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Divergent perspectives on water resource sustainability in a public–policy–science context K.L. Larson a,*, D.D. White b, P. Gober a, S. Harlan c, A. Wutich c a
Arizona State University, Schools of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and Sustainability, Box 875302, Tempe, AZ 87287-5302, USA Arizona State University, School of Community Resources and Development, 411N. Central Ave., Ste. 550, Phoenix, AZ 85044, USA c Arizona State University, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Box 875302, Tempe, AZ 85287-5302, USA b
article info Published on line 27 August 2009 Keywords: Risk perceptions Environmental attitudes Science–policy interactions decision making Water resource geography
abstract Diverging perspectives toward environmental problems, their causes, and solutions can exacerbate controversy in participatory decision making. Past research has examined the lay–expert divide in perceptions about diverse risks, but relatively few studies have examined multidimensional perspectives on water scarcity across expert groups with different knowledge systems. We address this gap by examining conflicting perspectives across ‘lay’ residents and academic and policymaking ‘experts’ in Phoenix, AZ. We analyze ecological concern about water issues, risk perceptions regarding the factors contributing to scarcity, and policy attitudes pertaining to resource management alternatives. All three groups expressed substantial concern for broad-scale water issues, especially drought. Residents exhibited a heightened tendency to blame other people for water scarcity, in addition to opposition toward stringent approaches such as water pricing. While strongly supporting the acquisition of more supplies, policymakers exhibited lower concern about regional water use rates while displacing blame away from anthropogenic causes compared to both residents and academic experts. Scientists, on the other hand, stressed the need for stricter regulation of water demand. Findings point to the challenges of meshing different knowledge systems for collaborative research and policy making. # 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Water scarcity is a critical challenge to sustaining social, economic, and environmental amenities around the world. Global recognition of water scarcity reached an apex in 2003 when the United Nations declared 2005–2015 the International Decade for Action with its Water for Life initiative (UN, 2008, or visit http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/). Even in developed nations with substantial water supplies and infrastructure, water scarcity threatens food production, population growth, and ecosystem health. Throughout the United States, physical shortages are most severe in the arid deserts of the
Southwest (IWMI, 2006), where projected climate changes will likely contribute to warmer, drier conditions in the future (Ellis et al., 2008). Water scarcity, however, is not only a function of physically available supplies, but also factors such as the quality of water, the efficiency of various uses, and the institutional capacity to meet rising demands (USGS, 2008). To better understand diverse perspectives toward water scarcity and resource governance in the American Southwest, this paper examines multifaceted human-ecological perspectives across the public–policy–science arenas. Disputes over water resources commonly occur in the face of mounting demand and dwindling supplies, with problems
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 480 727 3603. E-mail address: Kelli.Larson@asu.edu (K.L. Larson). 1462-9011/$ – see front matter # 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2009.07.012
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sometimes arising when public attitudes limit the range of possible management choices (Routhe et al., 2005). As a common cause of environmental conflicts, divergent values and perspectives present a formidable barrier to collaborative efforts that engage diverse stakeholders in decision making (Ozawa, 1996; Tarrant and Cordell, 2002). While public involvement in natural resource planning and management is required through legislative mandates, the complexities and uncertainties associated with environmental problems render scientific input and technical knowledge a typical cornerstone of the decision making process. Scientific information is often privileged at the expense of other ways of knowing, such as those based on local knowledge and experience or normative information about what people value (Eden, 1998; Fischer, 2000; Steele et al., 2001; Hall and White, 2008). But as Slovic (1987: 236) wrote in Science, ‘‘there is wisdom as well as error in public attitudes and perceptions. . .[and] each side, expert and public, has something valid to contribute.’’ Focusing on environmental and other risks, ample research has shown how perceptions between lay and expert groups diverge (Slovic, 1987; McDaniels et al., 1997; Leiserowitz, 2005; White and Hall, 2006). While experts emphasize the probability of fatalities or losses in their risk assessments, the broader public tends to make intuitive judgments depending on risk characteristics, biased media attention, and sociocultural influences. Beyond the lay–expert dichotomy, scholars widely recognize the existence of multiple rationalities concerning risks and efforts to mitigate them (Douglas and Wildavsky, 1982; Fischer, 2000; Leiserowitz, 2005). Within the expert realm, Cash et al. (2003) explain how differences in perspectives and expectations between academic scientists and policy professionals create divergent knowledge systems in ‘‘boundary organizations’’ that seek to bridge the science–policy arenas for sustainable development. Still others highlight how scientists, policymakers, and active citizens hold divergent views about the appropriate role of science in environmental decision making (Steele et al., 2001, 2004). Such differing perspectives among social groups pose challenges for risk communication and outreach efforts aimed at minimizing human impacts on environmental resources (Slovic, 1987; Sjoberg, 2000; Wakefield and Elliot, 2003). Thus, by identifying convergent and divergent dimensions of human-ecological judgments, our research pinpoints areas of agreement and conflict over water scarcity issues and informs collaborative research and decision making among groups with different understandings, experiences, and values. Few studies have compared ‘lay’ human-ecological perspectives with distinct ‘expert’ groups, such as policy professionals and academic scientists, despite their importance in democratic decision making (Yankelovich, 1991; Eden, 1998). We address this gap by characterizing and comparing a variety of judgments across the public–policy–science realms of society. Specifically, we surveyed the three distinct groups about their (1) concern about water scarcity issues, (2) perceptions about the factors contributing to scarcity, and (3) attitudes about potential policy approaches to mitigating scarcity. This tripartite approach is important since unidimensional concepts and measures are inadequate for capturing the complexity of human judgments about ecological
matters (Castro, 2006). Furthermore, our conceptualization of multifaceted human-ecological perspectives adds clarity to a muddled scholarly literature that makes comparisons and generalizations of findings across disparate studies difficult (Dunlap and Jones, 2002). Conducted in the desert metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona, this study addresses the following question: How and why do perspectives about water scarcity and resource management vary across the public, policy, and science arenas? The ‘‘how’’ part of the research question is addressed by identifying statistically significant differences in survey measures among residents, policy professionals, and academic scientists. To address the second part, we rely on a multidisciplinary body of literature to explain ‘‘why’’ water management perspectives vary across these groups.
2. Theoretical approach and past research on human-ecological perspectives Our conceptualization of environmental perspectives follows from attitude theory, specifically in terms of evaluating multifaceted affective, cognitive, and conative judgments (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1974; Dunlap and Jones, 2002; Routhe et al., 2005). First, affective judgments involve emotional assessments about some phenomenon, conceived here as concern about water scarcity. Second, the cognitive elements represent subjective personal beliefs, specifically about the factors contributing to water scarcity. Third, the conative elements reflect positive–negative predispositions akin to behavioral intent (e.g., voting), which we evaluate as expressed support–opposition for resource management alternatives. Following this tripartite view, we conceptualize the underlying value basis of ecological concern, risk perceptions, and policy attitudes. Across the public–policy–science spheres, we anticipated that residents (or the broad public) will be most influenced by the value dimensions described below. Based on the value-belief-norm and cognitive hierarchy models (see Stern, 2000 and Whitaker et al., 2006 for reviews), we view multidimensional values and orientations as the underlying basis for more specific affective, cognitive, and conative judgments. Basic values, or the principles determining what is important in life broadly, provide the foundation on which more concrete judgments are made about particular environmental matters (Larson, 2009a). Building on Schwartz’s (1994) theory of values, prominent scholars have illustrated how self-centered (egocentric) and self-transcendent (altruistic) values as well as traditional (conservative) and open-to-change (liberal) values influence a variety of attitudes and actions concerning the environment (Stern and Dietz, 1994; Stern et al., 1995; Stern, 2000). In particular, altruistic (self-transcendent) values combine with biocentric (as opposed to anthropocentric) orientations to positively influence judgments about nature, wildlife, and environmental conservation or protection. Meanwhile, conservative (traditional) values relate to social-political orientations and beliefs, with emphasis on the status quo and the free-market economy. By contrast, people who are open-to-change are more likely to express heightened support for new or innovative social and political actions to remedy
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environmental problems. These basic value dimensions inform our approach to evaluating affective, cognitive, and conative elements, which respectively involve concern about local and regional water issues, perceptions about anthropogenic and natural causes of scarcity, and attitudinal support for voluntary and regulatory policy alternatives.
