Abstract

Indigenous people around the world have been particularly vocal about climate change as a challenge to their cosmovision—or traditional worldview—resulting in demands for protection of the earth as part of their core beliefs. Is this because indigenous people are the most vulnerable, and feel the impact of climate change more directly? Or is it because of the centrality of the earth to their traditional beliefs? Using survey evidence from Ecuador, we examine how indigenous cosmovision, science, and vulnerability influence the belief that climate change exists. On the basis of one-on-one interviews with indigenous leaders in Ecuador, we argue that both traditional beliefs and Western science inform citizen views of climate change. We discuss the implications of these findings, arguing that rather than competing with science, the Kichwa-based cosmovision complements Western scientific efforts to combat climate change. We also find that proximity to oil extraction is an important determinant of belief in climate change in Ecuador, suggesting that conceptualizations of vulnerability should be tailored to the particular experiences of individuals.

Climate change is arguably one of the most important public issues in the world, yet little is known about what shapes public belief systems about the global phenomenon. In some countries—including the United States—a substantial proportion of citizens deny the existence of anthropogenic climate change (IPSOS Mori 2014). However, in many other countries, climate change is recognized as being man-made and is considered a serious problem (Brechin 2010). Path-breaking studies on aggregate opinions about climate change around the world have attributed cross-national differences to climate vulnerability (Kim and Wolinsky-Nahmias 2014). Few studies have examined, however, what determines attitudes toward climate change within countries, which is arguably where variation in vulnerability to climate change is highest. Most within-country studies of climate change beliefs have focused on public opinion in the United States, where political factors, such as partisanship (McCright and Dunlap 2011a), and social factors, such as religious attendance (McCright and Dunlap 2011b) and religious beliefs (Kilburn 2014), provide powerful explanations. However, given the idiosyncratic nature of the American two-party system, and the fact that America is known to be “distinctively religious compared to its peers” (Kilburn 2014, 474), what explains citizen beliefs in the United States may not translate worldwide.

In addition, most statistical analyses of public opinion have ignored an increasingly salient set of voices in the debate over climate change: those of the world’s indigenous people. Across the globe, indigenous communities have been particularly vocal about climate change as a threat to the traditional ways of life represented in their cosmovision—or traditional worldview—resulting in demands for protection of the earth as part of their core beliefs.1 Is this because indigenous peoples “living off the land” are the most vulnerable, and feel the impact of climate change more directly? Or is it because of the centrality of the earth and its weather to their traditional beliefs? Using a nationwide survey of citizens in Ecuador, we found that respondents who adhere to their indigenous cosmovision are more likely to acknowledge the threats posed by climate change, confirming that traditional belief systems in the developing world can strongly support worldwide mitigation efforts toward climate change. Furthermore, we found that these traditional views complement—rather than conflict with—Western science.

In addition, we analyzed the extent to which climate vulnerability shapes beliefs surrounding climate change, as recent studies have indicated (Kim and Wolinsky-Nahmias 2014). We introduced a new measure of vulnerability—proximity to extractive industries—and found that respondents adjusted their belief in climate change depending on whether they are located on the nation’s extractive frontier. These findings are consistent with results from Eisenstadt and West (2017), in a study of the determinants of broader environmental attitudes. Together, these findings challenge postmaterialism as a significant cause of broader environmental concern, confirming a trend in global environmentalism that others have discovered (Dunlap and York 2012). In addition, the current study answers the recent call—published in an earlier special issue of this journal (Purdon 2015)—to utilize comparative political science to gain further understanding of the politics surrounding climate change. In particular, by analyzing public opinion in a developing country, this article extends our understanding of climate change “beyond institutions and better address[es] interests and ideas at the … state and subnational levels,” a key message that emerged from the volume by Steinberg and VanDeveer (2012), as well as from the special issue on climate change in Global Environmental Politics (Purdon 2015, 3).

After reviewing the literature on climate change attitudes in other countries, with particular attention to Latin America and Ecuador, we develop hypotheses regarding how beliefs consistent with the Kichwa cosmovision and Western science affect one’s understanding of climate change. We also introduce our argument about the effects of living proximate to extractive industries on understanding climate change. After a discussion of our survey and the variables that we generated from the responses, we present the findings of our statistical analysis. We find that cosmovision and living with extraction are the most powerful determinants of belief in climate change in Ecuador, and we conclude with a discussion of the relevance of our results for policies surrounding global climate change.

Equity and Climate Change Attitudes: Variation Across Countries and Within Ecuador

Little systematic and comparative work exists on the domestic politics of climate change.2 Even less has been written comparing public opinion in one country over time,3 or even over a cross-section of nations.4 Hence, we know little about how attitudes toward climate change play out in the Global South.

