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Essays on the Politics and Political Effects of Climate Change


This dissertation focuses on the politics and potential effects of climate change on political systems. I examine aspects of three broad questions. First, how might future climatic stressors alter the stability of political systems? Numerous studies investigate this question through the lens of conflict. Yet most political change does not arise through violent upheaval. In democratic nations at least, most political change arises through regular elections. In my first chapter, I examine the potential for climate change to disrupt the functioning of political systems through alterations in political behaviors at the ballot box. I find that -- if historical relationships persist -- the climatic distributions projected for the latter part of this century may increase rates of democratic turnover, especially in poorer nations with already weaker democratic institutions. My second question relates to the political feasibility of policies designed to address climatic changes in lower income democracies. In my second chapter, I investigate the willingness of voters and politicians in Sub-Saharan Africa to lend political support to climate change policies. Evidence from these studies suggests that voters are reticent to support climate policies and that politicians are reluctant to pursue climate policies. My third question focuses on the behavioral motivations for taking individual political action to address climate change. Organizations looking to motivate action on climate change often make appeals that emphasize an individual's personal responsibility for the problem, with the notion that emphasizing diffuse collective responsibility may diminish individual action. In my third chapter, I conduct a series of survey experiments with members from the National Audubon Society and from the general public and find that -- contrary to expectations -- emphasizing personal responsibility produces no significant increase in climate change action whereas emphasizing collective responsibility amplifies climate action. These three chapters represent a foray into vital areas of my future research program: the potential effects of climate change on political systems, the political feasibility of climate policies, and the underpinnings of political behaviors related to climate change.

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