First, we examine how affective concern about water scarcity issues varies at local and regional scales due to the ‘‘hyperopia effect’’ (Uzzell, 2000; Lima and Castro, 2005; Castro, 2006). The hyperopia effect is a term used to describe the tendency for people to view broad, distal environmental problems as more severe than proximate ones. Although it seems logical that personal connections and attachments to particular places would result in enhanced concern at relatively small, local scales, the opposite has been found in several studies (Uzzell, 2000; Lima and Castro, 2005; GarciaMira et al., 2005). For instance, the public expressed greater concern for global- and national-scale environmental problems relative to town- and individual-level impacts in a multi-national survey of Ireland, England, Slovakia, and Australia (Uzzell, 2000). Another study showed variations in local- and global-scale concern due to cultural rationales and social orientations (Lima and Castro, 2005). While individualists exhibited similar levels of concern across geographic scales, egalitarians were more concerned about global problems compared to local ones. Broadly, altruistic values may result in concern about distal problems with impacts on other people or wildlife. Meanwhile, individualistic values and personal interests might lead to downplaying proximate ecological issues to maintain a positive self-perception. In other words, personal identification with local places explains diminished concern about environmental problems at relatively small scales of human– environment interactions. This explanation seems to hold true in the weakened concern evident for local compared to global-scale problems (Uzzell, 2000; Lima and Castro, 2005; Garcia-Mira et al., 2005), in addition to the tendency for people to distance themselves from water scarcity problems (Askew and McGuirk, 2004). For this study, we expected to find heightened concern about broader scale regional water issues compared to the local neighborhood level, especially among residents who are likely to be more influenced by their values than expert groups. By focusing on a range of multidimensional judgments about water scarcity across three social groups, this study complements previous research on people’s concerns about diverse environmental problems (Uzzell, 2000; Garcia-Mira et al., 2005; Castro, 2006) as well as research on how perceptions vary depending on the characteristics of risks (such as their dread or familiarity, see Slovic, 1987 and Sjoberg, 2000). We place special attention on relatively small scales, because although perceived responsibility for ecological problems may be strongest at local levels such as the neighborhood (Uzzell, 2000), attenuated concern at proximate scales may have critical implications for establishing a sense of efficacy to spur individual environmental actions (Lima and Castro, 2005).
Cognitive perspectives involve subjective understanding about the causes of water scarcity. The propensity for people to blame ecological problems on other people or causes reflects a perceived lack of control or responsibility, which has negative implications for encouraging conservation or proenvironmental behaviors (Stern, 2000; Trumbo and O’Keefe, 2004; Garcia-Mira et al., 2005). In an Australian study, for example, Askew and McGuirk (2004) reported that residents exhibited an ‘‘othering’’ effect wherein resource problems were distanced from household uses of water by invoking a national consciousness about drought. Past research has shown that while some people attribute risks to human or technical factors, many others blame nature or natural processes for environmental problems such as water scarcity (Bandyopadhyay, 1987; Sonnett et al., 2006). In a study concerning climate change, Leiserowitz (2005) characterized interpretive communities based on people’s perceptions of ‘‘global warming.’’ Specifically, conservative ‘‘naysayers’’ blamed natural forces or see climate change as random and uncontrollable, therefore supporting the status quo or a ‘do nothing’ policy approach. On the other hand, liberal ‘‘alarmists’’ perceived humans as significantly impacting the environment, thus mandating immediate action to minimize and mitigate climate changes. In short, sociocultural values and worldviews influence risk perceptions and policy preferences (Leiserowitz, 2006). By evaluating judgments in relation to diverse targets (Sjoberg, 2000), the current study examines how cognitive beliefs about the causes of risk vary along a theoretical continuum emphasizing self-interested values and anthropocentric orientations. Specifically, the causes of water scarcity risks conceptually span residents’ activities as selftargeted human causes through to human activities as collective anthropogenic causes and climatic factors as natural causes. Accordingly, residents’ judgments were expected to reflect egocentric values and anthropocentric orientations due to the tendency for people to blame risks on other people and natural causes, respectively, rather than seeing themselves and human activities as contributing substantially to water scarcity problems.
With respect to policy alternatives, conative attitudes are conceptualized as a gradient ranging from strict regulatory measures with direct impacts on residents through to voluntary management efforts among society as a whole. Policy attitudes, thus, reflect selfish interests in not being regulated or otherwise affected by resource management options relative to collective efforts with minimal direct impacts on residents. Past research has illustrated greater support for voluntary measures compared to regulatory ones (Larson, 2009a). Carman (1998) suggests environmental policy support is largely a function of judgments about resource conditions as well as economic impacts and government regulations. At least partly due to economic impacts, previous studies have illustrated substantial public opposition to increasing water prices as a particular means of reducing demand or managing
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resources (Gearey and Jeffrey, 2005; Harlan et al., 2007). In a study of lay–expert perceptions, moreover, experts exhibited stronger judgments about the need to regulate activities compared to the broader public (McDaniels et al., 1997). As a whole, conservative values combine with individualist orientations to determine policy attitudes (opposition) toward regulatory policies involving government control of economic and other activities (Larson, 2009a). In our study, we expected stronger support for voluntary efforts to mitigate water scarcity compared to regulatory policies among lay residents, along with more agreement among residents, policy professionals, and academic researchers for non-regulatory water management approaches. Generally, while perspectives among the broad public are likely to be more strongly influenced by these valuebased dimensions compared to experts, the next section further explains the professional forces that may sway policymakers and academics’ views of human-ecological problems and their resolution.
