Does the Public Care About How Climate Change Might Affect Agriculture?

Monday, March 7, 2016
Gi-Eu Lee, Scott Loveridge, and Julie A. Winkler

Image caption: Views of Michigan Residents about Government Support for Farmers’ Adaptation, During a Warm Spell

Feeding the planet under climate change and the uncertainty about future impacts on agricultural production is a compelling policy issue. Interpreting public opinion is critical for effective policy formulation and decision making. Most climate change public opinion surveys focus on generic issues such as belief in climate change or concern about its overall impacts (Capstick et al., 2015), instead of issues specific to particular economic sectors, such as agriculture. The generic belief, awareness, or concern related to climate change may not be a comprehensive predictor of the support for adaptation policies, as support may vary across subpopulations (Scheraga and Grambsch, 1998). Instead, understanding public opinions about potential areas for investments in adaptation can be more informative.

Prior work on opinions toward policies for agricultural adaptation is mostly from the viewpoint of policy makers or farmers (Kurukulasuriya and Rosenthal, 2013) rather than from that of the general public. The general public’s welfare change might not be in the same direction as that of farmers, who could directly benefit from certain adaptation policies. One critical way in which climate change would impact the general public is if the food supply is greatly reduced. Furthermore, agriculture has spillover effects on the local economy (Hornbeck and Keskin, 2015), so climate impacts on agriculture could be passed to the local community. Adaptation policies for the agriculture sector might thus be closely related to the local community’s welfare. Furthermore, as climate change is projected to affect regions differently, the direction and magnitude of agricultural productivity effects may vary by place.

Because of its diverse agriculture, the state of Michigan is a useful location for exploring the opinions of residents toward government involvement in helping local farmers adapt to climate change. Over 300 commodities are produced on a commercial basis (MDARD, 2013). Therefore, we can explore differences, if any, in attitudes in terms of crop types: staples, represented by corn and soybeans, and non-staples, represented by fruits and vegetables.  

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