What we do know is that the North-South debate has been firmly manifested with regard to climate change. As Najam stated:

Developing countries have consistently contextualized environmental issues as part of the larger complex of North-South concerns, particularly concerns about an iniquitous international order and their desire to bring about structure change in that order. This has become more poignant in recent years as environmental negotiations on issues such as climate change have become increasingly focused on trade and economic aspects. (Najam 2015, 220–221)

A regional version of this equity argument has played out in indigenous Latin America, where it has been argued at least since the era of Chico Mendes5 that indigenous stewards of the rainforest merit preferential treatment with regard to their ancestral lands, since they developed forest commons much more sustainably than others have. This debate is exemplified in the controversy over the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) program, which compensates rural dwellers for preserving stands of trees intact, rather than cutting for crops and ranching, to allow the forests to serve in carbon dioxide sequestration. The program has been both praised and criticized, with the indigenous represented on both sides of the issue (see, e.g., Di Gregorio et al. 2015; Kashwan 2015; REDD-Monitor 2015). Arguments over indigenous rights to lands being considered for extractive industries have also prominently occupied public debates in Bolivia (McNeish 2013; Perreault 2013), Brazil (Bratman 2014), and Peru (Arce 2014; Torres 2016). Although indigenous groups have not necessarily had a unified political platform on the environment (Hochstetler 2012, 217), the polemic is playing out around the Americas6 in the form of social conflicts between indigenous advocates of conserving and stewarding the land, and those seeking benefits from resource extraction, viewed by some as inevitable.

In Ecuador, the REDD debate transpired amid a broader set of environment-related controversies (Hall 2012; Seiwald 2012). Given that the debates over climate change and other environmental phenomena were highly publicized, Ecuador is one of the most relevant developing countries for study, since there the public generally has views on a range of climate-related issues. For example, left-leaning President Rafael Correa made inequality in the international environmental realm one of his signature policies. After ratifying the first constitution in the world giving Mother Nature (in Kichwa,7 the Pachamama) “human” rights (Acosta and Martínez 2009; Gudynas 2009; Kauffman and Martin 2014), Correa sought to protect the biodiverse rainforest of Yasuní National Park from imminent oil drilling, but did so by asking international donors to pay Ecuador to offset the oil revenues the nation would forgo by leaving the oil in the ground (Martin 2011; Narváez Quiñonez 2013). After collecting a few million US dollars—a fraction of the funds needed—the Correa administration decided in 2013 to discontinue the campaign and drill for oil in the national park. Although they are less directly tied to climate change prevention than the Yasuní debate, environmental degradation from mineral tailings spillage and related water pollution (Chicaiza 2014) and oil spills in the jungle have also been heavily publicized in Ecuador. In particular, the failed Chevron-Texaco cleanup, which left hundreds of small, open oil pits throughout the rainforest, has provoked domestic and international consternation since the 1980s (Red Jurídica Amazónica 2013; Yanza 2014). Amid these controversies, citizens have developed strong views on environmental degradation, including its forms that could impact climate change.

Furthermore, indigenous culture has played an important role in climate change advocacy in Latin America. In both Ecuador (Acción Ecológica 2012; Acosta 2012; Acosta and Martínez 2009; Fernández et al. 2014; Recasens 2014) and Bolivia (Fabricant 2013), leftist presidents have adopted indigenous cosmovision rhetoric to legitimize climate change and other environmental policies. Some consider this strategy mere “political marketing” (Fernández et al. 2014, 105), and others have argued even more forcefully that politicians’ “timeless vision of indigeneity, particularly using … pre-Columbian land-holding patterns as solutions to climate crisis, poses dangers” (Fabricant 2013, 159). However, most indigenous leaders and politicians have found references to sumak kawsay (“harmonic life” or “living close to nature,” in Kichwa) a legitimizing, authentic, nationalist, and profoundly resonant cloak for their policies. President Correa, for example, utilized the concept frequently, particularly in the lead-up to the passage of Ecuador’s new constitution.

In the following section, we elaborate on how citizen awareness of environmental damage in rural Ecuador, as well as popular renderings of sumak kawsay and other formulations of indigenous cosmovision, may have impacted climate change views.

“Harmonic Life” in the Amazon: From Indigenous Cosmovision to State Policy

We argue that sumak kawsay (translated to Spanish as buen vivir, or good living) advocacy reinforces beliefs in the agency of nature, and complements Western science. Our work builds upon the “Indigenous Knowledge” (IK) movement, which challenges the notion that IK should be considered entirely separate from, or in contradiction to, scientific or nonindigenous knowledge (Turnbull 2009). Upon better defining sumak kawsay, we consider its integration into the Ecuadorian public discourse, and then address its several practical applications on the continuum between more primordial versions of the concept, and versions that seek to integrate the term with a globally competitive approach seeking a form of syncretism between indigenous cosmovision and Western science.