3. Expert judgments: divergences from the broader public Since expert judgments tend to be predicated on technical knowledge and empirical assessments emphasizing the likelihood of particular consequences (Slovic, 1987; Leiserowitz, 2005), we expected both policymakers and scientists’ perspectives to deviate from the theoretical value continua described above. Overall, compared to residents, we anticipated that experts would be more prone to: (1) express heightened concern about local water scarcity issues relative to broad-scale issues; (2) attribute scarcity to residential uses of water, instead of blaming nature and other people; and, (3) support regulatory policy alternatives that directly impact residents, that is, relative to voluntary efforts. We also theorize that political and organizational forces uniquely sway the views of public policymakers, while empirical research and scientific traditions specially affect judgments among academic researchers.
The organizational culture of decision making institutions reflects and reinforces the views, norms, and expectations of resource managers and policy professionals. The reliable delivery of inexpensive water is a foremost priority among water managers in the Western U.S., who commonly think their customers are unwilling to change their water use behaviors (Lach et al., 2005). Because organizations operate based on established norms and shared expectations, moreover, conservative institutions tend to maintain the status quo. In particular, many water resource professionals cling to ‘‘the unshakeable belief. . .that large, centralized systems are the only way to meet unrelenting growth in demand’’ (Gleick, 2002: p. 373). Especially in the arid western U.S., water reclamation projects and supply augmentation through technocratic and structural approaches have been a long-standing tradition (White, 1998). Even though ‘‘water is no longer used to
promote population growth as envisioned in the Reclamation Act,’’ water is used ‘‘to sustain growth’’ such that population projections justify the need for new water development projects (Chan, 1981: p. 125). In the Phoenix area, water managers consider the reduction of risk and uncertainty an essential aspect of their jobs, and accordingly, strive to ensure that water is supplied to customers regardless of demand (White et al., 2008). Therefore, despite calls to increase water use efficiency and thereby reduce water demand (Gleick, 2002), policy professionals are likely to underscore supply-side strategies while deemphasizing demand-site alternatives relative to scientists. In a previous study, decision makers (politicians) emphasized the natural causes (flooding) of a bridge collapse, whereas scientists stressed the social causes of the disaster (Stallings, 1990). This indicates that policymakers minimize the blame placed on their constituents, which is consistent with the proclivity of water managers to deemphasize customers’ water use behaviors. Since decisions to regulate water use are ‘‘fundamentally political’’ (Hill and Polsky, 2007: p. 293), and since water managers overwhelmingly judge their career success by the lack of publicity or political attention (Lach et al., 2005), policymakers may very well exhibit lower support for unpopular regulatory approaches compared to academics. In fact, political circumstances help explain why in the middle of a long-run drought, the Phoenix region is among very few cities who have not implemented water use restrictions (Kunzig, 2008). Instead, managers have relied on increased pumping of non-renewable groundwater to meet water demands. In sum, policy professionals are prone to minimize the blame placed on residential customers and other social causes of water scarcity due to the organizational and political context of decision making. Policymakers are also expected to downplay demand-side water issues and approaches to resource management while exhibiting lower support for publically opposed alternatives (such as increasing water prices) compared to scientists.
