Climate Insights 2020: Amid Fire and Flood, Americans Are Looking for Action

A new survey reveals how Americans feel about adaptation and prevention policies to combat wildfires and floods in the face of climate change.


Sept. 4, 2020

News Type

Press Release

From wildfires in California to hurricanes battering the Gulf, the United States has been assailed by natural disasters from coast to coast. But how can the United States address, mitigate, and adapt to the widespread destruction from wildfires and floods as they intensify from unchecked climate change?

According to a new survey by researchers at Stanford University, Resources for the Future, and ReconMR, Americans overwhelmingly want leaders at the federal and state levels to enact policies to adapt to wildfires and floods.

The second in a six-part series, the natural disasters installment of Climate Insights 2020: Surveying American Public Opinion on Climate Change and the Environment explores how Americans see climate change in relation to wildfire and inland flood adaptation policies.The report gives policymakers and the public an idea of where Americans stand on prospective policies, the role of governments, and who should pay for prevention and adaptation.

“We’ve found that Americans favor action,” report author and Stanford University professor Jon Krosnick said. “Liberals and conservatives, wealthy and not, people want public policy that will protect future generations and the most vulnerable. This is a strong signal to lawmakers that the public is supportive of new policies.”

Topline Findings

  • The majority of Americans favor a mix of state and federal government efforts to protect people from future wildfire and flood damage. However, most Americans prefer that people in fire- and flood-prone areas shoulder the costs of prevention and adaptation policies.
  • Americans who believe in the existence of climate change and people who are told that there is a link between climate change and natural disasters are more likely to support adaptation policies.
  • People who think climate change threatens future generations are far more likely to support adaptation policies than those who do not. Belief in this threat is the strongest predictor of policy support studied in this survey.
  • Black and Hispanic Americans are more supportive of government efforts than white, non-Hispanic Americans. This may be explained by the fact that people in historically marginalized communities disproportionately live in areas that are and will be most affected by climate change.
  • Contrary to the luxury goods hypothesis, lower-income people (with incomes less than $35,000) were more likely to support government adaptation policies than people with incomes of $35,000 and more.

“While issues of climate change and the environment often feel divided—and even divisive—in the United States, it’s interesting to see that the majority of Americans support adaptation policies to help us remain resilient in the face of fire and flood,” RFF Senior Fellow Margaret Walls said. “What’s more, the relationship between support for these adaptation policies and belief in climate change drives home the fact that education and trust in science is the bedrock upon which public policy must be built.”

To learn more about these findings, read the natural disasters installment of Climate Insights 2020 by Jon Krosnick, social psychologist at Stanford University and RFF university fellow, and Bo MacInnis, lecturer at Stanford University and PhD economist. You can also try out our data tool, which allows users to explore the data in greater depth.

Future installments in the survey series will focus on green stimulus, political dynamics, electric vehicles, and an overall synthesis. The first installment of this report, which focused on overall trends, was published on August 24, 2020.

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.

For more information, please see our media resources page or contact Media Relations and Communications Specialist Annie McDarris.


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