Institutions, Risk Perceptions, and Adaptation: Exploring Behavioral Response to Climate Change in Thailand
Meijer-Irons, Jacqueline Johanna
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Social science investigations about human and social vulnerability, adaptation, risk perception, and migration as a result of climate change is the focus of research in the developing world. Rural residents, especially those who rely on agriculture for a significant share of their household income, are expected to be particularly vulnerable to increases in climate shocks. Most social science research relies on objective measures to explore the relationship between the environment and human behavior. These objective measures give a sense of the severity and direction of changes in the environment, but provide limited information about how rural residents perceive the impacts of climate change on their daily lives. Risk perception research finds that human behavior is often shaped more by perceptions of risk than objectively measured risk. The primary question that motivates the three papers in my dissertation is: How do people living in rural areas perceive the environment as a source of livelihood risk, and what do these perceptions tell us about the human-environment relationship, above and beyond objective data? My first paper explores the dynamic association between proximate and cumulative subjective and objective environmental measures and the likelihood of a respondent perceiving an environmental cause of a poor economic outcome. The analysis suggests differential associations between proximate and cumulative environmental measures, and environmental risk perceptions. In my second paper, I explore the association between household composition and livelihood assets and the likelihood of a household respondent perceiving the environment as a cause of a bad income year. My results suggest that household size and composition influence environmental risk perceptions, as does occupational diversity of household members, and social learning. Finally, in my third paper, I examine the association between proximate and cumulative subjective and objective environmental measures, and a household's decision to send a migrant as a possible coping strategy. I find that in the near term, household migration decisions are not sensitive to environmental stress, but that the likelihood of sending a migrant is a function of both long term cumulative objective exposure and proximate risk perceptions. The key finding of my dissertation is that proximate and cumulative subjective and objective measures of the environment better elaborate the human-environment nexus than objective measures alone. Policymakers, crafting policies to initiate and support mitigation and adaptation efforts should consider both the objective and subjective exposure and experience of climatic shocks to create more efficient and targeted results.
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