Public Opinion on the Environment and Policy in Latin America
Evans, Claire Q.
What determines climate change concern, prioritizing environmental protections, or preferences over environmental policy? While scholarship on these topics has grown in recent years, in this dissertation I work to broaden our understanding of answers to these questions by focusing on less developed economic and political contexts. Throughout the dissertation I argue that people’s engagement with and opinion on these issues are influenced by context and experience, but in nuanced ways. In the first substantive chapter, I develop a theory of community relevance that suggests people should incorporate their community’s experience into their climate change concern. Using spatial data, I test this expectation in Latin America and find that people are not incorporating their communities’ experience with environmental issues into their climate change concern. The second substantive chapter tackles one potential explanation for this null result: people have different conceptualizations of environmental issues that vary by their experience. Focus groups and survey data in Peru provide evidence that people think about the environment in different ways. Further, these differences are often systematically related to the contexts in which people live. Then finally, I address how policy preferences reflect how people perceive their political context. Frequently, in less developed contexts, the capacity of the state can be weak, and the quality of government can be low. I posit that people incorporate their perceptions of the capacity and quality to decide their preferences for state vs. non-state policy solutions. Using survey data from four Latin America countries, I find that for those who do not find the state is strong or effective, preferences for non-state solutions increase.