What is sumak kawsay? In Ecuador, this Kichwa term for “harmonic life” has emerged over the last decade as a central pillar of the public discourse, and hence as a concept familiar to many respondents. As interpreted by Seiwald (2012, 22), it is a fluid and relational concept, establishing a constantly adapting bond between humanity, nature, spirituality, and a responsibility for maintaining this bond for future generations. Indeed, interpreters of the concept, as well as some of its originators (such as Acosta 2012; Acosta and Martínez 2009) in the Andes, are not so removed from priorities named by other scholars of indigenous religion elsewhere, such as Vine Deloria Jr. in the US. To Deloria, time is a question more of space than of temporality; geographic entities are known for the stories they inspired and for their proximity to nature. Furthermore, to Deloria (2003), indigenous people place an emphasis on collective identities (which often include nature and other natural beings), rather than individuals. Other scholars of Asia and the Pacific, North America, and South America have also described a similar flow between humans and nature, without the finite boundaries imposed by the West (see, e.g., Allison 2015; Becken et al. 2013; Haluza-DeLay 2014). In this context, sumak kawsay in Ecuador assumes a role in opposition to developmentalism, which—in contrast—emphasizes wealth, poverty, and the hierarchical location of individuals and their economies with respect to global centers of production. “Harmonic life” prioritizes nonmaterial benefits: a pervasive sense of place and fit with nature and among other people, and a sense of well-being derived relationally from one’s historic place (Recasens 2014).

A complication in the possible dichotomy between sumak kawsay and Western science is that the term has been coopted by Ecuadorian state environmental policy. In other words, whether a dichotomy really exists, it is being created by nonindigenous public intellectuals striving to achieve the nationalism and authenticity that the symbols of the indigenous cosmovision have come to embody. As we mentioned briefly above, sumak kawsay was synonymous with the 2008 Ecuador constitution and with some of the early cornerstone policies of President Correa, such as the debate over whether to drill oil in Yasuní National Park. However, the Correa government grew increasingly dependent on extractivism for public revenues, since these revenues were politically much easier to obtain from oil and mining royalty concessions than from raising tax rates or tax collection. Correa’s government began placating citizens on the extractive frontier (Eisenstadt and West 2017; Kauffman and Martin 2014; Vallejo Real 2015). Funds were inaugurated to compensate residents near Amazon drilling sites,8 and the central government created an extensive redistributive program, offering pensions to senior citizens and scholarships to college students, and improving basic infrastructure (like health care) and transportation nationwide.

We argue that the public discourse shows four intellectual positions regarding the confrontation between science and the traditional indigenous cosmovision over how to solve environmental problems. These range from primordialist views of sumak kawsay, to a strong acceptance of Western science, which is prioritized over the cosmovision perspective. We will characterize these positions, generalized from interviews with public officials in Ecuador, through examples given below.

Primordialist advocates argue strenuously that the needs of indigenous peoples, the original inhabitants and best protectors of the rainforest, precede those of others, and that the obligation of government should be to fund the development of native technologies and the restoration of the lost harmony between people and the land.9 In the middle are the utilitarian position and the developmentalist position. Even indigenous activists like Carlos Pérez, the head of the powerful national Andean ECUARUNARI indigenous movement organization, claim the utilitarian position, at least when asked to defend Western science. Said Pérez, in a private interview, “Western science is an important tool which should not be dismissed, but all its data justify the Andean peoples who say we should not rebel against nature; we should not rebel but nature is our mother who deserves all of our protection.”10 To these advocates, the Andean peoples’ protection of nature is still the objective, but they acknowledge Western science as an important means to achieving this end. Another statement of this philosophy was by Shuar leader Gonzalo Tibi, who said that sumak kawsay required human unity with nature, but that this did not preclude Western material development as long as “development is always consistent with our culture.”11

Developmentalists shift the ultimate objective of their efforts from harmony with nature to economic development. To them the central goal is human development and progress, rather than any maximal expression of nature, in which humans play a small part. “The national government meets with China and Canada and multinational companies and speaks of responsible extraction,” according to one social movement coordinator. “But they are exploiting people as well as Mother Earth and this creates inequality. The fundamental problem is inequality and we have to focus more on that.”12 Similarly, Achuar leaders such as Pasqual Callera13 argue that the environmental degradation of drilling for oil in their pristine lands carries too high a price, but that the only way to improve the position of his community is to find alternative development projects and train young Achuar people to manage these projects themselves, as the engineers and geologists in charge.

