New Poll: U.S. Public Broadly Supports Action to Prepare for Climate Impacts

Posted by on March 29, 2013 in Blog, Coastal Resilience | 0 comments

prepare-or-waitThe difficult realities of climate change are beginning to show up in public opinion. A new poll commissioned by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Center for Ocean Solutions shows that a large majority of the U.S. public believes that we should take action to prepare for sea level rise and storm impacts rather than simply clean up the mess after disasters happen. According to the poll, the public is widely supportive of tougher new building codes, and a majority would limit new development on vulnerable coastlines. However, by a majority, the public suggests that the people and businesses who choose to locate in danger zones should foot the bill for preparations, not the government.

In a news release, survey director Jon Krosnick said, “People support preventive action, and few people believe these preparations will harm the economy or eliminate jobs.  In fact, more people believe that preparation efforts will help the economy and create jobs around the U.S., in their state and in their town than think these efforts will harm the economy and result in fewer jobs in those areas. But people want coastal homeowners and businesses that locate in high-risk areas to pay for these measures.”

“The question is, how does public support for preparation translate to action?” asked Meg Caldwell, executive director of the Center for Ocean Solutions. “Our impulse is to try to move quickly to put communities back together the way they were after devastation. But that impulse often leads to doubling down on high-risk investments, such as rebuilding in areas likely to experience severe impacts. To move toward long-term resiliency for coastal communities, we need to seize opportunities to apply new thinking, new standards and long-term solutions.”

The polling comes on the heels of a new report from NOAA and the Census Bureau indicating that U.S. coastal population is expected to rise from 123 million to 134 million by 2020. Currently 39% of the U.S. population lives in counties on a coastline. In addition, more than half the population lives on the 20% of the U.S. land mass that constitute coastal watersheds.

“People who live near the shore, and managers of these coastal communities, should be aware of how this population growth may affect their coastal areas over time,” said Holly Bamford, assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service. “As more people move to the coast, county managers will see a dual challenge – protecting a growing population from coastal hazards, as well as protecting coastal ecosystems from a growing population.”

Interestingly, 82% of the respondents believe climate change is happening. However, even 60% of those who doubted it favored adaptation measures.

The poll also provided important insight into how best to communicate climate impacts. The results showed that respondents were willing to acknowledge and accept scientific uncertainty when it comes to sea levels, but respondents also became overwhelmed by too much information if sea level was coupled with storm impacts, and then became less trusting of the scientific claims. Worst-case scenarios were evidently less compelling than the still-serious scenarios of mid-range projections of rising seas.

Update 3/29: Here’s the WaPo/AP story on the poll. Their lede: “More than 4 out of 5 Americans want to prepare now for rising seas and stronger storms from climate change, a new national survey says. But most are unwilling to keep spending money to restore and protect stricken beaches.”

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