Book Review: Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in So. FL; The view of Coastal Residents

Book Review: Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in South Florida: The View of Coastal Residents, by Risa Palm and Toby Bolsen. Published by Springer Nature, Jan. 2020; ebook is $103.

Reviewer: Rob Dale is a planner for the Ingham County (Michigan) Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and meteorologist with Skywatch Services, LLC.

This book analyzes the climate change from a unique perspective – analyzing the opinions of residents in a part of the country that will be impacted quite dramatically from the warming atmosphere. South Florida has already felt some of the effects of anthropogenic climate change from higher sea levels causing a rash of “blue sky” flooding events. Research from Palm and Bosen reveals what residents consider to be their primary risks due to climate change, and then tests the use of flood maps to see if exposure to that type of information increased awareness of future impacts.

Chapter 2 explains climate change science and the effects of global warming. This is a brief high-level overview suitable for readers of any science background. Complex topics are simplified just enough to provide an understanding of the causes of a warming atmosphere, and the authors did not dwell in the details. This section concludes with specific impacts caused by climate change as a result of sea-level rise in south Florida.

Chapter 3 delves into the partisan and polarized nature of the climate change discussion. An overview of the political atmosphere gives some understanding regarding why conservative Republicans (who initially supported the science) began to dispute the scientific consensus. The value in this book being so new is that events in the Trump presidential administration are addressed, which increases the understanding of the current political environment. This chapter concludes with a topic that could stand on its own – “strategic messaging to influence climate change beliefs.” While it might seem like climate change communication simply requires educating people on the science behind it, social science research shows that simply pushing out facts does not sway opinions. The authors present guidance on strategically framing messages as well as consideration for prior beliefs, group identities, and cultural worldviews.

Chapter 4 is an overview of the south Florida area, both geographically and culturally, which leads to the study itself in Chapter 5. Roughly 1000 people were surveyed about their thoughts on climate change impacts and the cause of a warming environment. In general, a majority believes that the climate is changing primarily due to human activity, but most do not believe their homes are at risk nor do they think property values will go down as a result of worse flooding.

Chapter 6 focuses on risk communication and the impacts messaging has on opinions of south Florida residents. Half of those interviewed were shown flood maps from which plotted the projected impact from a Category 3 hurricane making landfall in 2033. This provided what I found to be the most fascinating tidbit – people who saw those maps showing worse flooding in the future became less likely to say that climate change is occurring (especially among Republicans!) The strongest predictor regarding opinions on future impacts was political party affiliation. The next chapter expands on the survey to give five specific examples of homeowners who feel they are safe from flooding yet whose homes actually are threatened. Their age, party identification, ideology, and education are all analyzed to show the real-world impacts of threat messaging.

The concluding chapter offers some direct guidance for planners and others who work in mitigation fields. The researched also asked about support for efforts that would reduce climate change impacts. Data shows that there is support for projects like increasing building set-backs, along with flood barriers and sea walls. However there is less enthusiasm for measures that would increase direct costs to homeowners.

It was not a long read and the authors did a great job giving enough science and background information to set the topic up without turning it into a science textbook. The information on messaging along with mitigation were the two primary takeaways for me as a communicator and planner. I would highly recommend this to anyone who works in areas susceptible to coastal flooding or other impacts from climate change.

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