At the other extreme, perhaps, are the Western positivists. While this group often includes indigenous leaders, they believe that science trumps indigenous cosmovision. Where some leaders believe this to be innately true, others believe that indigenous communities cannot afford to be “left behind” by using only ancestral knowledge when, to compete globally, every advantage must be used. Mestizo leaders such as Provincial Governor Denise Coka14 readily criticize the sumak kawsay promoters as hypocritical, for “telling us we have to live free in the forest and then coming to demand all kinds of services and infrastructure.” Another variant of this position is the call for Western sharing of technology appropriate to local communities and contexts. For example, although the position is controversial, one Shuar leader argued that “we cannot eat leaves,” and Shuar and Achuar leaders claim that if these tribes decide to forbid oil production on their land, this prohibition should only last until the tribe can train its own people to manage the exploitation in a manner more beneficial to local communities.15 Similarly, Kichwa and Waorani leaders in the Napo province, where oil drilling is already underway, recognize the importance of Western science as a way to advocate for themselves against the state and oil companies, requesting that scientific techniques be used to assess environmental quality.16 Many Amazonian indigenous leaders consider the scientific foundation behind climate change as a means to advocate for their communities’ resource needs as advancing extractive frontiers generate more resources.

Factors Explaining Climate Change Belief in Ecuador

A small but influential group of indigenous leaders from the Amazon, where international carbon dioxide “sink” efforts to mitigate global CO2 pollution have been focused, seek to negotiate development projects involving the protection of forests under the UN REDD framework. These activists, including the groups from nine nations in the Coordinating Body for Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), acknowledge the centrality of Western science in quantifying and mitigating climate change, but also insist that their traditional cosmovision (and, consequently, a lighter human presence in areas where they live), has in fact made indigenous communities ideal stewards. The organization has sought to add an Amazon indigenous element to REDD by ensuring that beyond just offsetting carbon pollution in other parts of the world, “what we want is integral conservation of the forest including biodiversity, environmental services, eco-system and cultural services.”17 COICA seeks international development assistance to promote integral rainforest conservation, and also has joined private efforts to set standards for extractive industry cleanups in the rainforest.

Indigenous leaders (e.g., Callera and Paes) have called for the application of indigenous knowledge to tackle climate change, and the Ecuador-based COICA, in its mission statement, captured the sentiment: “Our accumulated knowledge about the ecology of our home, our models for living with the peculiarities of the Amazon Biosphere, our reverence and respect for the tropical forest and its other inhabitants … are the keys to guaranteeing the future of the Amazon Basin … for all of humanity” (COICA 2015). Given that the backdrop to the Ecuadorian policy debate prominently features the indigenous cosmovision and discussions of the relations between indigenous communities, nature, and the earth, our first hypothesis is that, rather than diminishing respondents’ beliefs in climate change, religiosity and support for indigenous cosmovisions actually increase such beliefs.

Hypothesis 1—Cosmovision hypothesis: Support for indigenous cosmovision is expected to increase a respondent’s propensity to believe in climate change.

In the US, the popular debate over whether climate change exists and, secondarily, whether its causes are anthropogenic is framed according to ideology. Climate change communicators have framed the debate thus in the popular media, although it is more nuanced in the academic literature on political psychology. In that literature, some, such as Kahan et al. (2012), have argued that climate change believers tend to be more hierarchical and individualistic in their beliefs (as opposed to egalitarian and communitarian). Others claim that partisanship (Democrats vs. Republicans) drives the difference, and still others claim that how strongly a citizen believes in science dictates whether that person believes in climate change (Gauchat 2012). While translation of the Kahan dichotomy to Western cultures has proven to be complex, our main concern in this article is to juxtapose the cosmovision of indigenous peoples with Western science. Like Gauchat, we argue that believers in science are more likely to also believe in climate change. The caveat is that, as was pointed out by Bolsen, Druckman, and Cook (2015), greater scientific knowledge does not necessarily translate into greater acceptance of the consensus belief in climate change. Peoples’ acceptance of particular scientific phenomena depends on the values, context, ideology, and personal experience at their starting points. Nevertheless, to show the correspondence with cosmovision, we hypothesize the following parsimonious relationship between science beliefs and climate change.

Hypothesis 2—Western science hypothesis: Strong support for Western scientific positivism is expected to increase a respondents’ propensity to believe in climate change.

