Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Geography

Major Professor

Pratyusha Basu

Keywords

climate change, environmental discourses, environmental perception, environmental politics, suburban environments

Abstract

Despite a general consensus regarding anthropogenic global climate change across the international scientific community, many of the major greenhouse gas producers in the world, especially the United States, are hesitant to implement strict emissions regulations. According to some prominent atmospheric scientists, such as James Hansen and Michael Mann, if industrialized countries continue to produce carbon emissions at current rates, an irreversible planetary tipping point of raising temperatures 2°C above pre-industrial levels could be reached in less than 40 years. Societies have a wealth of information from the natural sciences to understand the climate problem and currently possess the technological means to address it. But substantial regulatory policies have not been implemented, clean energy technologies have not been established as the primary energy source, and widespread behavioral changes needed to create sustainable societies have not been fostered.

This dissertation seeks to understand why the preponderance of scientific evidence surrounding climate change has not produced a sea change of public perceptions of the climate change problem consistent with the dire projections of climate science. It is grounded in four interrelated questions: (1) What are the prevalent discourses of climate change and to which institutions can these be attached? (2) How do suburban residents understand climate change? (3) Since electricity is a major link between suburban lifestyles and climate change, how does knowledge of climate change compare with knowledge of electricity production and consumption? (4) In what ways do institutional discourses of climate change connect to the viewpoints of suburban consumers? These questions were explored through a case study carried out in a neighborhood in the city of Tampa, Florida. Forty-six semi-structured, face-to-face interviews were conducted to understand perceptions related to climate change, suburban consumption, and environmental conservation. The interviews compiled information pertaining to personal knowledge and representations of socio-ecological relationships.

The findings indicate that most relationships or connections to the natural world in general, and climate change in particular, are produced by the arrangements and processes of capital accumulation as experienced in everyday practices. Suburban residents seemed disconnected from or ignorant about how their everyday consumption is related to climate change. Based on ideological formations, as manifest in institutional discourses and material practices, suburban residents accept the social processes and spatial forms that they inhabit as being the only possible options for suburban living.

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