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Key beliefs and attitudes for sea-level rise policy

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journal contribution
posted on 07.06.2019 by Karen Akerlof, Jennifer Merrill, Juita-Elena (Wie) Yusuf, Michelle Covi, Elizabeth Rohring

This article reviews key measures of public opinion on sea-level rise (SLR): beliefs, attitudes, issue prioritization, and policy support. To do so, we first assess the influence of SLR beliefs and attitudes on issue prioritization and policy support using state-level data. Then, we compare the state findings to other surveys conducted in a hot spot of rising coastal waters, the U.S. Mid-Atlantic, to better understand the landscape of public opinion. Our findings indicate that, as in studies of climate change public opinion, belief certainty that SLR is happening and attitudes about its consequences significantly influence issue prioritization and policy support. Compared to climate change, SLR demonstrates less salience, but is similarly a low public priority. Nevertheless, the public supports governmental policies that address the issue, preferring strategies that discourage new construction in high risk areas and employ “soft” protection through natural barriers. Among the least popular approaches are those that implement hard barriers to defend against encroaching seas. Communication programs and public consultation by governments can benefit from the use of survey data to support evidence-based decision-making.


Four of the five authors received funding to conduct the surveys described in the article. K. Akerlof received funding from the Town Creek Foundation and NOAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Sea Grant Consortium (R/715197). J. Merrill’s work was funded by MADE CLEAR (NSF Award 1239758) and Delaware Sea Grant (NA14OAR4170087). J. Yusuf and M. Covi received funding from the blue moon fund.