current research projects

When the end of human civilization is your day job: How climate change scholars cope with their professional work
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collaborators: Maria Ojala (Örebro University, Sweden), Sonja Klinsky (Arizona State University).

abstract: This study explores how climate change scientists function and cope in an occupation which asks them to engage in an overwhelming problem that as individuals they can never fully understand or solve. Utilizing stress and coping scholarship this research identifies the various forms of coping strategies employed by climate change scientists engaged in a wicked problem occupation. This research uses the transactional theory of stress of coping to investigate both primary appraisal and secondary appraisal. First, this study explores the primary appraisal process by identifying the stressors which climate change scientists perceive as relevant to their occupation. Second, this study explores the secondary appraisal process by exploring the coping strategies employed by climate change scientists in response to these stressors. We investigate the thoughts and behaviors that climate change scientists use to manage the internal and external demands of situations that they appraise as stressors in their occupation. Study participants were selected from international climate change scientists who voluntary participate in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Results of the study generate conceptual contributions for how individuals perceive stressors and engage in coping strategies when confronted consistently with a macro-social wicked problem such as climate change.

Conceptualizing a wicked problem occupation: Professional engagement with climate change and maintaining a positive occupational identity
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collaborators: Sonja Klinsky (Arizona State University), Blake Ashforth (Arizona State University), Maria Ojala (Örebro University, Sweden), Ronald Cohen (Bennington College).

abstract: Given most people will spend a significant portion of their adult lives at work, work as a life domain is an important and salient source of meaning and self-definition for most individuals. Yet sometimes work can be overwhelming, creating stressors which threaten this sense of self. As experts climate change scientists are uniquely knowledgeable and aware of the problem of climate change, thinking about it frequently and talking about it routinely as part of their occupation. Leveraging identity and occupational identity scholarship, this study develops a problem engagement framework for characterizing occupational engagement with wicked problems. Although wicked problems are inherently multi-dimensional, this research distinguishes between two primary characterizations of occupational engagement with wicked problems: (1) descriptive and analytical engagement (Type A engagement) characterized by work which focuses on understanding and defining the causes and implications of the wicked problem, and (2) responsive and transformative engagement (Type B engagement) characterized by work which focuses on assessing and operationalizing courses of action for responding to and solving the problem. Study participants were selected from international climate change scientists who voluntary participate in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Using semi-structured interviews with climate change scientists this study explores the construct of a ‘wicked problem occupation’ through two research inquiries: (1) how do climate change scientists participating in climate change research describe, bound and internalize their occupational identities?, and (2) How does the nature of a wicked problem occupation influence how individuals construct and maintain a positive occupational identity? In wicked problem occupations, progress is often difficult to measure, solutions might be problematic to assess, and the enormity of the problem to which the occupation is dedicated can be overwhelming.

If science is under threat, is it part of your job as a scientist to advocate for protecting it? Exploring scholar advocacy during the March for Science and People’s Climate March
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collaborators: Sonja Klinsky (Arizona State University).

abstract: The politicization of science and climate change in the United States produces tensions for scholars both conceptually, as it challenges the notion of objectivity, and materially, as scholars navigate threats to funding and other resources. The election of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election in 2016 triggered a new era of reengaged politicization about science, climate change, and climate science, specifically. Against this backdrop of debate about the role of science and scientists in public decision-making, it is surprising that there has been limited investigation of how scholars themselves are navigating their jobs amidst the politicization of their work. In this study we examine the extent to which protest participants consider political engagement to be part of their job in an era of growing politicization around both science and climate change. The research draws on unique survey data collected from a sample of participants in the March for Science (n = 331) and a sample of participants in the People’s Climate March (n = 363). Using face-to-face interviews with scholars and non-scholars participating in the demonstrations, we gather insights from how scholars describe their own occupations and how integral their occupation is to their overall sense of self. Nearly one-third of study participants across both demonstrations agreed that ‘participating in the demonstration was part of their professional role’. We observed that those with more salient occupational identities were more likely to be engaging in protest ‘as part of their job’. Although we had expected occupational identity could play a role in determining participation for scholars due to the direct relationship between their occupation and the topic of the protests, our findings suggest that a far wider range of individuals perceive a connection between their occupation, climate change and science. Our study highlights to potential for occupation and occupation-related views to be a motivation for participating in a protest in general. The present research allows us to consider what types of scholars might be most willing to engage politically and, consequently, what types of scholars are most effective in this engagement. More broadly, it allows us to consider whether climate change has become a sufficiently mainstreamed concern within American life that it is becoming integrated into the occupational work of non-scholars.

Shades of green: Contrasting pro-environment attitudes in support and opposition of local wind energy development
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abstract: Historical arguments over energy developments and land-use conservation typically pin environmentalists to one side of a debate. In several modern cases, however, multiple perspectives of a conflict can each be characterized by pro-environment attitudes. Two contrasting perspectives characterize a ‘green on green’ dilemma that can be examined in the case of wind energy development. One perspective prioritizes clean energy potential (e.g., low emissions, low water usage) as wind energy’s central feature. A second perspective opposes wind energy projects because of its local externalities such as visual landscape degradation and noise impacts. Although the presence of this ‘green on green’ dilemma has been observed in several public perception studies related to wind energy, no research has conceptualized this finding in depth. The purpose of this study is to conceptualize contrasting pro-environment attitudes characterized by a ‘green on green’ dilemma using wind energy development as a case study. This review paper is divided into three main parts. First, the most often cited justifications for public support and opposition of local wind energy developments are reviewed. Second, I review foundational literature related to dilemmas and environmental trade offs in an attempt to conceptualize the notion of a ‘green on green’ dilemma. The purpose of reviewing these areas of the literature is to present the existing state of research while answering the following questions: Does the literature provide substantial evidence that ‘pro-environment’ behavior is a determining motivation for both opposition and support of wind energy developments? What motivates ‘pro-environment’ support and opposition to siting wind energy facilities? By extension, does the notion of a ‘green on green’ dilemma help to explain these contrasting justifications? Ecocentrism and anthropocentrism are discussed as conceptualization tools for wind energy development. The final part of this paper discusses implications for sustainable energy development and considers future research opportunities.