Finally, we also expect that the political and environmental context of citizens’ livelihoods should prime their beliefs in climate change. Extensive oil production has been found to hinder nations’ environmental performance, most likely due to the expectations such oil production brings for economic development and how that production gets distributed (Eisenstadt et al. 2016). Additionally, in the Andean region, “the negative environmental and social externalities brought about by the boom in the exploration and development of hydrocarbons reserves, and the impact these have had on local communities, constitute the main trigger of local conflicts today” (Vásquez 2014, 5). In addition to triggering actual conflicts, we believe that a history of hydrocarbon production—with all of the attendant environmental, political, social, and economic complications this may bring—becomes a focal point in communities and firmly places environmental issues like climate change on the agenda. Furthermore, oil extraction makes communities vulnerable in a variety of ways, from forcing their relocation, to damaging their local ecosystems. Given the role that fossil fuels play in climate change, living proximate to oil extraction alters local knowledge on climate change, through the attention given to the issue by governmental and nongovernmental organizations alike.

Hypothesis 3—History-of-extraction hypothesis: Respondents in localities where there is a history of oil extraction are more likely to believe in climate change.

Data and Variables

To test the hypotheses above, we use the results of our nationwide survey of Ecuadorians to capture citizens’ beliefs in climate change, as well as their adherence to indigenous cosmovision, their faith in Western science, and whether their localities have experienced oil extraction. In this section, we describe the measures of our dependent variables and the key independent variables that were used to evaluate our hypotheses.

To test all of our hypotheses, we conceptualized citizens’ beliefs in climate change (the dependent variable) through a single measure we developed on the basis of citizen responses during focus groups and extensive field tests of the survey instrument. The question simply asked respondents whether they believe that climate change exists. An overwhelming majority of our sample (91.80 percent) said “yes.” See Appendix A (www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/GLEP_a_00389) for a description of the survey items, question wordings, and the coding of this and all other variables included in the analysis. Appendix B (www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/GLEP_a_00389) describes the sampling methodology used in the nationwide survey.)

Several elements of the survey instrument allowed us to develop measures of how cosmovision, science, and extraction affect beliefs in climate change. Our survey included a series of questions that also allow us to measure the extent to which individuals share in the perspective of indigenous cosmovision. One question—indigenous and nature—asked whether respondents agreed that the indigenous are more connected with Mother Earth than are nonindigenous people (1 if they agreed, 0 otherwise). Around 71.03 percent of the respondents agreed that the indigenous are more connected. Another question—Mother Earth and scarcity—asked whether an individual agreed with the statement that “Mother Earth (Pacha Mama) deals with problems such as shortages in water and food,” and was coded a 1 if the respondent agreed, and 0 otherwise. Around 61.51 percent of the sample agreed with that statement. We expect that individuals who sympathize with the indigenous cosmovision should be more likely to believe that climate change exists. For comparison, we also included questions assessing adherence to Christian faith, asking whether respondents agreed or disagreed with the following statements: Many of the problems in the world today can be attributed to the Apocalypse (End of Days/Judgment Day) predicted by the Bible, versus We depend too much on science and not enough on faith. Within our sample, 47.71 percent agree that problems can be attributed to the Apocalypse. When it comes to science versus faith, 65.83 percent of our sample agrees that we depend too much on science.

To test our hypothesis about how views of Western science affect belief in climate change, we created a science index that includes five survey items. For each of the following statements, we asked our sample whether they agreed with (coded 1) or disagreed with/were neutral toward (coded 0) the following statements: “Science and technology are making our lives healthier”; “Science and technology are making our lives more comfortable”; “Because of science and technology, the next generation will have more opportunities”; “The agricultural techniques taught by scientists are better than traditional ones”; and “Indigenous groups should work with national and/or foreign scientists to resolve local problems.” Together, these questions have a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.71.

We tested the history-of-extraction hypothesis by constructing an indicator variable for the parroquia (or locality) in which each respondent lives. The history of oil extraction variable was coded 1 for areas where oil is being actively extracted. About 6.58 percent of our sample lived in areas of active oil extraction, which was coded on the basis of information from government oil block maps obtained from the Ecuadorian Secretary of Hydrocarbons (n.d.).

We also included a number of control variables in our analysis. Relevant literature has suggested that vulnerability to climate change may also impact an individual’s likelihood to believe that it exists, as well as to be concerned about its effects (Kim and Wolinsky-Nahmias 2014). We argue that the most powerful variety of vulnerability in Ecuador’s extractivist state is living in proximity to oil extraction. However, we also controlled for more general forms of vulnerability. Specifically, we coded the variable rain/river water, which indicates whether respondents get the water they consume in their home from the rain or a river (1 if yes, 0 otherwise). About 18.14 percent of the sample claimed to depend upon rain and river water for their homes. We also expected individuals who have less food security to be more vulnerable, and thus to be more prone to believe in climate change. Our variable food security was coded 1 when respondents said that they or someone in their family had gone without food for a day sometime in the previous three months. About 8.21 percent of our sample suffered from food insecurity.

