More than 4 out of 5 Americans want to prepare now for rising seas and stronger storms from climate change, a new national survey says. But most are unwilling to keep spending money to restore and protect stricken beaches.
The poll by Stanford University released Thursday found that only 1 in 3 people favored the government spending millions to construct big sea walls, replenish beaches or pay people to leave the coast.
This was the first time a large national poll looked at how Americans feel about adapting to the changes brought on by global warming, said survey director Jon Krosnick, a professor of political science and psychology at Stanford.
The more indirect options the majority preferred were making sure new buildings were stronger and reducing future coastal development. New building codes rated the highest with 62 percent of those surveyed favoring it.
Three in 5 people want those who are directly affected by rising seas to pay for protection, rather than all taxpayers.
Krosnick said the low favorability of sea walls and sand replenishment "reflect the public's fatalistic sense that it's more realistic to just give up the beach than to try to save it when other storms in the future will just wash it away again."
The nationally representative survey of 1,174 Americans conducted online by GfK Custom Research has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
University of Miami geology professor Harold Wanless, who wasn't involved in the survey, said he was at a Miami Beach meeting on Thursday with business and political leaders on how to try to keep from losing their "hugely expensive" land. But they are afraid of spending money in vain attempts that won't work.
There are three ways the public can deal with the effects of rising seas on beaches, said coastal geology professor S. Jeffress Williams of the University of Hawaii. He is an expert on sea level rise and methods of adapting to it. You can "hold the line" with expensive sea walls, retreat and leave the beach, or compromise with sand dunes and beach replenishing.
Sand dunes helped protect the New Jersey town of Seaside Park more than its dune-less neighbor Seaside Heights when Superstorm Sandy hit last fall, said Laurie Mcgilvray, a government coastline science expert.
Williams said the public's attitude about not doing much to protect current beach development would be fine if it were 100 years ago. "But we've got tremendous trillions of dollars of a tourist economy that depends on the coast.
"You should expect that if you are going to use the coast, you need to put some money in to maintain it," he said.
But people surveyed said money is an issue.
When it came to the general question of who should pay to protect the coast, 60 percent of the public said it should be paid for by local property owners and businesses, not the general taxpayers. And when it comes to specific solutions, about 80 percent of those surveyed said the money should come from local property taxes, not federal or state income taxes.
Nearly half, 47 percent, said the government should prohibit people from rebuilding structures damaged by storms.
The survey also found that 82 percent of the public believes global warming is already happening. About 3 out of 4 people said rising sea levels caused by global warming is a serious problem.
Stanford study: http://stanford.io/16kTvKo
Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears