New research from the University of Notre Dame takes a psychological look at how our beliefs don’t always line up with our actions – in this case, for the theme of climate change. The research focused on the investments that homeowners of coastal properties in New Hanover County, North Carolina are taking – and not taking – to protect their homes from climate change. As there are currently no government regulations or insurance requirements to mandate risk reduction for private homeowners, the study, which was published recently in the journal Climatic Change, provides a view into understanding the individual voluntary decisions of homeowners in the face of the climate crisis.
According to the 2017 Climate Science Special Report, oceans around the world are expected to rise three to seven inches by 2030 and up to 4.3 feet by 2100. That rise will inundate $1.07 trillion worth of property in the US, following a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists called Underwater. And that’s not even taking into consideration the expected damage from extreme weather events like hurricanes and tropical storms, which calculates up to another $135 billion in property damage and the subsequent displacement of 280,000 Americans.
However, as the new Notre Dame study elaborates, just understanding that risk doesn’t necessarily translate into action. In surveying homeowners, the researchers asked a series of questions in order to grasp a bigger picture of their participants. Questions included whether the homeowners believed in climate change, in human causation of climate change, in God having a role in controlling the weather or climate. The homeowners also responded to questions about their general awareness of the climate crisis (rising seas, warming oceans, etc.) and of the potential consequences. What they found may or may not surprise you.
"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 co-author Tracy Kijewski-Correa, who is an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences at the university, as well as of global affairs. "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 findings from the study reported that 81.5% of survey respondents believed climate change is "probably happening," (some were more confident about that than others) and that despite their political leanings, most people weren’t taking much action to protect their homes– and don’t plan on it.
"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," said lead author Debra Javeline. "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."
So, what does this mean for coastal real estate? The authors suggest that while the majority of coastal homeowners have a sufficient understanding of climate change as a concept, their perceptions of the potential stakes at hand are limited in connecting the two. "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 the context of climate change," concludes Javeline.