Climate Change and Retirement, Part 4

I first wrote about this issue last May  followed by parts 2 and 3 in November and December. I’ve found myself having two minds about climate change as an existential threat to society as we navigate through the 21st Century.

On one hand, I think the threat is real, regardless of whether it’s a natural phenomena and/or exaggerated by human activity. I’m inclined to think we’ve triggered an acceleration of a natural trend.

On the other hand, I’m old enough to realize there is not much I can do about it personally. I’ll try to make a difference in my little corner of the world, but in terms of influencing the course of humanity, that’s a stretch.

Given Florida’s 8,400 plus miles of coastline (that includes islands and inlets) the effects of climate change and the impact it will have on those who live along the coast will soon be obvious. If not already for some people.

This post was prompted by something I read recently that described social scientists studying the effectiveness of communication strategies. If you read what I posted this past Monday that talked about how social media strategies influence voters, you’ll recognize a parallel between that and how people approach climate change.

The focus of the study involved houses being advertised for sale in South Florida. Some houses, presumably inland, were accompanied by messages that shouted  “flooding hurts home values” and “…should know more before you buy”, etc. Presumably the houses being sold were away from the coast, with detailed aerial images of present and future flooding.

The ads were purportedly sponsored by a non-profit foundation. The study by the authors was to better understand how these messages influenced the attitudes and opinions of those targeted by the ads. It was focused on those who live in specific zip codes where the probability of flooding is high and include those messages and maps showing current sea-levels and projected sea-levels.

The reproduced maps were provided by the foundation and resulted in a survey to include current residents of those zip codes. They surveyed people living in 166 zip codes between last October and December. The maps compared what the area looks like now with what it’s projected to look like in 2035, just 15 years down the road. They compared the impact of a Category 3 hurricane and storm surge flooding. I have no knowledge of the underlying data, which I know to be controversial due to conservative vs aggressive motivations involved.

The idea was to assess how residents would respond to both written and visual stimuli about the potential effects of climate change. It included questions about their political affiliations and their support for policies such as zoning laws, gasoline taxes and other ideas to control climate change.

The results were strange to my way of thinking. On average, those who saw the maps showing neighborhoods under water in 15 years were less likely to believe any climate change was taking place.

Also, those who saw the maps were less likely than those who didn’t see the maps to believe climate change was responsible for the increased intensity of storms. Republicans had the strongest negative responses to the maps.

All who saw the maps were no more likely to believe in climate change or that sea levels are rising. More strange to me is that those same people gave no credence to the idea their homes might become more susceptible to flooding or that sea-level rise would reduce property values.

They concluded, and this is consistent with national surveys, that political party identification was the strongest predictor of perceptions about climate change and sea-level rise.  A majority of homeowners surveyed denied there was any risk to their property values, regardless of political affiliation.

We already know that we are a bifurcated society. Each side can legitimately claim a cadre of educated and rational members. So when it came to their opinions about climate change and it’s potential effect of their property values or the threat to their standard of living in just 15 years, how do we account for this?

Granted, none of us can accurately predict the future. But if you are among those who believe climate change is increasingly an existential threat to where we live, to how and where we choose to earn a living, to where we will retire and live out our lives, and for whom we vote in all upcoming elections, there are clearly some hurdles to overcome.

Tony Kendzior \ 12 FEB 2020