Although not immune to value-based judgments about water scarcity, academic researchers’ perspectives are strongly influenced by available scientific information and empirical studies indicating the probability or likelihood of risks or related phenomena. Recently, research has focused on the impacts of climate variability on both water supply and demand (Balling and Gober, 2006; Ellis et al., 2008), as well as the substantial role that residential and outdoor water uses play in determining total municipal demand (Guhathakurta and Gober, 2007; Wentz and Gober, 2007). Consequently, academics are expected to stress demand-side aspects of water issues compared to policy experts and the broader public, especially residents outdoor uses in pools and irrigated yards, while also emphasizing the impacts of drought and global climate change on water scarcity. Although many studies have focused on how experts perceive risks in relation to the ‘lay’ public (Slovic, 1987; McDaniels et al., 1997; Tunstall et al., 2000), relatively few have examined perspectives across the public–policy–science
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spheres. McDaniels et al. (1997) employed a psychometric approach to examine perceptions about a wide variety of water risks, illustrating that experts differed from the lay public for one-third of the ecological risks examined. In particular, experts viewed population growth and urban development as more risky and natural hazards such as drought as less risky. However, this study combined university and agency scientists as a single expert group, thereby masking potential distinctions between academic and policy professionals. Our study builds upon this research by evaluating human-ecological perspectives across residents and both academic researchers and policy professionals, which represent two expert groups with different knowledge systems and organizational cultures.
Study area: Phoenix, AZ
Sustainable water use and governance is of vital importance to the semi-arid metropolitan region of Phoenix, AZ, which typically receives less than eight inches of annual precipitation (Gober, 2006). In addition to the local Salt and Verde River watersheds, the Phoenix area receives water from the Colorado River and augments these supplies by withdrawing nonrenewable groundwater. A diverse portfolio of water has allowed Phoenix to develop as a lush oasis with well-watered landscapes saturated by plentiful lush-green lawns and golf courses as well as human-created water features including pools, fountains, and lakes. Heavy outdoor water use has created an urban environment that is at odds with the notion of Phoenix as a desert city (Gober, 2007), while resulting in high water use rates relative to other cities including nearby Tucson (Larson, 2009b). Readily available water has facilitated an economy and society built on land development and real-estate construction. According to the Arizona Republic (2004), one out of every three dollars in the Phoenix economy comes from some aspect of the home-building industry, which accounts for an estimated 20% of jobs involving developers, architects, contractors, construction workers, landscapers, real-estate agents, mortgage loan officers, and title companies (Gober, 2006). The need for growth is firmly embedded in the economic elite and the local political culture, such that the question of whether there is enough water to support future growth is subjugated to how and where growth will occur. Since 2000, Phoenix has been the nation’s second fastest growing large (>1 million) metropolitan area, after Las Vegas (U.S. Census 2008). The region currently houses 4.2 million people, and by 2050, the state expects more than 9 million residents (Arizona Department of Commerce, 2008). The current growth model favors heavy use of water because new development is dominated by single-family detached homes with private yards. A recent study by Wentz and Gober (2007) underscored the role of exterior, residential water uses in predicting Phoenix demand, since three of the four significant factors driving neighborhood water use reflect outdoor consumption: pools, irrigated lawns, and lot size. Depending on municipal location, 60–75% of residential water is used for outdoor purposes. Overall, residential uses comprise the majority of municipal demand, which is
expected to surpass agricultural uses as the dominant sector of regional demand by 2025 (Jacobs and Megdal, 2005). The prospect of climate change jeopardizes the vision of Phoenix as a place with limitless water supplies and unlimited growth potential. Ellis et al. (2008) demonstrated the uncertainty associated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios and global climate models and their implications for water flows in the regional Salt and Verde Watersheds. With a range of positive to negative impacts on surface runoff, the average model run produced flows at about 80% of historical levels. Meanwhile, findings for the Colorado River Basin indicate that human-induced climate change will produce a warmer, drier future and that the shift to new climatic conditions is already underway (Seager et al., 2007; Barnett et al., 2008; Barnett and Pierce, 2008). In short, the region’s history and geography provide a unique context for the emergence of multifaceted judgments about water use, climate change, and a variety of other factors associated with water scarcity and resource management.
Survey methods and analyses
The data for this study were collected from three coordinated social surveys during 2006–2007. Residents’ views were assessed through the Phoenix Area Social Survey (PASS), which is a longitudinal study of human-environment dynamics in central Arizona (Harlan et al., 2007). Two supplementary surveys were administered to academic scientists and policy professionals using a subset of PASS questions. Both ‘expert’ groups were affiliated with Arizona State University (ASU)’s Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS), since they are most likely to be involved in collaborative projects pertaining to environmental research and related decision making initiatives.
