Sharing the pain: perceptions of fairness affect private and public response to hazards

W. Neil Adger, Tara Quinn, Irene Lorenzoni, Conor Murphy

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53 Citations (Scopus)
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Structural causes of vulnerability to hazards are well established in geographical research. But what facilitates individual adaptive behavior? How does the performance of government intervention affect such behavior? Drawing on political economy, environmental psychology, and climate justice perspectives, we explore how perceived fairness of responses to weather-related extreme events affects the public and private distribution of responsibility and action. We focus on flood risk and examine how perceptions of fairness of response by residents in flood-affected areas, along with their prior experience of flooding and perceptions of scope of government responsibility and capacity, affect willingness to take individual adaptive action. We use data from surveys of 356 households affected by a flood event in November 2009 in Cumbria, UK, and Galway, Ireland, to compare perceptions of fairness of responses and private intentions across two political jurisdictions. We find that aspects of fairness are related to willingness to take adaptive action but vary with context, experience, and knowledge of flooding. In Cumbria, where there is greater experience of flooding, willingness to act correlates with procedural justice, risk knowledge, and capacity. Capacity for flood management in Galway is firmly associated with state agencies, whereas in Cumbria it is perceived to result from responsibilities of public and private action. These findings highlight the central role of government action and its perceived fairness in structuring private responses to environmental risks and point to the crucial role of climate justice perspectives in navigating adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1079-1096
Number of pages18
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number5
Early online date8 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • floods
  • political economy
  • fairness
  • climate risks
  • perceptions

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