2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 253-2
Presentation Time: 1:50 PM


AKERLOF, Karen L., Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University, 4400 University Dr., MS6A8, Fairfax, VA 22030, kakerlof@gmu.edu

Sea levels off of Maryland’s shorelines have risen about one foot over the past 100 years – almost twice the global average – and are climbing at increasing rates. With nearly 1 million residents at risk from even 2 feet of higher sea levels, which projections say is possible by 2050, Maryland is one of the states most at risk from rising waters. Using data from surveys, interviews and a deliberative forum, this presentation will explore what Maryland residents know about sea-level rise, how they describe its consequences to their communities, and the effects of communicating about both science and policy on knowledge and attitudes. A 2014 statewide survey revealed both uncertainty about whether sea-level rise is happening locally, and strong support for governmental protections against coastal threats. A majority of survey respondents say that they do not know whether sea level rise is currently happening along Maryland’s shorelines. Yet more than half of Marylanders say that protecting coastal areas from sea level rise should be a high or very high priority for the state’s General Assembly and the Governor. Specifically, a majority of state residents support policies that protect shorelines and low-lying lands from sea level rise, such as changes to regulations like zoning laws and set-back distances for building, long-range planning, tax incentives to property owners to take protective actions, and using government funds to buy natural areas as buffers against rising waters and storms. Even so, sea-level rise remains a politically polarizing issue. In a study in Anne Arundel County, a community deliberative event was tested as a possible intervention that can assist residents in making decisions about how to deal locally with these environmental changes. The event—a daylong process of expert presentations, access to property-level risk data, and small-group discussions—significantly increased topic knowledge among all participants, and significantly increased problem identification and issue concern among those participants with a worldview predisposing them to lower risk perceptions. These studies demonstrate the nuanced nature of public attitudes toward an increasing policy concern for the state and federal government, and the need for proactive communication with communities.