Prospects for place-based climate change adaptation: An exploration of place, vulnerability and collaborative planning in Churchill, Manitoba
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The need to plan for climate change is an emerging reality for Canadian communities. Impacts like flooding or changes in the formation of sea ice have already contributed to significant financial and social disruptions in many cities, towns, and regions. In response, a growing number of municipalities have adopted climate change adaptation plans that lay out a pathway to prepare for such events. It is typical for such planning efforts to recognize that local economies, elements of the built environment, and the ecosystems that support them are vulnerable to climate change impacts. However, these plans often fail to examine how intangible socio-psychological dimensions of community life might condition these vulnerabilities. They also typically do not ask whether experiential aspects of community life like local values or identity might also be vulnerable, or explore the potential consequences of their disruption. Accordingly, this thesis argues that there may be a blind spot in dominant approaches to adaptation planning that is exposing communities to unforeseen risks. It also questions whether current planning efforts will be sufficient to buffer against disruptions to the many foundations of community life that are not captured in the rational calculus of climate change adaptation practice. Churchill, Manitoba is examined as a case study of the potential for a place-based approach to climate change adaptation planning. When conceptualized as a bond between a person and a particular landscape, the place perspective offers a vehicle for incorporating local values and identity into adaptation planning processes. Place provides a language that is familiar to the planning profession, and that is also conducive to community engagement. That said, results from a community survey (n= 51) demonstrate that inaction in the face of acknowledged climate change impacts can persist even in the presence of strong place connections. When place is considered more broadly through the lens of mobility, a potential explanation for this finding emerges. Results of a structural equation model show that visitors’ (n= 306) place identity and sense of nature relatedness shape the desire to consume vulnerable landscapes (i.e., a last chance tourism motivation). At the same time, in-depth community interviews (n= 24) conducted as part of grounded theory show that manifestations of power and mobility influence the place bonding process and condition the belief that an active citizenry has no legitimate role in shaping a community’s climate future. This thesis illustrates how processes that financially exploit a community’s place identity can condition community vulnerability and constrain options for community adaptation planning. It also challenges the dominant notion that the primary benefit of the place perspective is encouraging individual behavioural change through place protective action. From a critical place perspective, an equally important role is probing how mobility and power condition a state of collective inefficacy, and exploring how place might provide a point of connection for resistance and collaborative change.