An Australian Feeling for Snow: Towards Understanding Cultural and Emotional Dimensions of Climate Change

Andrew Gorman-Murray

Abstract

In Australia, snow is associated with alpine and subalpine regions in rural areas; snow is a component of ‘natural’ rather than urban environments. But the range, depth and duration of Australia’s regional snow cover is imperilled by climate change. While researchers have considered the impacts of snow retreat on the natural environment and responses from the mainland ski industry, this paper explores associated cultural and emotional dimensions of climate change. This responds to calls to account for local meanings of climate, and thus localised perceptions of and responses to climate change. Accordingly, this paper presents a case study of reactions to the affect of climate change on Tasmania’s snow country. Data is drawn from a nationwide survey of responses to the impact of climate change on Australia’s snow country, and a Tasmanian focus group. Survey respondents suggested the uneven distribution of Australia’s snow country means snow cover loss may matter more in certain areas: Tasmania was a key example cited by residents of both that state and others. Focus group respondents affirmed a connection between snow and Tasmanian cultural identity, displaying sensitivity to recent changing snow patterns. Moreover, they expressed concerns about the changes using emotive descriptions of local examples: the loss of snow cover mattered culturally and emotionally, compromising local cultural activities and meanings, and invoking affective responses. Simultaneously, respondents were ‘realistic’ about how important snow loss was, especially juxtaposed with sea level rise. Nevertheless, the impact of climate change on cultural and emotional attachments can contribute to urgent ethical, practical and political arguments about arresting global warming.

Keywords

Tasmania; Climate change; Snow; Cultural identity

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