Coastal homeowners in a changing climate

Abstract

As climate changes, coastal homeowners are potentially crucial actors in reducing the risks to property and human life from rising seas and increased hurricane activity. Absent strict, enforceable regulations mandating retrofitting of existing homes or major changes in homeowner insurance requirements, coastal resilience in a changing climate will largely reflect private, voluntary decisions of millions of individuals. However, research is scarce on the extent of structural vulnerabilities among US coastal homes and the mitigation measures that homeowners are taking or plan to take. Research devoted to disaster preparedness routinely neglects the specific actions of homeowners as consumers of structural mitigation products, despite the fact that such mitigation is the most cost-effective means to reduce losses. We attempt to fill this important gap with a new Coastal Homeowner Survey and indices designed to measure structural vulnerabilities and homeowner actions and intentions to address vulnerabilities. We conducted a pilot study of 662 respondents in one of the most frequently exposed US coastal communities, New Hanover County, North Carolina. We find that, on average, homes are minimally protected, with homeowners taking few actions to address structural vulnerabilities and not considering taking further action. We also find that the perceived cost of mitigation cannot sufficiently explain the lack of action, implying that other factors are at play. Subsequent research will use the remaining pilot survey data to analyze correlates of these indices to inform private and public sector stakeholders on how to incentivize risk reduction through structural mitigations.

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Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative (ECI) and its Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) for the pilot of the Coastal Homeowner Survey in North Carolina. The authors recognize the ongoing collaboration with the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety and with their partnering survey research firm, SSRS. The first author recognizes the support of the Andrew W. Mellon New Directions Fellowship for training in ecology and environmental law. The authors also thank discussants/participants at the Adapting to Climate Change Workshop at the University of Notre Dame, as well as the reviewers of this manuscript, for their feedback on this work.

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Correspondence to Debra Javeline.

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This article is part of a Special Issue on “Adapting to Water Impacts of Climate Change” edited by Debra Javeline, Nives Dolšak, and Aseem Prakash.

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Javeline, D., Kijewski-Correa, T. Coastal homeowners in a changing climate. Climatic Change 152, 259–274 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2257-4

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