Rob Horowitz: Climate Change Adaptation Moves on to the Public Agenda

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


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A new poll on public attitudes towards measures required to adapt towards the new era of climate change provides some guidance and cautionary notes for policy makers and citizens in Rhode Island and other coastal states as this issue begins to move up on the public agenda.

More than 4-out-of-5 Americans believe that we should prepare for the damage which results from sea level rise and storms caused by global warming, according to the poll released by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Center for Ocean Solutions, A similar percentage of Americans believe global warming is a reality—an increase in the percentage of Americans now convinced of the reality of climate change.. This result is backed up by other recent polling and driven in large measure by the perceived increase in extreme weather.

While Americans are now persuaded of the need to prepare for the impacts of climate change, that doesn’t mean unlimited support for opening up the federal treasury to pay for the measures that will be required or to repair the damage caused by more intense storms. “A majority want people whose properties and businesses are located in hazard areas – not the government – to foot the bill for this preparation,” as the media release accompanying the poll results states.

Preventive measures receive the strongest support from the public including, “strengthening building codes for how to build new structures along the coast to minimize damage (favored by 62 percent) and preventing new buildings from being built near the coast (supported by 51 percent).”

According to Jon Krosnick, who oversaw the poll and is an expert on public opinion on climate change, “People are least supportive of policies that try to hold back Mother Nature.” These include maintaining beaches with sand replenishment and constructing sea walls.

As the poll results highlight, the public support required to pass an the kind of all purpose aid package such as the $50 billion that went to Connecticut, New Jersey and New York in the wake of Super-storm Sandy is likely to wane with the stepped-up frequency of intense storms. There will be a greater expectation that appropriate preventive measures should have been taken and that the residents of storm-damaged areas and state and local governments should pick up more of the costs.

Rhode Island emerged relatively unscathed from Super-storm Sandy, but is unlikely to be as fortunate in the future. The good news is the state has taken some important steps to adapt to this new climate change era and has done a fair amount of planning. “Adapting to Climate Change in the Ocean State,” a report issued by The Rhode Island Climate Change Commission, co-chaired by Senator Joshua Miller (D-28) and Representative Christopher Blazewski (D-2), provides a helpful summary of this effort (click here for the report).

Still, most of the hard decisions and work are ahead. Now, is the time to take the preventative steps and think through some of the tough trade offs that will be required to minimize the damage from the consequential impacts of climate change that are in all likelihood a big part of our future.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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