Social scientists studying the effectiveness of climate change communications strategies wrote an opinion piece that concluded personal financial interest is the leading cause of real estate owners in coastal areas denying that sea level rise flooding poses a threat to their property.
Risa Palm, a professor of Urban Studies and Public Health at Georgia State University, and Toby W. Bolsen, an associate professor of American politics in the political science department at Georgia State, wrote the column for The Conversation. They said they showed property owners who lived in South Florida neighborhoods at-risk of sea level rise flooding and hurricane storm surge maps produced by First Street Foundation that indicated that their properties could be inundated or be impacted in other ways by floodwaters in the next 15 years. Their homes were also identified as being at risk of devaluation due to their proximity to the threat of sea level rise flooding.
“Surprisingly, we found that those who had viewed the maps were on average, less likely to say they believed that climate change was taking place than those who had not seen the maps,” Palm and Bolsen wrote. “Further, those who saw the maps were less likely than those survey respondents who had not seen the maps to believe that climate change was responsible for the increased intensity of storms.”
The researchers said Republicans surveyed “had the strongest negative response to the maps.” In fact, they found “party identification was the strongest predictor of general perceptions of climate change and sea level rise.” Ultimately, however, they said, “the majority of homeowners denied that there was a risk to their property values, regardless of political affiliation.”
In the end, Palm and Bolsen recommended that governments and organizations trying to educate the public about the threat of sea level rise flooding not only use easy to understand facts but a “nuanced approach” to change the way the information is perceived. Or, as they said, “As advertisers well know, it takes more than facts to sell any product.” To get people to stop and pay attention, the information also needs “an emotional hook.”
This study may explain why buyers continue to purchase property and owners continue to hold real estate that scientists have clearly identified as at-risk of sea level rise flooding within the next couple of decades. Unfortunately, turning a blind eye to this factual information won’t save them as the seas continue to rise at an ever-quickening pace.