Believing in climate change has no effect on coastal homeowners’​ preparedness for climate change

A new study out of the University of Notre Dame shows no positive correlation between homeowners’ belief in climate change and their willingness to protect their homes against it, in the most frequently impacted U.S. coastal communities of New Hanover County, North Carolina. Just one year after the survey, the county was hit by Hurricane Florence, and was just missed by Hurricane Dorian this September.

“We found that climate change attitudes have little to no statistically significant effect on coastal homeowners’ actions towards home protection, homeowner action, or homeowner intentions to act in the future,” said one of the study’s authors. “Homeowners’ knowledge about climate change also held no significance, showing that providing more information and understanding may not be the main driver of convincing homeowners to reduce the vulnerabilities of their coastal homes.”

The research team found that, although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner’s expectations of actual home damage. This could be because people feel helpless to the impacts of climate change, feel invincible (the “it won’t happen to us” mentality), don’t know how to protect their homes, or are simply submitting to whatever may come. At the same time, the reality in these communities is that there is little people can do to protect their homes or themselves if a big storm hits. Likely those who are truly worried about the impacts have already left these communities, and those who’ve stayed are submitting to the possibility of catastrophic damage.

In the world of climate change activism, or at the very least strong belief in climate change, people typically undertake actions that will mitigate future climate change. For example, driving less, eating local food, or improving efficiencies in their homes. And on the world leadership stage, the discussion is typically around mitigating future emissions, limiting future global warming. We are living in a world today where climate change impacts are being felt daily. The future we were trying to avoid is now, and yet there is relatively little discussion going on about climate change adaptation. The reality is that these coastal communities, more than anyone else, need to be focusing on adaptation. Although the rest of us are less impacted on a day-to-day basis, we all need to prepare for the impacts of climate change. Using a reusable bag at the grocery store, or replacing your appliances with high efficiency products, will do nothing to prepare us for then impacts that will be, or are already being, felt in our home communities. We are all being impacted already by changing food production, or changes in the weather, and it’s only going to become more severe. The government and climate-activism discussion around adaptation needs to become much more pronounced, and assistance provided to citizens to deal with climate change impacts. And at the same time, we still need to focus on mitigating future warming.

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