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Does it matter if you “believe” in climate change? Not for coastal home vulnerability

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Public attitudes toward climate change are the subject of considerable study. An essential and understudied question is whether these attitudes influence public behavior. We answer this question with respect to a particular behavior, action to protect coastal homes from the increasing risk of hurricanes and rising seas. Coastal homeowner behavior is critically important because homeowner risk reduction in most cases is not mandated by government regulations or insurance requirements and instead largely reflects individual voluntary decisions. Analyzing novel data from the 2017 Coastal Homeowner Survey of 662 respondents in one of the most frequently exposed US coastal communities, New Hanover County, North Carolina, we find that climate change knowledge and attitudes have no significant effect on the existing level of a home’s structural vulnerability nor on homeowner actions or stated intentions to reduce structural vulnerability in the future. We discuss the implications for efforts by governments, insurance companies, and other stakeholders advocating for coastal resiliency.

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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, and they gratefully acknowledge the helpful research assistance of Carolyn Yvellez and John Haley and insightful comments of David Konisky. The authors recognize the ongoing collaboration with the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) 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.

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Correspondence to Debra Javeline.

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Javeline, D., Kijewski-Correa, T. & Chesler, A. Does it matter if you “believe” in climate change? Not for coastal home vulnerability. Climatic Change 155, 511–532 (2019).

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