Date of Award:

5-2023

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Environment and Society

Committee Chair(s)

Sarah Klain

Committee

Sarah Klain

Committee

Paul Lachapelle

Committee

Roslynn McCann

Abstract

Addressing climate change in the United States is an increasingly complex issue that requires social and technological changes throughout the country, which the Cooperative Extension System (Extension) can influence. Based at land-grant universities, their goals are to bring relevant science and innovation to the people of the United States. For a successful low-carbon transition, there are certain elements of society that must be influenced by innovators like Extension. Extension’s historical roots in agriculture prevail today with most of their programming focusing on this sector. However, there is a movement within Extension to expand their programmatic efforts to address more contemporary issues that are affecting their audiences. This research uses interview data with 21 Extension professionals, a document review, programming evidence, and two transition frameworks to answer four research questions: 1) can interview respondent insights, compared with an established transformation framework, help determine how far along Extension is in a transition towards becoming a more significant actor for climate change action? 2) What obstacles and opportunities can be identified for Extension becoming a significant actor in climate mitigation and adaptation in the United States? 3) Through the lens of the MLP framework, historical document review, programming evidence, and interviews, what obstacles exist for Extension in becoming a significant actor during a socio-technical transition towards a low carbon society in the United States? 4) Using the MLP, are there gaps in Extension’s abilities as a niche organization to influence the United States? There is evidence to support Extension’s transition towards a focus on climate programming, however, Extension is still in the early phases of a transformation. Obstacles that prevent advancing this transition revolve around Extension faculty and their target audience's beliefs in climate change, funding availability for climate change programming, and lack of strong leadership pushing for climate action. Extension has the ability to progress climate action initiatives, its weakness is in its lack of central focus on climate change adaptation and mitigation. If Extension were to focus its resources and efforts on climate adaptation and mitigation programming, its impact on emission reductions in the United States could be tremendous.

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