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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Such as “What have been the biggest changes to the environment in the last 50 years?” “Do you experience any conflicts over lagoon and/or land use?”, and “What are the biggest environmental problems in Moorea today?”.

  2. 2.

    It is also possible that informant’s responses to the interview questions were intended to “game the system” if an informant thought that the results of the study would have an effect on environmental policy. The study did not attempt to measure or control for possible gaming strategies.

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Acknowledgments

The research for this paper was supported by two National Science Foundation Grants (SBR-9806256 and SES-0137458), and a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Program on Global Security and Sustainability (00-65195-GSS). We are grateful to Vaiatu Frogier, Tehea Tramier, Claude Carlson, Annie Aubanel, Christian Monier, and Mark Eddowes for fieldwork assistance. We also acknowledge the generosity of people too numerous to list from Moorea and Tahiti, as well as the Centre de Recherches et Observatoire de l’Environnement and the UC Berkeley Gump Biological Research Station in Moorea. This is Contribution #200 of the UC Berkeley Gump South Pacific Research Station.

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Walker, B.L.E., López-Carr, D., Chen, C. et al. Perceptions of environmental change in Moorea, French Polynesia: the importance of temporal, spatial, and scalar contexts. GeoJournal 79, 705–719 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-014-9548-8

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Risk perception
  • Adaptation
  • Political ecology
  • Pacific Islands
  • Moorea