UK public perceptions of ocean acidification – the importance of place and environmental identity

The marine environment is affected by climate change in many ways but it is also affected by the separate problem of ocean acidification (OA). Anthropogenic carbon dioxide that is absorbed by the ocean causes changes in ocean chemistry including an increase in acidity. Fisheries and shellfish industries, which are vital livelihoods for some communities have already been affected by OA. As there has been little research conducted to examine public risk perceptions of this issue, the aim was to explore this through a survey (N = 954) carried out in the UK. The survey explored a range of psychological factors including concern, place attachment, and environmental identity that are known to influence risk perceptions. A regression analysis found that more concerned participants had stronger environmental identities and higher levels of knowledge about OA. As predicted, they also felt more attached to the ocean and felt more negative about OA. It was clear that place attachment and environmental identity were important factors and thus should not be neglected when developing risk communications, particularly for this unfamiliar risk issue. As unfamiliar and complex risks such as OA are becoming more prevalent and must be communicated successfully in a world full of conflicting information, it is important to consider how OA is perceived by the public and how this can inform policy decisions in future. If major mitigation and adaptation strategies are adopted by policymakers the success of these will also ultimately require society to accept them.

Spence E., Pidgeon N. & Pearson P., in press. UK public perceptions of ocean acidification – the importance of place and environmental identity. Marine Policy. Article (subscription required).

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