Is seeing believing? Applying a realist framework to examine agriculture and climate change

Matthew Houser, Diana Stuart, Michael Carolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Agricultural production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change. If the agricultural sector is to mitigate its contributions, farmers must actively adopt conservation practices. Recent studies have shown farmers’ beliefs about climate change to be influential in their support for adopting these practices. This study explores how social groups and their climate change messages interact with regional biophysical expressions of climate change to influence farmers’ climate change beliefs. We apply a recently revised realist framework to qualitative data from 104 interviews with corn farmers in Iowa and Indiana, United States (US). Our findings illustrate that many farmers are able to detect the biophysical expressions of climate change; however, their acknowledgement of the impacts of climate change in most cases does not translate into an acknowledgement of the anthropogenic nature of climate change. Conflicting social messages produce uncertainty about or disbelief in humans’ causal role. These results show that realist frameworks, like the one applied here, can serve as useful guides for analyses and intervention related to climate change mitigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-336
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2017


  • Climate change
  • agriculture
  • beliefs
  • climate change denial
  • realism
  • social–ecological systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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