Gulf of Mexico
via Wikimedia Commons

LA - Activating social science for flood risk and resilience planning in Louisiana and beyond.

Climate change is increasingly threatening the homes, health, livelihoods and cultural heritage of communities across Louisiana’s coast.

The Bayou State is experiencing the fastest rate of coastal land loss in the country and has already lost nearly 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s. Louisiana is taking important steps to address this risk, implementing the most comprehensive coastal planning in the nation with massive infrastructure investments for restoration and resilience.  

While the state’s Coastal Master Plan incorporates the most advanced technologies and engineering, it should also include an understanding of individual and community behavior and what motivates people to act in response to climate risk – a critical component of resilience. Many factors can influence the actions people are willing to take, whether switching jobs, voting for climate policies, flood-proofing a home or business, or even choosing to relocate. That’s why we need an understanding of the unique motivations that spur individual and community action in order to equitably allocate resources.

To fill this information gap, we need scientific analysis of how people and their social networks in coastal Louisiana perceive, respond and adapt to extreme ecological changes and climate impacts. Working with partners at Cornell University, we set out to do just that.  

Here is how we addressed this question and key takeaways for policymakers and planners to consider as they lead flood risk reduction and climate adaptation planning in their communities.

Two approaches to learning about coastal Louisiana communities.

EDF and partners at Cornell University launched a two-part social science study to examine Louisiana residents’ risk perceptions related to coastal land loss and climate change.  

First, we organized six focus groups in multiple parishes in southeastern Louisiana as well as in the inland community of Alexandria. Throughout these discussions, participants indicated a strong connection to Louisiana’s ecosystems and cultural history but felt they had little control over coastal land loss and their associated climate risks. Participants noted a history of mistrust in public institutions and felt both state and federal governments could do more to build resilience for coastal communities.

Read more.