2.1.1. Place Attachment
As a powerful concept in cultural geography and environmental psychology, “place” refers to a fundamental human trait of creating meaning attached to the spaces we inhabit [26
], comprising physical landscapes, social interaction, person and home experiences, and other human activities and processes [27
]. Disruptions to place-based attachments, identities, meanings, and values can cause crucial emotional responses, because it is “essential to get to the root of … emotional relationship to place in order to understand people’s reasons of blocking or facilitating certain community-based efforts” [28
] (p. 340). The core construct, i.e., place attachment, is usually understood as a positive emotional bond between people and prized socio-physical settings over time at different scales, such as homes, neighbourhoods, and cities [29
]. These bonds help cultivate group and individual identities [30
], a feeling of pride, and a general sense of well-being [31
]. However, these links can be disrupted or threatened by diverse forms of change (e.g., landscape transitions, involuntary relocations, and development of large facilities), leading to negative sentiments, such as anxiety, grief, and anger [32
In the context of siting renewable energy projects, such developments physically (re)shape places and socially characterize communities as energy communities. Opposition intention occurs when inhabitants feel that austere external threats may be posed by environmental changes. According to Devine-Wright, the influence of renewable energy infrastructure on natural landscapes can be considered a disruption to place attachment or a threat to place identity, where disruption not only refers to the physical nature, but also to the symbolic and social values of the landscape [12
]. In contrast, however, a tidal energy project was found to have strong community support arising from beliefs that it would enhance local distinctiveness by “putting the area on the map worldwide” [34
]. Unlike wind farm projects, which can be perceived positively and negatively, incinerator projects are generally considered as threats to the landscape [11
]. The impacts of local energy development on the landscape have been viewed as central to community opposition [36
]; for instance, an incinerator chimney is typically regarded as a visual perturbation to local landscapes. Furthermore, the threat of renewable projects to landscapes is not only a problem of aesthetics, but also represents a loss of symbolic value; that is, people with strong bonds to their community may view such projects as an “alien invasion” [38
] (p. 64). In Petrova’s VESPA framework, community concerns were organized into four categories: visual/landscape, environmental, socioeconomic, and procedural [17
]. Studies have employed place attachment to describe the value of landscapes in explaining public opposition to disputed projects [12
]. Jasper described the emotions of protest as a continuum from “long term” effects (e.g., love of rural landscape, “fondness for neighbourhood,” or ongoing loyalty to place) to immediate reactions [39
Research has shown that place attachment influences residents’ attitudes and behavioural intentions toward local change caused by energy projects [18
]. Individuals who hold strong place attachment and a more positive sense of identity from particular rural landscapes are more likely to feel threatened and take part in oppositional behaviour [12
]. However, Devine-Wright also found the opposite to be true, showing that place attachment emerged as a positive predictor of project acceptance in a tidal energy case study, affirming its value in explaining public response [19
]. As for the relationship between place attachment and risk perception, Venables et al. reported that attachment offers a feeling of safety and leads to a neglect of nuclear power risk [14
]. More generally, Bernardo summarized that place attachment may contribute to amplifying high probability risk perceptions (less dangerous, but more frequent), while attenuating the perception of low probability risks (often most dangerous, e.g., nuclear accidents) [42
]. Such evidence leads us to develop the following hypotheses:
Anti-incinerator sentiment toward a community WtE incinerator is a function of the interaction between the perceived risk and place attachment to the dwelling community. Specifically:
People with higher place attachment have a higher level of anti-incinerator sentiment.
People with higher risk perception have a higher place attachment to a dwelling community.
People with higher place attachment have a higher risk perception toward a community WtE incinerator.
In the setting of natural disasters, moderating and mediating effects exerted by place attachment are found between risk perception and coping behavioural responses. For example, based on empirical studies in two Italian cities exposed to flood risk, De Dominicis et al. found that place attachment negatively moderated the connection between risk perception and preventive coping behaviours [43
]. Venables and colleagues suggested that sense of place mediated (but did not moderate) the relationship between the proximity and risk perception for renewable energy projects [14
]. Lima et al. found that place identity acted as a statistical moderator in the relationship between proximity and local people’s perceptions of risk in relation to the siting of a new incinerator [44
]. However, for controversial energy facilities, this moderating or mediating effect between risk perception-coping sentiment has not been sufficiently investigated. Therefore, further investigation must explore how place attachment affects the connection between risk perception and opposing (or acceptance) sentiment relative to WtE sitings.
