Climate politics outweigh science for coastal Floridians

Paul (last name not given) walks through a flooded street as Hurricane Matthew passes through the area on October 7, 2016 in St Augustine, Florida. (Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Politics outshines science in public attitudes about climate change and mitigation policies among coastal area Florida residents most likely to be affected, according to a new book.

“Are these homeowners aware or concerned about their risk? Do they support policies and laws designed to mitigate the pace and extent of climate change that would, in turn, slow sea level rise?” are some questions coauthors urban geographer Risa Palm and political scientist Toby Bolsen of Georgia State University ask in their new book, Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in South Florida: The View of Coastal Residents (Springer 2020).

“When science information is politicized, working towards common solutions becomes much more difficult.”

“Their answers are key to our understanding factors that will affect likely changes in individual behavior and public policy,” the authors write.

The authors surveyed nearly 1,000 residents on South Florida’s east and west coasts using flood zone maps that showed their communities underwater at high tide in the coming years.

“We expected that showing residents a map of flooding to their city would result in changing attitudes,” says Palm. “It didn’t happen. There was actually a decline in those who believe it is happening and will have an impact on their home values.”

Political party identification and ideology were the most important predictors of their attitudes. Additionally, residents who valued economic growth over environmental protection were less concerned and less likely to see the relationship of climate change to rising seas. Female residents were more concerned about the issue than males.

Some mitigation efforts were more popular than others. Those living in areas prone to flooding generally supported new regulations requiring greater set-backs from the coast and the construction of flood barriers or sea walls. They were less enthusiastic about measures that would increase their costs, such as increasing fuel taxes to encourage energy conservation.

“The communication challenge remains very serious,” says Palm. “When science information is politicized, working towards common solutions becomes much more difficult. Even providing the right kind of information is not having the impact we need it to have.”

The need for the people of Florida to accept the reality of climate change and work towards policy solutions is particularly urgent,” she believes.

“Florida’s coastal areas have been shaped by incredibly complex settlement patterns. Many of these communities have been developed with no attention to environmental hazards but a great deal of attention to real estate profit. The results along the coast are particularly disastrous in respect to climate change.

“We must find a way to counteract both the suspicion that the information coming out about climate change is politically motivated and the resistance to new information. It is urgent that we come up with more effective strategies to convince skeptics,” she says. “The nation and the world are at risk.”

Source: Georgia State University