The broad residential survey
PASS employed a two-stage stratified sampling design in which a systematic sample of neighborhoods and a random sample of households within each neighborhood were targeted to participate in the survey. The forty neighborhoods, represented by Census block groups, were selected to represent the full range of neighborhood types in the region. Thus, they vary widely in income, ethnicity, age, homeownership, and their location in urban, suburban, and fringe areas of the metropolitan region (Harlan et al., 2007). Within each neighborhood, forty random addresses (including single - and multi-family dwellings) were selected from county taxassessor records. The final response rate was 51% (n = 808), with 10% of the surveys completed in Spanish. Respondents completed the questionnaire in an online survey (59%), a scheduled telephone survey (35%), or an in-person survey (7%). Using the 2000 Census data as a benchmark, 35% of both the neighborhood populations and the PASS sample had a high school education or less and 21% were over 65 years old. Median income level for the sample – in the $60,000 range – was also equivalent to the study neighborhoods. The majority of the sample was White, but nearly one in five respondents self-identified as Latino/Hispanic.
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Survey of academic scientists
We compiled the sampling frame to reach academic scientists from mailing lists maintained by ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. Mailing lists were scrutinized to select an array of Ph.D. researchers, including postdoctoral associates, research faculty, tenured and tenure-track faculty, as well as academic administrators. We use the term academic scientists broadly to include biophysical scientists and engineers as well as researches in the social sciences and humanities. The target audience of 156 potential respondents received a confidential internet survey, with up to three follow-up reminders. A total of 108 scientists (70% response rate) completed the online questionnaire. All had doctoral degrees, 72% were men, and the mean income level was around $120,000. Most (87%) were White, 3% were Asian, and 3% were Latino, with the rest reporting some other ethnicity. In terms of disciplinary expertise, just over one-third of academic respondents were in each the biological/physical sciences or social/behavioral sciences, with an additional 8% in engineering, 7% in planning, and a few other disciplines represented by the sample.
Survey of policy professionals
Similar to the scientists, we targeted public policy professionals through contact lists maintained by ASU’s GIOS. The sampling frame included 189 planning and policymaking professionals employed with government or public agencies at the local (municipal and county), state (Arizona) and federal (U.S.) levels. The sample excluded elected officials and administrative assistants, and instead, targeted trained staff who support decision making on a variety of sustainability issues in the greater Phoenix area, including water resources as well as other domains such as air quality and wildlife conservation. We initiated the web-based survey via email, with three follow-up contacts and an offer of a $20 gift certificate for participating professionals. Fifty percent responded, with a total of 90 completed questionnaires. Two-thirds of respondents had graduate degrees, and just under one-third had a Bachelor’s degree. Men accounted for 68% of the sample. Similar to the researchers, the vast majority (90%) were White/ Anglo, while 8% were Asian. On average, the income level of the policymakers was around $120,000. With regard to the nature of their professional positions, a variety of planning domains were represented, from land use and transportation planning to urban development and public lands management. About 30% deal with water resources specifically in their occupational duties.
Questionnaire items on water resources
We asked all three survey samples identical questions about environmental conditions and resource management alternatives in the ‘‘Valley,’’ a colloquial term commonly used for the broader Phoenix metropolitan region of central Arizona (see the Appendix in the Supplementary Information published online for verbatim survey questions).
Closed-ended survey questions measured ‘‘concern’’ about four water resource scarcity issues identified as most critical among an interdisciplinary research team (see Fig. 1 and the online Appendix). Specifically, we asked about people’s concern about the ‘‘amount of water used’’ at both the regional and local scales. One additional regional-scale question referred to concern about the impacts of long-term drought on ‘‘the Valley,’’ and another local-scale question asked about concern for the safety of drinking water in ‘‘your neighborhood.’’ A fourpoint ordinal response scale measured affective judgments ranging from ‘‘very’’ to ‘‘not at all’’ concerned. In our analysis, higher numbers equate to greater concern. Similar closed-ended questions evaluated cognitive perceptions in terms of how much different factors contribute to water scarcity, along with conative attitudes involving the degree to which residents support (or oppose) alternative approaches to mitigating scarcity (see Figs. 2 and 3 and the survey Appendix published online). Ten-point ordinal response scales ranged from contributes ‘‘not at all’’ (1) to ‘‘a lot’’ (10) for rating potential causes, and from ‘‘strongly oppose’’ (1) to ‘‘strongly support’’ (10) for rating the policy remedies. In comparing the three types of judgments across the public, policymaker, and scientist samples, we employed descriptive statistics and one-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) with Tukey’s post hoc tests. Given the ordinal nature of data and unequal variance between samples in some cases, we also ran non-parametric Kruskal Wallis tests to double-check the parametric results. The parametric and non-parametric tests produced identical results with a few minor exceptions (see Figs. 2 and 3).