Because climate change is often viewed as a political issue in case studies of the United States, we included one measure related to political attitudes in Ecuador. The variable leftist ideology is based on a question that asked respondents about the role of the state in solving social problems. Specifically, the question stated: “It’s said that the national government can resolve problems in our society because it has the means to do so. Would you say that it can resolve 1) no problems; 2) a few problems; 3) enough problems; 4) the majority of problems; 5) all problems.” The mean response was 2.71, between a few and enough problems.

We included a control in our analysis for religiosity, which measures the extent to which an individual views religion as important in his or her life, ranked on a scale from 0 (not at all important) to 3 (very important), with a mean of 2.5 (between not very important and somewhat important). Around 60.55 percent of our sample said that religion was very important in their lives. Though religion has a complex relationship with belief in climate change, we expected individuals who expressed greater religiosity to also be more likely to believe in climate change.

Finally, we controlled for whether an individual self-identified as indigenous (approximately 40 percent of our sample). As we indicated above, we expected a belief in indigenous cosmovision to be more relevant to climate change than indigenous identity. We also controlled for media access (coded as 1 for never having access to any media outlet, and 5 as daily access to media outlets) and popular knowledge (an index created by asking respondents if they had ever heard of 14 different phenomena prevalent in the media). Average media access was 4.28—nearly daily access—and popular knowledge ranged from 16.8 percent familiarity (respondents who had heard of the 169th Convention of the International Labor Organization) to 81.57 percent familiarity (respondents who had heard of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador). We also controlled for several demographic factors, such as education (ordinal variable where 1 is no education and 8 postgraduate education, with a mean of 4.21, where a 4 corresponded to incomplete secondary education) and age (continuous variable ranging from 16 to 85, mean of 37.56). The income variable was an ordinal variable that indicated an individual’s self-reported monthly income level (0 represents no income, 5 represents $301 to $500, and 10 represents an income of over $2,000 per month, with a mean of 4.67).

Results and Discussion

To analyze the relationship between our multilevel independent variables and our dependent variable of belief in climate change, we used logits with standard errors clustered around the localities in which respondents lived. We did this because our history of oil extraction variable was coded at the level of locality, meaning that observations at that level were not independent. Our results largely supported our conjecture that adherences to indigenous cosmovision and Western science are complementary in fostering a belief in climate change in developing countries like Ecuador. In addition, we found substantial support for our hypothesis about the importance of extractivism for belief in climate change. In this section, we briefly review and discuss the results of our analyses.

The results of our analysis are presented in Table 1. In our first model (Model 1), we found support for our hypotheses that indigenous cosmovision (indigenous and nature) and support for Western science (Western science index) both increase the probability that an individual will believe in climate change. Living in a locality with a history of oil extraction was another significant, and substantively strong, predictor that an individual would believe in climate change. And finally, religiosity, knowledge, and education also positively affected whether respondents in Ecuador stated that they believed in climate change.

Table 1 

Logit Regression Results of the Factors Influencing Belief That Climate Change Exists

12
Indigenous and nature 1.076*** (0.378) 1.053*** (0.378) 
Western science index 0.248** (0.108) 0.282** (0.130) 
Indigenous and nature × Western science index  −0.064 (0.224) 
Mother Earth and scarcity 0.391 (0.287) 0.394 (0.290) 
Belief in Apocalypse −0.394 (0.323) −0.395 (0.320) 
Science vs. faith 0.111 (0.297) 0.103 (0.293) 
Rain/river water −0.192 (0.441) −0.197 (0.438) 
Food security 0.158 (0.574) 0.162 (0.574) 
History of oil extraction 1.639* (0.905) 1.641* (0.912) 
Leftist ideology 0.057 (0.157) 0.059 (0.160) 
Religiosity 0.473*** (0.155) 0.470*** (0.158) 
Indigenous ID −0.317 (0.425) −0.320 (0.422) 
Income −0.124 (0.122) −0.128 (0.126) 
Media −0.039 (0.121) −0.034 (0.121) 
Popular knowledge 0.299*** (0.110) 0.300*** (0.112) 
Education 0.357*** (0.124) 0.358*** (0.125) 
Age −0.009 (0.008) −0.009 (0.009) 
Constant 0.860 (1.169) 0.890 (1.159) 
N 1,278 1,278 
12
Indigenous and nature 1.076*** (0.378) 1.053*** (0.378) 
Western science index 0.248** (0.108) 0.282** (0.130) 
Indigenous and nature × Western science index  −0.064 (0.224) 
Mother Earth and scarcity 0.391 (0.287) 0.394 (0.290) 
Belief in Apocalypse −0.394 (0.323) −0.395 (0.320) 
Science vs. faith 0.111 (0.297) 0.103 (0.293) 
Rain/river water −0.192 (0.441) −0.197 (0.438) 
Food security 0.158 (0.574) 0.162 (0.574) 
History of oil extraction 1.639* (0.905) 1.641* (0.912) 
Leftist ideology 0.057 (0.157) 0.059 (0.160) 
Religiosity 0.473*** (0.155) 0.470*** (0.158) 
Indigenous ID −0.317 (0.425) −0.320 (0.422) 
Income −0.124 (0.122) −0.128 (0.126) 
Media −0.039 (0.121) −0.034 (0.121) 
Popular knowledge 0.299*** (0.110) 0.300*** (0.112) 
Education 0.357*** (0.124) 0.358*** (0.125) 
Age −0.009 (0.008) −0.009 (0.009) 
Constant 0.860 (1.169) 0.890 (1.159) 
N 1,278 1,278 

