Public (mis)trust in science: exploring attitudes to climate change in a Canterbury farming community
Declining public trust in science and experts is a global concern. A proliferation of fake news and misleading information online is fuelling aversion to expert advice and so impeding effective action on issues like climate change. Recognising growing discordance between Aotearoa New Zealand’s agricultural sector and the Government in response to a recent suite of proposed environmental policies, I explore in this thesis farmers’ attitudes to climate change and related proposed policy. In addition, I consider how mis- and disinformation may influence farmers’ views. Focusing on a farming community in the Canterbury high country of Aotearoa New Zealand, I conducted 10 semi-structured interviews with farm workers across 7 different high country stations, between July and October 2022. An assessment of human-induced climate change belief across this group revealed 1 participant accepted climate change, 6 were sceptical as to the role of humans, and 3 did not believe the climate is changing beyond normal fluctuation. Reflexive thematic analysis identified 3 key themes relating to farmers’ attitudes to climate change and the potential impact of misleading information on their views: (i) expertise concerns farmers’ lack of faith in scientists’ and policymakers’ expert credibility, and thus their suitability to assess and manage for environmental change on farms; (ii) (mis)trust in government relates to farmers’ concerns around the government’s unjust targeting of farmers for New Zealand’s climate change contribution, accusations of ulterior motives behind climate change mitigation policy, and the government’s perceived role in the production of scientific research and mainstream media coverage, and (iii) responsibility and care concerns farmers’ roles as guardians of their land, and the value of local and intergenerational knowledge in managing environmental change. This research speaks to the complex relationship between trust in science and trust in authority (government), and the implications for farmers’ engagement with disinformation. Further, it highlights the importance of tailored science communication around climate change, the need for trusted liaisons between the farming sector and government, and the importance of policymakers considering the local knowledge and expertise of community members to achieve effective, localised environmental policy design and implementation.