The results that follow describe the patterns in ecological concern, risk perceptions, and policy attitudes across the three groups, along with the statistical differences indicating areas of divergent perspectives among the broad public, policy professionals, and academic scientists. The reporting of statistically significant differences is based on the 0.05 significance level for the omnibus ANOVA test, unless otherwise noted.
Ecological concern about water scarcity
Overall, the residents, policymakers, and scientists expressed greater concern for region-wide drought and water use compared to local-scale risks (Fig. 1). The three groups differed most in their concern about the safety of drinking water at the local (neighborhood) scale, with residents expressing greater concern than policymakers and academics. The only other statistically significant difference in concern among the groups was for regional water demand, with policy professionals expressing less concern about the amount of water used in the Valley compared to the public and, at the 0.10 level, academics.
Perceived causes of water shortages
In general, residents perceptions about the causes of water scarcity increased along the theoretical continuum, ranging
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Fig. 1 – Differences in ecological concern about water scarcity risks at two scales.
from residential water use activities (seen as least critical) to other anthropogenic causes (seen as moderately critical) and naturally occurring drought (seen as most critical) (Fig. 2). The most significant differences across the three groups occurred for the anthropogenic causes to water scarcity. Residents tended to blame other people, rather than their ‘residential selves,’ compared to both expert samples, while the policy professionals perceived all anthropogenic causes as modestly contributing to potential water shortages. In particular, policymakers differed significantly from both residents and scientists in perceiving household yard irrigation, pools, and recreational uses of water as less significant sources of scarcity. Meanwhile, compared to scientists, residents attributed more blame to human-made lakes and water use for tourism and recreation. Growth, or people moving to the area, was also seen as a major cause of scarcity, with heightened perceptions among residents and scientists compared to policy professionals. Finally, respondents similarly perceived natural and climatic conditions, especially long-term drought, as major contributors to water scarcity.
Policy attitudes about mitigation strategies
Among the public (residents) sample, the most opposed water management option was increasing the price of water to reduce usage, but this option received significantly higher support among policymakers and the highest support among academics (Fig. 3). The academic experts also expressed
substantially higher support for regulating outdoor residential water uses relative to the policy professionals, who also exhibited lower support than residents (although this pairwise test was significant at p < 0.10). With regard to restrictions on golf courses, policy professionals were significantly less supportive than residents, and at the 0.10 level, scientists. Policymakers as well as residents exhibited considerably more support for acquiring new water sources than scientists, who in fact opposed supply augmentation more than any other option. Among all three groups, collective voluntary efforts such as educating the public about conservation were most supported, with slightly more support for improving management among scientists compared to residents ( p < 0.10).
In sum, residents’ judgments about water issues varied in expected ways, with greatest concern for broad-scale (regional) water issues, a heightened tendency to blame other people for water scarcity, and the strongest opposition to regulatory approaches with direct personal impacts. Residents also expressed significantly higher concern about the safety of local drinking water, potentially confounding public communications about related health risks. Meanwhile, compared to both residents and scientists, policymakers exhibited lower concern about regional water use rates and tended to displace blame for water scarcity away from anthropogenic sources.
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Fig. 2 – Differences in the perceived causes of (potential) water scarcity.
Policymakers also strongly supported traditional supplyaugmentation strategies for resource management, whereas scientists stressed stricter regulation of water demand. As a whole, these findings have implications for collaborative environmental research and policymaking. Furthermore, the tripartite approach adds clarity to the conceptualization of multifaceted human-ecological perspectives. On the theoretical front, the current research incorporates various types of perspectives – specifically, affective concern, cognitive perceptions, and conative attitudes – to further knowledge about complex, multidimensional judgments about environmental problems. By conceptualizing and examining how tripartite judgments differ across three social spheres, our study illustrates that people’s judgments vary along value-based dimensions involving the local–regional scale of problems, their anthropogenic–natural sources, and regulatory–voluntary mechanisms for risk mitigation and environmental governance. Relative to academic and policy experts, residents appear to distance problems away from local areas and displace blame away from residential water uses, likely to maintain a positive image of themselves. As such, residents appear most influenced by values such as personal self-interests and conservative orientations aimed at upholding the status quo. Meanwhile, the organizational cultures of experts are evident in policymakers’ persistent
attention to supply-oriented strategies and climatic sources of risks, which downplay water consumption and conservation efforts that target political constituents. Yet scientists strongly oppose supply-augmentation strategies, perhaps due to awareness of their environmental, social, and economic costs. Given recent empirical research illustrating the implications of climatic processes and residential uses on water resources, scientists’ emphasis on water demand is not surprising. In going beyond the simple lay–expert dichotomy, additional research should distinguish between academic and policy experts while evaluating human-ecological perspectives across additional stakeholder groups, such as citizen activists and the broader public, elected officials and technical policymakers (as distinctive decision making entities), and social, ecological and other scientists (who have diverse disciplinary traditions), among others. Attention to withingroup variations is worthwhile in future studies, along with multivariate analyses that help establish the value basis of tripartite judgments by considering the varying characteristics of people (for example, their ecological worldviews, political orientations, and socioeconomic status) as significant factors explaining public perspectives about diverse risks (for example, water scarcity versus flooding, air pollution versus climate change). By acknowledging and understanding plural knowledge systems, such studies enhance awareness about the
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Fig. 3 – Differences in policy support for water scarcity mitigation alternatives.
