The poll commissioned by Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment and Center for Ocean Studies is the first to measure public attitudes toward adapting to a climate knocked askew by global warming. The results are encouraging but, due to the survey's limited scope, somewhat misleading.
It is welcome news that 82 percent of the 1,174 people surveyed believe there are preparations to be made for the coastal damage resulting from megastorms and rising sea levels. That seems to suggest that the politics of climate change denial is losing traction with each report from the latest crop-killing drought or flood, deadly heat wave, monster wildfire or tornado. The consequences of failing to prepare are, indisputably, there on the television screen.
But there is a serious disconnect between most Americans' acceptance of coastal climate risks and what they would be willing to pay for disaster preparation. Less than 40 percent would support or pay for sea walls, trucking in sand or paying people to relocate inland.
A majority rightly favor tougher building codes and restrictions on development. These preventive measures are of equal importance in the West, where human encroachment on forests and other combustible terrain, a consequence of lax zoning laws, has spelled disaster in the face of drought-fed wildfires. The cost of fighting these fires is borne primarily by the government, just as in other areas of the country hit by droughts and flooding.
The poll shows that paying to prepare for someone else's climate disaster is not a popular prospect, that the cost should fall to those who are under threat. Is there any reason to doubt, then, that a majority of Americans would feel the same way about people who insist on building their dream home on a forested mountain slope?