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Climate Change Attitudes Have No Effect on Coastal Home Protection

A new study by researchers from the University of Notre Dame has revealed that believing in climate change has no effect on whether or not coastal homeowners are protecting their homes from risks related to climate-related hazards.

Hurricane damage. (Image credit: University of Notre Dame)

The study, supported by Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN), examined data from a 2017 Coastal Homeowner Survey of 662 participants in one of the most often exposed U.S. coastal communities, New Hanover County, North Carolina.

Exactly one year following the survey, the county was hit by Hurricane Florence and was almost missed by Hurricane Dorian in September.

The coastal homeowners were asked in the survey if they believed in climate change, whether God has a role in controlling the weather or climate, or the role of humans in climate change. They were also asked about their knowledge of climate-related risks, their perception of the seriousness of the effect of climate change, and their knowledge of warming oceans.

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.

Tracy Kijewski-Correa, Leo E. and Patti Ruth Linbeck Collegiate Chair and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, University of Notre Dame

Kijewski-Correa, who is also an associate professor of global affairs and co-author of the study, continued, “This is despite the fact that with climate change, U.S. coastlines have experienced increased frequency and intensity of tropical storms and sea level rise, which has further heightened their vulnerability to waves, storm surge and high-tide flooding.”

The study reported in Climatic Change notes that 81.5% of the study participants believed climate change is “probably happening,” at different levels of confidence. A team of researchers from the University of Notre Dame also determined partisanship and ideology with the aim to control for questions related to climate change that can follow identity and previous political beliefs. But following the control of partisanship, the results were simple.

Despite persistent differences between Democrat and Republican ideologies in regards to climate change, the behavior of people from either party appears relatively similar. Neither has or intends to take action to improve the structural vulnerabilities of their homes.

Debra Javeline, Study Lead Author and Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame

Javeline added, “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 scientists discovered that although coastal homeowners may observe a worsening of climate change-related risks, these beliefs are not mainly linked to a homeowner’s thoughts of real home damage. According to Javeline, this could be a reflection of the restricted communication about vulnerabilities of homes from other chief stakeholders, such as government agencies, insurance companies, or sellers of home improvement products.

Although increasing education and awareness of climate change is important, our findings suggest that encouraging homeowners to reduce the vulnerability of their coastal home may be more effective if expressed in regards to structural mitigation and its economic benefits, rather than in context of climate change,” stated Javeline.

The research was co-authored by Angela Chesler, doctoral student in political science, and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame; developed in association with the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety; and carried out by the survey research firm SSRS.

The research also received the 2019 Paul A. Sabatier Best Conference Paper Award from the Science, Technology & Environmental Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.

Kijewski-Correa and Javeline are associated with Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. Kijewski-Correa is also associated with Notre Dame’s Fitzgerald Institute for Real Estate and the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development. Javeline is a fellow in the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame.


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