Mississippi River Basin residents are concerned about the environment, but little realize they live in the basin, study finds

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A new study provides a rare look into how Mississippi River Basin residents think about climate and the relationship they have, or don’t have, with one of the world’s most important rivers.

The study, published Oct. 23, was conducted by a research team led by Kate Rhodes, assistant professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. The university also houses the Mississippi River Basin Agriculture and Water Desk. They surveyed more than 2,300 adult residents of 10 states bordering the Mississippi River to better understand what people know about environmental issues in the watershed.

Only about half of those surveyed were aware that their state was in a basin. In Kentucky, only 7.5% of respondents considered themselves living in the basin, even though the entire state was included.

This map shows the number of respondents in each Mississippi River state who correctly answered whether they live in the Mississippi River watershed. Credit: Annie Ropeik, Ag & Water Desk

Maisa Khan, policy director for the Mississippi River Network, said every presentation begins by showing a map of the watershed, showing its headwaters and bays, and explaining the extent of its tributaries. She said that because we are in a basin, we cannot understand that what happens in our stretch of river affects what happens downstream.

The study points to the need for river scientists and advocates to better communicate what’s happening in the Mississippi River, which is essential for wildlife habitat, drinking water, and global commerce.

“We know we’re missing some basic knowledge. … But it’s important for people in these states to know a little more about the issues that are impacting their daily lives,” Rose said. Ta.

Even if people are aware, they may feel they don’t have the power to do much.

Mr Khan said people were starting to worry as the effects of climate change became clearer, including extreme weather events, but felt they had little control over it.

“That’s really concerning,” Khan said. “It’s easy to feel hopeless.”

But the study also shows support for policy reforms and other solutions to address the basin’s environmental problems.

Most people believe climate change is happening

Almost 70% of all survey respondents said they believed climate change was occurring, with the rest split evenly between those who didn’t know and those who didn’t believe.

Opinions were divided over the drivers behind climate change and the extent to which there was scientific consensus to support them.

This data is especially noteworthy given that more than 99% of scientists agree that climate change is occurring and is primarily caused by humans.

Deceem Williams, 9, runs around his father Dennis Williams as they check out the historic low water levels of the Mississippi River at Greenbelt Park in Memphis, Tennessee, on October 26, 2022.Credit: Mark Weber, Daily Memphian

Just over half of respondents said human activities are primarily responsible for climate change, and around 40% said climate change is primarily caused by natural changes in the environment. Nearly 70% said most scientists agree that climate change is occurring, but in another question 25% said there is “a lot of disagreement” among scientists. responded that there was “not enough scientific evidence” to conclude that climate change is occurring.

These results are consistent with the latest national data from the Yale University Climate Attitudes Survey, which last asked American adults about their feelings about the issue in 2021. From these results, his 72% of respondents said that global warming is occurring, and 57% believe that global warming is caused by human activities.

The majority of respondents in the basin (70%) said they felt religiously motivated to care for nature and felt they had a responsibility to care for nature as God’s stewards.

Supporting people who are worried about the environment and finding solutions

Almost 60% of respondents said their state is being affected by environmental change, and more than half said environmental change is impacting their local community. Nearly half said they had personally experienced negative impacts as a result of these changes, including an increase in extreme weather events.

In 2016, the Mississippi River reached flood stage surrounding a highway outside Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Andrew Braig, Daily Memphian)

That’s been evident in the past few years in the Mississippi River Valley, which has experienced severe flooding, drought, and extreme heat.

“If you had asked the question[about environmental change]20 years ago, things would have been very different,” said Dominique Brossard, dean of the School of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Research results.

“I think it’s encouraging that people are starting to realize that there are environmental issues that affect the entire region,” she added.

In 9 out of 10 states bordering the river, more than half are concerned about the health effects of environmental change, with Illinois and Louisiana having the most concerns (about 59% each) % and 58%). In Arkansas, approximately 45% of respondents are concerned about health effects.

Younger respondents were more likely than older respondents to report feeling anxious. Overall, most respondents are concerned about extreme weather, with 88% reporting it as at least a somewhat serious problem, followed by pollution, flooding, and water quality.

An overwhelming majority of respondents supported policies that protect drinking water and the environment, and a majority supported federal water policies that protect rivers. Most said they were willing to support environmental efforts at the local, state, and federal levels.

One recently proposed initiative is the creation of a multistate compact to increase federal support for environmental issues in river basins, similar to the interstate compact that protects the Great Lakes. More than half of respondents said they supported such a river agreement.

Aerial view of Muscatine, Iowa, along the Mississippi River, Monday, September 18, 2023. Air support by LightHawk. (Photo by Nick Rollman, The Gazette)

The study also asked questions about agricultural practices and how they affect the landscape. The majority of respondents, his 64%, agreed that managing environmental issues on agricultural land is a top priority. About 30% said current agricultural practices do more harm to the environment than they benefit the environment, while about a quarter disagreed with this statement.

Respondents primarily supported sustainable farming practices such as grass-fed and organic farming, but also approved of traditional farming practices such as row cropping.

Willingness to act, resistance to personal responsibility

Almost half of respondents said they were willing to change their personal behavior to combat environmental change, such as recycling more or driving less. Their motivation decreased when the proposed action had a significant impact on their wallets.

When it comes to who is responsible for environmental issues that affect their area, more than half of respondents said society as a whole has at least a moderate responsibility, while about 24% of respondents said they personally held at least a moderate amount of responsibility. feel that they have moderate or significant responsibility for Nearly 60% said environmental problems require systemic solutions, and about half said individual actions can have a major impact on mitigating environmental degradation.

To get people concerned about climate change and environmental issues and to get them to take action, it’s important to connect those broader issues to what’s happening in people’s everyday lives. In Rose’s words, “bringing the local.”

Map of the Mississippi River basin, including the Mississippi River (bold line) and its major tributaries, based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey. (via Google Maps, Ag & Water Desk, written by Annie Ropeik)

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to engage people who are not directly involved in daily life or direct community engagement to do advocacy work,” Khan said.

For example, linking climate change to health effects can be an effective way to get people’s attention, Brossard said. In Kahn’s case, her organization realized that talking about dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico didn’t motivate people upstream to care about what was flowing into the Mississippi River. So they focused on discussing how the same pollutants cause beach closures and algae blooms.

Kahn also said that societal and individual actions can work together to have the greatest impact, but she and Brossard said that changes in institutions and policies could have an even bigger impact on the problem. Agreed that there is.

This story is Mississippi River Basin Agriculture and Water Deskan independent reporting network based in . University of Missouri In cooperation with Report for America, is generously funded by the Walton Family Foundation. Research Midwest is a member.

Type of work:

news service Produced externally by organizations we trust to uphold journalistic standards.



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