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Americans are fatalistic when it comes to climate change, recognising the dangers but unwilling to pay for sea walls or relocate coastal communities, new research released on Thursday found.
The survey, commissioned by two departments at Stanford University, the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Center for Ocean Solutions, was the first to investigate public attitudes towards planning for a future of sea-level rise and extreme storms.
It found a sharp disconnect between Americans’ acknowledgement of climate risks – which was high – and their willingness to pay for solutions.
That divide could hurt efforts by New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to mobilise large sums of public money to build sea walls, restore sand dunes, or move people out of harm’s way after superstorm Sandy.
“I think it’s a real challenge for them,” said Jon Krosnick, the Stanford professor who oversaw the survey. “I think there is a fundamental disconnect.”
Those surveyed were especially wary of setting up a direct confrontation with natural forces, such as building sea walls or trucking in sand to eroding beaches. They did not see the point of paying people to leave areas at risk from extreme storms and rising seas.
Cuomo last month proposed spending as much as $400bn to buy back homes wrecked by the storm and turn the land over to dunes and wetlands.
However, Krosnick suggested that idea would not garner much public support.
“The idea of paying people to retreat, they didn’t like,” he said.
The survey found high awareness of the risks of climate change – and broad acceptance of the need to plan for a hotter and more unpredictable climate. Some 82% of respondents believed in the existence of climate change. More than 70% believed climate change would lead to dangerous sea-level rise and more damaging storms. And a strong majority of those surveyed said it was important to act on climate change.
The national survey of 1,174 respondents was conducted between March 3-18.
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