Date: 23 Mar 2014

Perceptions of environmental change in Moorea, French Polynesia: the importance of temporal, spatial, and scalar contexts

Abstract

Pacific Islands are considered among the most vulnerable geographies and societies to the effects of climate change and variability (CCV). This study addresses the mismatch between global climate change narratives and local perceptions of environmental change in Moorea, French Polynesia. This study builds on CCV risk perception and adaptation research by analyzing how temporal and historical socio-economic, cultural, political, and ecological contexts shape local perceptions of environmental change among a sample of environmental stakeholders in Moorea. The data were collected prior to the widespread global narrative and social amplification of climate change risk and its particular impact on islands. As such, they offer an important portrait of environmental perceptions in French Polynesia prior to the influence of a circumscribed climate change narrative, which has since come to shape government and NGO responses to environmental change in the Pacific Island Countries and Territories. The data presented in this paper illustrate that perceptions of drivers and effects of environmental change and risk in Moorea are embedded in larger social processes of political economy and ecology, particularly related to contemporary environmental politics, contextualized within the histories of colonialism and tourism-led economic development. Integrating the complexity of local environmental risk perceptions into CCV policy will help to avoid maladaptation, social movements against CCV planning, and may help maximize government and donor investments.