For more than two decades, residents’ protests about land degradation, water shortage and pollution were tempered by the direct and indirect economic benefits of the coal mining and power generation industries. The tenor of public discourse has recently changed, with intense debates focussing on GW and CC issues amongst civil society groups, governments and industry. For example, residents who oppose coal mine developments now commonly highlight the effect of new coal-mining developments on CC as part of ‘No New Coal’ campaigns. We plan to research the interactions of local residents with wider structures and social movements, using an ethnographic approach, with the following aims:
Analyse how knowledge of climate change and global warming is constructed, contested and acted upon within specific groups and communities;
Understand how environmental change attributed to global warming influences local residents’ cultural meanings of landscape and the biophysical environment;
Investigate how residents integrate values and ethical commitments with new knowledge and experience of climate change and global warming;
Analyse the relationship between different community structures and place-based political actions that are arising in response to climate change;
Develop and test a psychosocial model of people’s responses to climate change over time, utilising a longitudinal design with a random sample of Hunter residents surveyed in Year 1 and Year 4 of the project.