multiple ways in which diverse people frame environmental problems and their mitigation, which could help bolster collaborations or thwart conflicts in decision making. Regarding policy implications, our study highlights areas where policymakers and program coordinators can anticipate disagreements due to dissenting perspectives between actors, while also identifying barriers to behavior change for sustainable water resource use. To achieve reductions in outdoor water use, in particular, the tendency for residents to distance themselves from problems and to blame other people and natural processes for environmental risks could hinder residential conservation efforts. Outreach programs, therefore, might entail informational appeals stressing the substantial portion of water used by residents relative to golf courses, resorts, and other activities, which are often seen as substantial users of water. In addition, focusing attention to local areas and households with high rates of consumption might help in counteracting the hyperopia effect by instilling a sense of responsibility for water conservation in residential neighborhoods. Although restricting residential uses was among the least preferred policy options, residents support restrictions more than policymakers. This finding indicates that such regulations may be more politically feasible than decision makers think. Yet with respect to
collaborations between policy actors and scientists, academic researchers’ focus on demand-side issues and anthropogenic sources of risk may result in disagreements or roadblocks in the co-production of knowledge for sustainable governance. The diverging perspectives between scientists and policymakers are evident in recent interactions at the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC), where academics have faced resistance among policymakers who have been wary of incorporating pricing mechanisms into the DCDC water simulation, or ‘‘WaterSim,’’ model. Understanding conflicting perspectives is instructive for reconciling divergent views across the public–policy–science spheres of decision making. One approach to reconciling divergent perceptions and attitudes is through institutional forms such as boundary organizations, which are positioned in the overlapping space between scientific research and political decision making. Boundary organizations such as DCDC provide opportunities and incentives for the creation of boundary-ordering processes such as stakeholder meetings (White et al., 2008). These collaborative processes allow participants from multiple arenas of society to engage in the co-production of knowledge for risk mitigation and public policy, albeit sometimes confronting social conflicts and the
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political realities of natural resource use and governance. Ultimately, as different actors come to understand each others’ perspectives, meaningful deliberation and reflexive decision making could lead to better solutions supported by multiple stakeholders. Given the significant differences in perspectives among academic researchers and policymakers, combining these expert groups masks variation in perceptions and attitudes that could reveal important areas of diverging views among key stakeholder groups. Not only is it critical to assess perspectives across varying social groups, but studies with a clear conceptual approach to understanding tripartite judgments about ecological matters are also important for advancing social science theory concerning the nature and structure of multidimensional judgments, which encompass affective ecological concerns, cognitive risk perceptions, and conative policy attitudes, among other types of judgments. Improved knowledge of human-ecological perspectives within and across the public–policy–science arenas can improve communications and collaborations while recognizing plural ways of knowing and framing complex environmental problems and their mitigation. Such information is imperative to democratic decision making processes that acknowledge normative views and move toward socially sustainable natural resource use and governance.
Appendix A. Supplementary data Supplementary data associated with this article can be found, in the online version, at doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2009.07.012.
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Sharon L. Harlan is Associate Professor of Sociology in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and an affiliated faculty member in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Her current research is on socio-environmental inequalities and injustices in the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan region, including the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations.
Amber Wutich is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology in Arizona State Universityâ€™s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and is also affiliated with the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity. Her research examines human adaptability to resource insecurity in urban environments, with a focus on water and food insecurity in Bolivia, Mexico, and the United States.
Published on Apr 2, 2013