Place attachment moderates the effect of risk perception on anti-incinerator sentiment toward a community WtE incinerator. Specifically, place attachment increases the positive effect exerted by perceived risk on anti-incinerator sentiment.
Place attachment mediates the connection of risk perception and anti-incinerator sentiment toward a community WtE incinerator.
Moreover, we cannot be certain whether risk perception acts as a mediator between place attachment and anti-incinerator sentiment. Further, we assume that:
Risk perception mediates the connection between place attachment and anti-incinerator sentiment.
2.1.2. Trust and Fairness
A community’s acceptance or opposition attitude is also a question of fairness and trust. Trust is conceptualized and studied in different literature, such as in management, organizational behaviour, and political science. This term is also a key concept in the literature on the sociology of technology, and “acts as a substitute for knowledge in complex societies characterized by risk” [45
] (p. 3). As “a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behaviour of another” [46
] (p. 395), trust means “a willingness to rely on those who have the responsibility for making decisions and taking actions related to the management of technology and policy implementation” [47
] (p. 447). It serves as an indispensable catalyst for satisfying cooperation of diversified actors striving to solve controversial problems [49
] and is “essential for the capacity of social-ecological systems to adapt to and shape change” [50
] (p. 261).
The multidimensionality of trust has been presented in selective configurations. Based on extant research, Fulmer et al. distinguished between trust at a level and trust in a referent. Three organizational levels—individual, team, and organizational—and three referents—interpersonal, team, and organization—were elaborated upon [51
]. In the context of siting controversial energy projects, trust generally denotes an individual’s degree of trust in varied organizational entities, such as operating enterprises, regulatory authorities, and academic circles in incineration area. In two case studies of power line development, Ceglarz et al. developed a conceptual meaning of three dimensions of trust—interpersonal, social, and institutional—and underpinned the importance of all of these dimensions in conducting public engagement processes [49
]. Additionally, Mah et al. proposed three dimensions of trust: trust in motives (integrity, care, and fairness), trust in transparency (openness), and trust in competency (credibility, competence, and reliability), within the context of nuclear power [52
]. For our research, we focus on institutional trust, that is, the level of an individual’s trust in authorities from regulatory governments and operating enterprises, and experts and scholars in the incinerator field.
There is substantial empirical evidence that institutional trust interacts with risk perception and acceptance of local negative changes [4
]. The degree to which host community members trust the siting process and the wider policy decisions to advance renewable energy programs is of extreme importance to promote the implementation of renewable energy policy [16
]. In nuclear energy decision-making, distrust in key decision-makers in relation to the dimensions of motives, transparency, and competence is one of the major factors that explains high risk perception and opposition to nuclear energy [52
]. In the Chinese mainland, when unfamiliar with nuclear power stations, people are inclined to perceive the benefits and risks through emotional identification and social trust, rather than rational deduction [56
]. Specific to the siting of WtE incinerators, trust in authorities (local government and operators) is found to positively associate with public acceptance, both directly and indirectly, through risk perception, and promoting public trust can enhance public acceptance more efficiently than reducing perceived risk [4
]. Drawing upon these findings, we hypothesize the following:
Institutional trust negatively predicts anti-incinerator sentiment toward a community incinerator.
Institutional trust negatively influences perceived risk.