Standard errors clustered by locality are in parentheses. *p < 0.1, **p < 0.05, ***p < 0.01

Interestingly, we found no support for the expectation that more vulnerable populations—such as those who rely upon rain and river water for home consumption—are more likely to believe in climate change. We believe that this is because proximity to oil extraction is a more appropriate and context-specific measure of vulnerability among Ecuadorians. Furthermore, political ideology does not matter for predicting an individual’s climate change belief, which differs significantly from analyses of the United States. This finding indicates that belief in climate change is not as highly politicized in domestic politics in countries outside the US—or at least not in Ecuador.

To further analyze the relationship between cosmovision and Western science, we included an interaction term between the two significant variables—indigenous and nature and Western science index—and present those results in Model 2. The interaction term was negative but not significant, which means that adherence to Western scientific ideas dampens the effect that cosmovision has on belief in climate change, but perhaps not across all values of the Western science index. To clarify this finding we present Figure 1, which illustrates the marginal effect that believing that the indigenous are more connected with Mother Earth has on belief in climate change, plotted across values of our Western science index. The plot clearly shows the importance of cosmovision for belief in climate change. When individuals adhere less to Western scientific ideas, cosmovision is very important in determining their belief in climate change. For individuals who have stronger adherence to Western science, the effect of cosmovision diminishes—but is still positive. In other words, except for those individuals who have the strongest adherence to Western science as measured in our index (around 1.5), cosmovision always makes it more likely that an individual will believe in climate change. This figure captures the intellectual positions between cosmovision and science that we highlight above. The influence of cosmovision is strongest for the primordialists, who prioritize traditional beliefs over science, and is weakest for individuals who most strongly adhere to Western science, or the Western positivists.

Figure 1 

Marginal Effects of the indigenous and nature Variable on Belief in Climate Change Across Values of the Western Science Index

Figure 1 

Marginal Effects of the indigenous and nature Variable on Belief in Climate Change Across Values of the Western Science Index

We also find support for Hypothesis 3, the history-of-extraction hypothesis, which confirms our contention that oil extraction increases belief in climate change. Oil extraction has yielded environmental degradation in the form of water pollution and oil spills in the rainforest as discussed above. President Correa’s five-year campaign—abandoned in 2013—to protect the Yasuní Park from oil drilling was mostly publicized as a policy to protect biodiversity and “uncontacted” nomadic tribes of people who live within its perimeter. However, climate change became part of the discourse, because the government also referred to Yasuní protection as a means of preserving the vast Amazonian “carbon sink,” and Ecuador’s REDD proponents made climate change part of the debate where extractivists sought to deforest and mine or drill. These findings build upon previous work that has shown that vulnerability is a leading cause behind not only concern for the environment (Eisenstadt and West 2017), but also belief in climate change (Kim and Wolinsky-Nahmias 2014).

Indeed, examining the findings further, it is clear that on the basis of the size of the coefficients, adherence to indigenous cosmovision—or the belief that the indigenous are more connected to nature—and living proximate to oil extraction are the most powerful predictors of a belief in climate change. We can use predicted probabilities to help illustrate the effects of these variables. Individuals living in areas that have not experienced oil drilling are no more or less likely to believe in climate change. However, individuals living proximate to oil drilling are 2 percent more likely to believe in climate change. The same goes for individuals who adhere to cosmovision—they are 2 percent more likely to believe in climate change when they also believe that the indigenous are more connected to nature.

