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Portland, Oregon, leads in extreme weather preparedness among six U.S. cities, and the connection between its adaptiveness and its politics are no coincidence, according to a new study. Milken Institute School of Public Health researchers at George Washington University say a city’s political culture has a lot to do with its level of readiness for the effects of climate change.
Of the six cities examined, the study found Portland, Boston and Los Angeles in “advanced to middle stages” of planning. Raleigh and Tucson followed in the early/middle stages, and Tampa lagged behind substantially — despite being the most vulnerable to hurricanes.
According to a press release, the lead author of the study — which is the first to attempt an analysis of how societal factors like local politics affect resilience strategies — “interviewed 65 local decision makers in each of the six cities, finding there are three factors that play a role in how well city planners plan for or prepare for climate change. The study found swing factors, such as the risk of extreme weather, could motivate city officials or hamper them — often the outcome depended on the political culture in a given city.”
The researchers point to state politics as part of the reason Tampa hasn’t planned sufficiently.
“Tampa is vulnerable to climate change and associated extreme weather. Florida’s political representatives remain largely unconcerned about climate change,” said lead study author Sabrina McCormick, Ph.D. McCormick said this could mean disaster for Tampa residents living below the flood line — about 125,000 people. (Last week, Climate Central released stark new maps that show cities around the world disappearing under water due to rising sea levels.)
Meanwhile, the authors say, politics is driving readiness in Portland:
Portland, a city with many liberal politicians and public concern about climate change, had the most advanced plans of all of the cities in the study. Tucson, Tampa and Raleigh, cities that had more Conservative Democrats or Republicans, had many politicians who dismissed climate change and rarely made it part of their political platform.
Politicians can be influenced by their constituents’ concern over the matter, according to the study. Citizens engaged and interested in the threat of climate change inevitably raise awareness in high-ranking officials, whereas in cities where the concern is minimal — whether due to political beliefs or lack of education on the environment — there’s less of a rallying cry for planning.
Find the full study here.
Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.