The underbelly of economy versus environment conflicts : detangling sources of tension in contentious natural resource decisions

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Clermont, Holly Jayne
biodiversity conservation
environmental assessment
frame analysis
natural resource conflict
sense of place
It is well-established that biodiversity confers resilience to social-ecological systems, and also that humans are collectively and routinely degrading and destroying ecosystems and driving species to extinction through development and other avenues. In the decade preceding this research, biodiversity loss at local and globally-aggregated scales persistently and substantially exceeded the safe operating space for biosphere integrity, contributing to assertions that the stability of Earth’s systems could no longer be relied upon. The propensity to protect biodiversity, or contribute to its demise, arises from a variety of tangled motivations. I investigated five of these influences, including values, sense of place, networks of relationships, media frames, and perceptions of science, for two contentious proposed energy projects in western Canada. I first conducted a frame analysis of online media regarding an oil pipeline expansion from Alberta to British Columbia (BC), and a run-of-river hydroelectric project on the BC coast. I then surveyed and interviewed participants, mapped their place connections, analyzed social networks and social media networks, and examined text and oral submissions to regulatory agencies. These findings were systematically integrated to explore how the five influences contributed to each conflict and decisions affecting biodiversity. Support and opposition for the pipeline were found to be proxies for the prioritization of self-enhancement and self-transcendence (nature) values, respectively, while self-transcendence (nature) values were found on both sides of the run-of-river conflict. For the pipeline conflict, disparities in senses of place underscored a clash of regions. In both cases, well-intentioned but polarizing leaders contributed to online media frames that emphasized conflict and buttressed extreme positions, while helping shape or reinforce siloed networks and the diffusion, uptake, and understanding of scientific and other information. Environmental review processes were mostly unresponsive to these influences. Leverage points to better reduce environmental conflict and protect biodiversity were identified for environmental assessment and similar processes.
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