'Sea-level rise won't affect my house' – even flood maps don't sway Florida coastal residents

Floods in Fort Lauderdale as a result of Hurricane Irma. Shutterstock.com/FotoKina
Advertisers understand that providing facts to consumers will not sell products. To make people stop and pay attention, successful advertising delivers information simply and with an emotional hook, so that consumers stand out and hopefully buy.
Climate communications scientists use the same messaging principles - visual, local, and dramatic - to provide facts that grab the public's attention. Such messages are intended to help people understand risks relating to them and possibly change their behavior as a result.
As social scientists studying the effectiveness of climate change communication strategies, we became curious about one particular message we found online. Some of the homes for sale in South Florida were accompanied by banners with messages such as "Floods will damage home value." Do some research before buying. Find out now for free. ”The ads were sponsored by the First Street Foundation through their website FloodIQ.com. The non-profit foundation provides detailed aerial photographs of current and future floods as a result of rising sea levels.
My colleague and I decided to interview residents of the South Florida coastal region to better understand how information influenced their attitudes and opinions. Have these nonprofit messages, developed by a nonprofit, changed the perception of coastal residents who live in low-lying areas of the threat of coastal flooding from rising sea levels?
Define the material risk through ZIP
Many studies of communicating and responding to climate change are based on national surveys or local reviews of counties and states prone to a number of coastal floods. We focused our survey on a single region and population at greatest risk: those who live in zip codes along the South Florida coast, where the likelihood of flooding in local neighborhoods is extremely high.
With permission from the First Street Foundation to reproduce their maps depicting what floods might look like in the future, we developed a survey to understand the effectiveness of bespoke news. How would this message affect people's views on climate change and sea level rise? We also asked if local residents believed their communities and homes were at risk.
We surveyed more than 1,000 residents in 166 postcodes in South Florida between October and December 2018. All respondents were at risk from the direct or indirect effects of flooding on their homes, including a drop in property values ​​as coastal properties were perceived as a less desirable travel destination.
We studied residents of seven metropolitan areas including Tampa-Saint Petersburg-Clearwater, Fort Myers, Key West, Miami-Dade County, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, and Vero Beach. Half of the sample received a map of their own city, scaled so that their city block was visible. The maps showed what could happen in just 15 years, at the current rate of sea level rise, if a Category 3 hurricane coincided with storm surges.
Does visual information make a difference?
The study was designed to assess how local residents might perceive their property and their communities' vulnerability to severe storms. We asked local residents about their political affiliations and their support for policies like zoning laws, gasoline taxes, and other measures to combat climate change.
Surprisingly, we found that those who looked at the maps were, on average, less likely to say they believe climate change is happening than those who hadn't seen the maps.
In addition, those who had seen the maps were less likely than those who had not seen the maps to believe that climate change was responsible for the increasing intensity of storms. Respondents who classified themselves as Republicans had the greatest negative reactions to the cards.
Those who saw the maps no longer believed that there was climate change, that climate change increases the severity of storms, or that sea levels are rising and related to climate change. More dramatically, exposure to the scientific map did not affect beliefs that their own homes were vulnerable to flooding or that rising sea levels would deplete the value of local real estate.
The value of real estate can be diminished by the risk of coastal flooding. Shutterstock.com/Phonlamai Photo
In accordance with national polls, party identification was the strongest predictor of general perceptions of climate change and sea level rise. However, the majority of homeowners, regardless of their political affiliation, denied any threat to their property values.
What does it take to change your mind?
We believe that our respondents' motivation, their underlying beliefs in forming an opinion, is important in reflecting on these survey results. In particular, people often process information or learn in ways that protect their existing beliefs or partisanship.
In the case of our respondents' general views on climate change and its relationship to sea level rise, Republican Party members may have turned down the cards because they questioned their party's stance on the issue or because they considered the information believable given their previous views. In the case of our respondents' views on the future impact of sea level rise on property value, all homeowners we surveyed, regardless of party affiliation, may have been motivated by personal financial interests to reject the idea that sea level rise would decrease their property value.
It is important to emphasize that targeted information about climate change can lead to unintended effects. While accurate and easy-to-digest information is important, it takes a much more nuanced approach to changing the way people understand information. As advertisers know, it takes more than just facts to sell a product.
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This article was republished by The Conversation, a non-profit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Risa Palm, Georgia State University and Toby W. Bolsen, Georgia State University.
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The authors do not work for, consult, own or fund any companies or organizations that would benefit from this article, and have not disclosed any relevant connections beyond their academic appointment.

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