Survey: Climate Change a Concern but not a Priority to Oregon Coast Professionals

Many public officials and community leaders on the Oregon coast believe their local climate is changing and the change will affect their communities. But, overall, addressing the changing climate is not among their most urgent concerns.

These are among the findings of a 2012 survey by Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University (OSU).

Sea Grant surveyed coastal professionals, elected officials and other local  leaders and found that approximately 60 percent of the 140 survey respondents believe the local climate is changing. By contrast, 18 percent think it is not, and 22 percent don’t know.

While most believe that their professional efforts toward addressing climate change would benefit the community, both elected officials and other coastal professionals also believe that a combination of governments and other organizations should be the ones to initiate local responses to the likely effects of climate change.

Overall, actions appear to be lagging behind beliefs and concerns, according to Oregon Sea Grant’s communication and the leader of the survey, Joseph Cone. “As of last May, many coastal professionals – about 44 percent of the survey respondents — were not currently involved in planning to adapt to its effects,” said Cone.

Cone will discuss the survey findings  on Wednesday, Feb. 20, in a brief talk to the OSU Climate Club “Conversations Across Disciplines” Lunch, in room 348 of Strand Agricultural Hall on the OSU campus. The lunches are open to the public; bring your own lunch. Coffee and cookies are provided.

The survey results placed climate change effects next to the bottom on a list of seven significant “potential stressors on your community during the next ten years.” Coastal professionals scored climate change effects considerably lower (46% of respondents moderately to extremely concerned) than the top-ranked stressors: a weak economy, and tsunami or earthquakes (approximately 70% moderately to extremely concerned for each).

The hurdles to planning most often noted by survey respondents were lack of agreement over the importance of climate change effects, and a lack of urgency regarding them. Where planning has begun, the survey showed it mainly in an early fact-finding stage.

Anticipating this, the survey asked coastal professionals to identify their specific climate change information needs; and they ranked a variety of environmental and social questions as “highly needed”:

  • Information about flooding or saltwater intrusion
  • Species and habitat vulnerability
  • Predictions of ecosystem impacts
  • Social and economic vulnerabilities
  • The cost of climate adaptation
  • How to communicate climate risks

The survey was administered online to 348 individuals, including some who had responded to a similar Oregon Sea Grant climate change study in 2008 which sampled Oregon coastal managers and practitioners. A report on the findings was prepared by OSU doctoral candidate Kirsten Winters

The Oregon survey was based in large part on a California coastal assessment conducted by California Sea Grant and its partners, and is part of a national Sea Grant study on coastal communities and climate change adaptation, led by Cone.

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