Americans want sea level rise prep, not reaction

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A broken house on the beach in Mantoloking, N.J. (April Saul / Staff Photographer)

Sea level rise is happening. In the last century, it’s gone up a foot in Delaware Bay, more along the Atlantic coast of New Jersey.

That changes everything, from the height of the twice-daily tides to what happens in storms like Sandy, which swept the coast and left more than $70 billion in property damage.

So should we prepare for more, or take our chances and simply react if it happens again?

An overwhelming majority of Americans — 82 percent of those surveyed — opt for preparation, according to a study released today by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Center for Ocean Solutions.

And they want the property owners, not the public, to foot the bill.

About 62 percent also favor stronger building codes for new structures along the coast. And 52 percent want policies to prevent new buildings in vulnerable areas.

Where to put people and buildings is a legitimate question. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report released March 25 predicts that U.S. coastlines — already crowded in our area, to be sure — will have 11 million more people living along them by 2020.

Few people believe that preparing ahead will harm the economy or eliminate jobs. “In fact, more people believe that preparation efforts will help the economy and create jobs around the U.S.,” said survey director Jon Krosnick in a press release. He’s a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and professor of communication.

As far as adaptation strategies, 48 percent of the survey’s respondents favor sand dune restoration; 33 percent favor efforts to maintain beaches with sand replenishment; 37 percent support relocating structures away from the coast; 33 percent support constructing sea walls.

The survey was conducted with 1,174 American adults over the internet.

Among those contributing to the survey design and analysis process were Ezra Markowitz, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, and Robert Socolow, director of the Princeton University Environmental Institute's Climate and Energy Challenge.

The results were presented this morning in Washington, D.C. A video of both the presentation and a panel discussion afterward is available here.

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