Although it is widely recognized that acceptance, trust, and risk perception often interact, there is still considerable disagreement about the underlying patterns of causality among the constructs. As the casual model of trust (CMT) indicates, trust affects technology acceptance through risk perceptions or benefits. In a cross-cultural investigation of 23 activities and technological hazards, trust in regulatory organizations is found to be directly and indirectly linked with public acceptance, and perceived benefit plays a more important role than perceived risk in mediating the trust-acceptability casual chain [58
]. Regarding nuclear power plants (NPPs), goodwill trust improves acceptance of NPPs by decreasing risk perception, while competence trust improves the acceptance by increasing benefit perception [59
]. However, these findings are challenged by the associationist model of trust (AMT), which asserts that acceptance drives both trust and risk perception [60
]. For example, Boecker et al. found that risk perception was a precondition for trust playing a role in decision making, and there was no empirical evidence to show that the impact of trust on acceptance was mediated through risk perception [62
]. Rather than being a determinant, trust in government regulation is an expression or indication of the acceptability of genetically modified food, and specific risk judgments are driven by more general evaluative judgments, termed “affect” by Poortinga et al. [63
]. Considering the conflicting results, it is necessary to discuss which model is supported in explaining the trust-acceptance relationship in Chinese WtE contexts.
Additionally, within the context of community energy projects, (generalized) trust is found to positively predict the willingness to participate and moderates the effect of community identity on the willingness to participate in a local community energy project [64
]. Therefore, in addition to the direct effect of trust on resistant sentiments, we propose an interaction of trust with perceived risk and place attachment. We expect that risk perception or place attachment has a positive association with residents’ anti-incinerator sentiment through changes in trust, and propose the following hypotheses:
Trust moderates the positive effect of perceived risk on the anti-incinerator sentiment toward a local incinerator. Specifically, when people have a higher degree of trust, the positive impact of perceived risk on anti-incinerator sentiment will be diminished, to some extent.
Trust moderates the positive effect of place attachment on anti-incinerator sentiment toward a local incinerator. Specifically, when people have higher degree of trust, even higher place attachment will not significantly increase the intention to resist an incinerator located in their community.
We also assume that risk perception mediates the linkage between trust and anti-incinerator sentiment, in order to test whether the CMT model is supported. The relationship between trust and general attitude is also the interest of our paper. Thus, two additional hypotheses are proposed:
Risk perception mediates the connection between trust and anti-incinerator sentiment.
Trust positively influences the general attitude (intention to accept WtE technology).
Distrust is associated with feelings of being treated unfairly or unjustly, which is another emotional cause for oppositional activism, and in this respect, it can be represented in terms of perceived fairness or justice, including perceptions of both procedural (how decisions are made) and distributional (who gets what) justice [38
]. Perceived procedural fairness/justice is a subjective assessment of participative and deliberative fora and mechanisms of public engagement [66
], including several issues, such as timing, transparency, and equity (for a detailed discussion, see Goedkoop et al. [23
]). Distributional fairness/justice is about how costs, risks, and benefits are distributed [36
]. A fair settlement plan and transparency in the implementation of the compensation plan are conducive to lessening the interest conflicts [9
]. Therefore, the perception of fairness/justice, as emphasized by Wolsink [36
] and Wester-Herber [8
], is another issue of importance in incinerator siting. Hall et al. asserted that distributional justice and procedural justice could foster trust and reduce opposition to energy projects [24
]. As stated by Huijts et al., judgments of fairness led to trust and vice versa [67
]. Although fairness research has uncovered important findings, it remains unclear whether the effect of risk perception on opposing sentiment is moderated by fairness perception, and whether fairness perception impacts resistance intention through risk perception. Thus, we will further explore the connections between these constructs with respect to incinerator sitings in Chinese society, and the following related hypotheses are suggested:
Fairness perception can reduce anti-incinerator sentiment.
Fairness perception can reduce perceived risk toward a local WtE incinerator.
Fairness perception positively predicts institutional trust in the authorities operating and regulating a WtE incinerator.
The effect of risk perception on anti-incinerator sentiment is moderated by fairness perception.
Risk perception mediates the connection between fairness perception and anti-incinerator sentiment.
We also hope to understand the role of general attitude in predicting anti-incinerator sentiment, and which fairness perception is more important in predicting accepting attitude. Hence, the last two hypotheses are assumed.
General attitude toward WtE incineration negatively influences anti-incinerator sentiment toward a community incinerator.
Distributional fairness perception is more important than procedural fairness perception in predicting anti-incinerator sentiment.