Northwestern North Carolina offers a distinctive combination of economic development characteristic of the New South in the United States, extensive forest management, and intensive tourism. For project purposes, the region afforded opportunities to examine the effects of the population and affluence dimensions of the I = PAT+formulation, to consider the relative importance of forest carbon sinks in locality contributions to greenhouse gas emissions abatement, and to consider differences between local and statewide perspectives on greenhouse gas emission questions.
Greenhouse gas emissions in the Northwestern North Carolina study area originate primarily from a relatively small number of utility and industrial point sources, but affluence-related emissions from the transportation and residential sectors are also notable components of the region's mix of emissions sources. A surprisingly heavy reliance on local biomass waste by small manufacturing plants substitutes for the use of fossil fuels in the region, a facet of the global array of fuel and emissions issues perhaps evident in other forested regions.
Landscape, life, and livelihood
The study area covers parts of the Piedmont Plateau and Blue Ridge mountains with approximately two thirds lying in the Piedmont (Figure 2.2), a region characterized by rolling hills and gently sloping interfluves, with local relief typically less than 50 m (165 ft). The Blue Ridge portion of the study area is a heavily dissected mountainous region with most elevations lying between 900 and 1,500 m (2950–4925 ft) and with local relief often exceeding 300 m (985 ft).
Greenhouse gas emissions arise from the acts of people in their local environments, and the sources of greenhouse gases and the driving forces behind their emissions are as varied as the localities included in the Global Change and Local Places project. These different mixes of emission sources and driving forces produce a range of local vulnerabilities, including different perceptions of the magnitude and nature of the problem, and different potential solutions. In order to reduce these emissions, a one-size-fits-all strategy may not work. Instead, analysts and policy makers may be faced with multi-faceted solutions that require an understanding of the dimensions of local vulnerabilities as well as local opportunities for prevention or reduction of emissions. These opportunities may not be realized, in large part because of differing perceptions of risks to different localities. Not only are there perceptual differences on the issue within and among economic sectors and governments, but there is also a significant degree of public indifference to the issue at local, state, and national levels.
Perceptions of climate change: thinking globally and mitigating locally?
Both lay and expert perceptions lead to different evaluations of the nature, extent, and scientific certainty regarding the existence or probability of climate change and its possible impacts (Redclift 1998; Stehr and von Storch 1995). These perceptions are often framed within highly localized sociocultural or sociopolitical contexts, which undoubtedly vary from place to place. In the same way, the willingness of local residents, industries, and businesses to reduce emissions may vary among places.
The Global Change and Local Places project case studies foster robust explanations of local, national, and international trends in greenhouse gas emissions. Knowing the specific events and processes responsible for changes in greenhouse gas emissions in particular places (sometimes called the proximate or intermediate forces of human-induced changes in the global environment) broadens understanding of possibilities for abatement or adaptation. Examples of proximate forces include the opening of a coal-fired power plant, or the growth of two-earner households and associated increases in automobile use. Proximate forces cannot be studied in isolation from the social processes that underlie them, the mechanisms and trends often called the driving forces of global change. Focusing on proximate forces and driving forces deepens understanding of greenhouse gas emission dynamics by emphasizing the degree to which the proximate forces that are so often the focus of policy responses are themselves determined by powerful social forces that policy makers often ignore.
The four Global Change and Local Places study areas were used as natural laboratories for teasing out details regarding the operations of proximate and driving forces. Case studies often provide contexts in which analysis and explanation are less refractory than they can be over larger areas (Box 8.1). Indeed, the distinctly different trajectories of greenhouse gas emissions for the four Global Change and Local Places study areas illustrate the ways emissions and changes in emissions over time vary in response to the different kinds of economic change that have occurred in the four areas.
Global change is rooted in localities. The impacts of global warming, as well as adaptations to warming and attempts to ameliorate it, will occur in communities at local and regional scales. In some respects global climate change is analogous to other societal dilemmas. Local communities contribute to large, intractable problems; local initiatives may arise in the absence of larger efforts to address the problems; and localities grapple with policies and regulations imposed upon them from afar. Within each Global Change and Local Places study area, there are human–environment analogs that yield insights into how greenhouse gas mitigation could proceed at locality scale.
Earlier chapters have documented the import of understanding the driving forces that generate regional greenhouse gas emissions, tracked changes in emissions through time, and assessed greenhouse gas abatement potentials in the Global Change and Local Places study areas. Examining the structures and dynamics of societal attempts to mitigate threats analogous to global warming offers fresh insights for science and policy formulation. Whereas prior work has focused on using analogs to anticipate impacts and adaptation, this chapter emphasizes analogy to understand mitigation processes. For purposes of this analysis, adaptation denotes the array of societal coping responses to an environmental threat such as climate change. Mitigation means efforts to abate the threat itself, such as limiting the release of greenhouse gases or acting to absorb them.
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