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Date of Award

Fall 2011

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Geography

Supervisor

Susan J. Elliott

Language

English

Abstract

Environmental sustainability is increasingly threatened by large-scale changes to the natural environment that could significantly affect human and ecosystem health. In addition, changes to the social, political, economic and physical environment will impact populations globally. Sustainable behaviour change is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate related impacts, and develop the capacity to adapt to future climate and environmental changes. Towards these ends, it is necessary to understand how members of the public perceive and behave in relation to global environmental change. This research begins to explore the knowledge, attitudes and practices of Canadians related to global environmental change and health. In particular, this thesis focuses on results from qualitative, semi-structured in-depth interviews (n=22) with adults (18+) in the Golden Horseshoe region of Southern Ontario. Participants were asked about individual and community health, knowledge and attitudes of global environmental change, actions taken to mitigate environmental change, and potential behaviour change mechanisms. Results indicate that although participants are environmentally aware and concerned about local environmental issues (eg. air pollution), detailed knowledge of specific causes, impacts and risks of climate change and global warming is limited. While the majority of respondents expressed concern about global environmental change, there was also skepticism around the causes and impacts in the Golden Horseshoe Region. Participants demonstrated a willingness to act in environmentally friendly ways, and respondents described possible environmentally-friendly activities such as recycling and reducing energy consumption. Decreasing cost, and increasing time, convenience, and enjoyment were described as incentives to undertake behaviour change. The main contribution of this thesis is the advancement of knowledge related to the public perception of climate change, global warming, and global environmental change as important emerging environmental health risks. Results are discussed relative to policy implications and directions for future research.

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