Perceptions of Risk and Behavior: Climate Change & Weather-Related Relocation

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The eastern US coast, including inland estuarine areas, has experienced an increase in severe weather impacts in recent years. Such events are predicted to increase in both frequency and intensity with climate change. Long term changes such as rising sea levels worsen flooding and put coastal and estuarine communities at special risk. People, businesses and governments located in high risk areas are increasingly confronted with the question of what to do, either in anticipation or in response. Many prefer to adapt in order to stay in place. But increasing frequency and cost of damage raises the probability of “climate migration” - the planned or unplanned move to what are perceived as lower risk locations. Some of the moves involve national border crossings, but many do not. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, over 1.6 million people were internally displaced temporarily or permanently as a result of “natural” disasters including climate or weather-related events in the United States in 2017.1 The issue of climate migration is important to consider at many levels, e.g. individual, neighborhood, and community. Not only are individuals affected by moving from one place to another (often within the same community), but communities that gain as well as those that lose population are affected. Along with understanding perceptions of personal risk, it is important to also consider perceptions of migration at the community-level. While the U.S. has already experienced some climate-based displacement, large scale internal population shifts due to rising sea levels and similar climate changes are not yet seen as a major issue. However, there are many indications that voluntary and forced relocation will increase as climate change brings more extreme weather-related events to different areas of the country. Our research has begun to explore individual and community perspectives on climate and weather-related issues and impacts on community quality of life; in particular we are interested in how perceptions of flood risk might influence individual plans to move/relocate, and local policies that support at risk neighborhoods to adapt or relocate. Anticipating increased risk exposure in the future, we seek to establish a better baseline understanding of the current situation. In this report, we discuss national survey responses to questions about individuals’ climate and weather-related risk perceptions and their anticipated subsequent behavior.

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The Research & Policy Brief Series is a publication of Cornell University’s Department of Global Development.


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HREP; Cornell University; National; Risk Perception; Social & Economic Research; Climate Adaptation


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