Trevor S. Lies

Department of Psychology

University of Kansas

Primary lines of research

Climate Change Skepticism

Activists and policymakers have long considered how to generate the political will to engage people in actions that might mitigate impending ecological crises. One idea that has captured scholarly attention in recent years is that experience with extreme weather might translate into increased engagement with the issue of climate change (e.g., Borick & Rabe, 2017). However, the relationship of extreme weather experience with climate change engagement depends in part on whether people arrive at a personal understanding—or subjective attribution—that extreme weather is the result of climate change (Marlon et al., 2019; van der Linden, 2016). 

One line of my research considers this idea through the perspective of decolonial theory. Though perspectives vary, one insight of decolonial perspectives is that everyday environments – even those understood as being close to nature are anything but natural and are instead cultural products forged by colonial violence (Mignolo, 2011). My research considers this idea in the institution of U.S. state parks. In contrast to the celebratory view that parks are ideal spaces to inspire civic engagement in climate change, a perspective of cultural psychology informed by decolonial theory posits that prevailing colonial forms of environmentalism (i.e., the CW) might make parks ineffective for this task

We conducted interviews with park visitors (Lies, Adams, & Santangelo, 2022, Psychology in Society) and employees (Lies et al., In press, Analysis of Social Issues and Public Policy) to explore the implications of this idea for how people make sense of recent extreme weather and its relationship with climate change. In both studies, we found that whereas most participants reported experience of extreme weather, significantly fewer reported experience of climate change or attributed the extreme weather to climate change. Building on research in sociology (McCright & Dunlap, 2011), we also found evidence of racialization: White park visitors (compared to visitors of color) and employees in settings with a higher proportion of White residents were less likely to attribute recent extreme weather to climate change. We integrate findings with place-specific archival research and insights from environmental history to illustrate how colonial ideas about nature and environmental engagement inform park operation and impede engagement with climate change in these settings.

Conceptions of Environmentalism

"Environmentalists or conservationists are nice, slightly crazy guys whose main purpose in life is to prevent the disappearance of blue whales or pandas.

The common people have more important things to think about, for instance how to get their daily bread…Isn’t the village of Bambamarca truly environmentalist, which has time and again fought valiantly against the pollution of its water from mining? […] And the population of Amazonia, who are totally environmentalist, and die defending their forests against depredation."

–  Hugo Blanco (1991), Peruvian activist & writer

Environmental historians and activists note that dominant efforts to address environmental problems tend to reflect and promote the interests of people who live in affluent settings of the Global North. One line of my research considers a distinction in different types of environmentalism (Martinez-Alier, 2015): the Cult of wilderness (CW), which refers to (violent) colonial efforts for nature preservation; and Environmental justice (EJ), which refers to grassroots efforts to address unequal environmental burdens placed on poor communities and communities of color. 

One series of studies considered whether this disparity is reflected in popular conceptions of environmentalism (i.e., what is it?; Lies, Omar, & Adams, in prep). We asked Black and White U.S. residents to nominate their conceptions and to what degree various CW (e.g., nature preservation) and EJ (e.g., repatriation of lands to Indigenous peoples) topics are and should be the focus of environmentalism. Participants associated environmentalism with CW topics to a much greater degree than EJ. We also observed evidence of racialization, but only for EJ: degree of ethnic-racial identification was positively related to an EJ conception among Black participants and was negatively related among White participants. This work shows that people impose racial power in determining what environmentalism is and should be concerned with. An important question concerns how these insights relate to support for different types of environmental policy.

Another series of studies extends this work to consider whether political ideology is more strongly linked with some forms of environmentalism than others (Lies, Omar, Schmitt, & Adams, Under review). Consistent with the idea that the CW represents the hegemonic, standard form of environmental action, we found that the relationship of political conservatism was significantly weaker with CW than with EJ. Resonating with recent work (Ballew et al., 2021), this effect was especially true for White (compared to Black and Latinx) participants whose political ideologies came to bear significantly more on their support for EJ than CW.


Lies, T. S., Omar, S. M., Roennengart, A., Adams, G., & Santangelo, B. (In press). Attributing Extreme Weather to Climate Change: State Park Employees as Institutional Actors. Analysis of Social Issues and Public Policy.

Lies, T. S., Omar, S. M., & Adams, G. (In press). Decolonial Considerations of Environmentalism. In B. Barnes, M. Fernandes-Jesus, C. Trott, & G. Barnwell (Eds.). Climate & Environmental Psychology: Views from the Margins. Johannesburg, South Africa: University of Johannesburg Press.

Lies, T. S., Adams, G., & Santangelo, B. (2022). Decolonial Considerations of Environmentalism: Observations from a (US) State Park. Psychology in Society. 64, 21-43

Nagel, J. & Lies, T. S. (2022). Re-Gendering Climate Change: Men and Masculinity in Climate Research, Policy and Practice. Frontiers in Climate. 77.

Nagel, J., Cooper, D. H., Lee, T., & Lies, T. S. (2021). Unmasking the Racial and Gender Politics of the US Pandemic. Peace Review. 33(1), 24-32.


Glenn Adams

University of Kansas

Ph.D. Advisor

Joane Nagel

University of Kansas

Byron Santangelo

Indiana University Bloomington

Syed Muhammad Omar

PhD Student

University of Kansas

Harrison J. Schmitt

Skidmore College