As Storms Rage, Climate Change Opinions Unchanged

Sep 20, 2017

A flooded road after Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

Multiple major hurricanes in the last few weeks have led to a renewed discussion of climate change, and when it is appropriate, to discuss possible policy and lifestyle changes.

But according to research from Duke University, those most affected by storms and flooding are the least likely to engage in those discussions, or have their opinions changed.

After Hurricane Joaquin caused devastating flooding in South Carolina two years ago, Duke University environmental science professor Betsy Albright surveyed those who were hit the hardest. She presumed that many would understand what scientists have been saying for years – that human-caused climate change is contributing to the severity of storms.

“But the research that we’ve done suggests that it doesn’t really have a significant effect on people’s beliefs about climate change... and the human causes of climate change,” she said.

Those hit hardest by floods also are more likely to believe that it was a freak incident, and that they are not likely to have it happen again.

Albright also looks at how policy is affected by flooding events. She found that wealthier communities are more likely to rebuild with an eye toward long-term protections, but less-wealthy towns are more likely to rebuild in the same ways as before.

Albright says it’s still too early to tell if North Carolina is rebuilding smartly after Hurricane Matthew last year.

“A lot of decisions are going on now, in terms of what communities will look like going forward, but it’s definitely something we should watch for in the next year or two,” she said.

2017 is the first year in recorded hurricane history that two Category 4 storms have slammed into the United States. Hurricane season has two more months to go.