Conclusions

As the relationship between the Kichwa cosmovision and belief in climate change shows, traditional worldviews complement Western science in individuals’ understandings of the global phenomenon. Indigenous cosmovision believers shared environmentalists’ “stewardship” approach, which translates not only to broad environmental concern, but specifically to belief in climate change. Our results seem to indicate that the issue is more complex than dichotomies between Western science and indigenous cosmovisions would imply. As further research will no doubt clarify, it may be that practical experience with environmental degradation in extractive areas is equally important in shaping climate change attitudes. As was stated by Luis Tuazas,

we cannot continue the romantic, essentialist, and primordialist vision of indigenous peoples.… We cannot see ourselves as a single mass where “we are all Pachakutik.”18 … We have multiple realities, like all humans.… And climate change is the result of human irresponsibility.”19

Still, the heightened level of concern about climate change among indigenous cosmovision believers demonstrates that indigenous people may be strong natural allies in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Clearly, they are forces to be reckoned with, rather than romantics to be placated and isolated. Further research is needed regarding policies that incorporate dynamic efforts, intellect, and energy, as well as more essentialist views of traditional indigenous knowledge and other essentialized constructs. Dynamic indigenous interest groups and their communities of origin are central to constructing vital strategies to protect the future. These should be respectful of the past, but even more respectful of these groups’ potential for agency into the future. More research will be needed to definitely resolve how the intensity of one’s faith affects belief in climate change. But until then, environmentalists would be wise to infer a modern and scientifically validated position by Kichwa indigenous land stewards, forever on the front lines of concrete environmental degradation, and also even in the more abstract struggle to mitigate climate change impacts.

Notes

1. 

We adopt the definition of cosmovision as a “worldview [that] consists of the suppositions, premises, and ideologies of a socio-cultural group which determines how they perceive the world” (Sánchez 2010, 79).

2. 

Giddens (2011), Harrison and McIntosh Sundstrom (2010), Purdon (2015), and Eisenstadt et al. (2016) are exceptions.

3. 

Brulle et al. (2012) and Ansolabehere and Konisky (2014) are exceptions.

4. 

Kvaloy et al. (2012) and Kim and Wolinsky-Nahmias (2014) are among the only examples.

5. 

See Mendes and Gross (1989). Mendes was the martyred rubber tapper in the Brazilian Amazon who had carried his message of sustainable development to Washington and the international media and then been slain by cattle ranchers.

6. 

And worldwide, as per Özkaynak et al. (2015).

7. 

Kichwa, also known as Quichua, is the eponymous language spoken by the largest indigenous group in Ecuador.

8. 

And also near sites of mines, as Riofrancos (2015) has noted.

9. 

Interviews with Nelly Chimbo, president of the Kichwa Women of Kallary Kausay collective, and Tito Tumink, head of the Department of Ancestral Patrimony, Orellano Province, June 19, 2014, in Coca, Ecuador.

10. 

Interview with Carlos Pérez, president of the national ECUARUNARI indigenous movement, June 4, 2014, in Cuenca, Ecuador.

11. 

Interview with Gonzalo Tibi, head of external relations for the Shuar Nation, Macas, Ecuador, June 10, 2014.

12. 

Interview with Abel Arpe, coordinator in San Isabel of the Assembly of Peoples of the South, San Isael, Azuay, Ecuador, June 5, 2014.

13. 

Interview with Pasqual Callera, Achuar Economic Development Director, June 9, 2014, in Macas, Ecuador.

14. 

Interview with Denise Coka, governor of Pastaza province, Puyo, Ecuador, June 17, 2014.

15. 

Interviews with Roberto Paes, vice president of the Achuar Nation, June 13, 2014, in Puyo, Ecuador, and Efrén Pidru, President of the Four Federations (Shuar Organization of Ecuador), June 11, 2014, in Shuar HQ near Macas, Ecuador.

16. 

Interviews with Diego Granja, director of the Water Council, and Saul Portilla, Chair of Reforestation and the Environment, June 11, 2014, in Chontapunta, Napo, Ecuador.

17. 

Interview with Tuntiak Katan, technical coordinator of the climate change area for COICA, June 28, 2014, in Quito, Ecuador.

18. 

Pachakutik is the political arm of Ecuador’s indigenous rights movement, which was perhaps Latin America’s most powerful indigenous social movement at the end of the 20th Century, when it helped prompt the overthrow of two separate presidents. The group was more successful as a movement than as a political party, and has lost support over the last decade.

19. 

Interview with Luis Alberto Tuazas, Kichwa Catholic pastor in Riobamba, Ecuador, August 27, 2015, in Quito, Ecuador.

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Author notes

*

This research was funded by National Science Foundation Awards SES-1324158 and SES-1324165#1324158. The authors take responsibility for any errors, but thank Polibio and Nancy Córdova of the Quito-based Centro de Estudios y Datos (CEDATOS) for executing our survey under challenging conditions.

Supplementary data