Community power can impact environment

Community group united. | Newsreel
Strong, united communities can undermine environmental initiatives. | Photo: Carlo Prearo (iStock)

The benefits of a strong, united local community do not always include combating climate change.

New research out of the University of Sydney, indicates that strong community bonds could hinder rather than help environmental initiatives.

Associate Head of the university’s School of Project Management Associate Professor Patr Matous said their study examined communities where robust local ties led to resistance against environmental initiatives, sustainability programs, and greenhouse gas reduction projects.

“Traditionally, we’ve always thought of strong communities as a positive force – for locals and the environment,” Dr Matous said.

“However, our study shows that’s not always the case. Strong communities can sometimes be significant obstacles to environmental initiatives.”

Dr Matous said this could be due to the creation of echo chambers, where beliefs were continuously reinforced with little debate, fostering a strong consensus within the group.

He said they compared their findings to analyses of social media communities, where like-minded individuals often reinforced each other’s views on contentious issues ranging from vaccines and reproductive rights to housing and gun control.

Dr Matous noted that while cohesive communities worldwide often collaborated to combat environmental issues like pollution, invasive species, and overfishing, strong local bonds could also have drawbacks.

“We’ve observed entire villages mobilising against renewable energy projects. For example, here in Australia, farmers in tight-knit communities have coordinated opposition to what they perceive as sudden, forceful changes on their land.”

He said “community pushback” was now a major bottleneck in implementing projects toward Australia’s net-zero goals.

“Sustainability transitions often require significant land areas and changes to longstanding land management practices, leading to resistance that can range from rejection of new methods to legal action and protests.”