Natural Disasters

Coastal Management Fall 2018

2018 Coastal Opinions
Natural Disasters


By Tania Arteaga, Karolina Guerrero, and Melvin Kim

Thomas Fire burning along the Southern California Coast in December of 2017.


Annually, more than 200 million people are adversely affected by natural disasters (Bandrova 2006). Natural disasters are a mass phenomenon that include hurricanes, tornados, storms, floods, earthquakes, droughts, famines and fires (Bandrova 2006). In America, economic losses due to natural catastrophes have been observed to substantially increase in the past 40 years from $528 billion in the 1980s to $1,23 billion between the years 2001 and 2010 (Kunreuther 2013). These natural disasters are likely to intensify due to climate change (Sovacool 2018).

Although natural disasters are recognized as a real threat, they are often perceived as an event that humans have no control over. The word “natural” implies that these tragic events are simply forces of nature. The reality is, human impact on the environment can contribute to natural disasters occurring more often and more intensely. Human actions, like deforestation, impairs watersheds, raises the risks of fires, and contributes to climate change. Also, the destruction of coastal wetlands, dunes, and mangroves eliminates nature’s shock absorbers for coastal storms (Abramovitz 2001). As we continue to alter natural systems, their abilities to recover from disturbances has been diminished. We will use the opinion poll to determine if the majority of people believe climate change is a problem and how much they believe human actions contribute to it.

Overview of Current Situation

Around the world climate change is recognized by many as a serious threat to our planet. An opinion poll conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Communication found that in 2018, the national average of adults in the U.S. who believed climate change is happening is at 70%. Out of the remaining percentage, 14% of adults did not believe it was happening, while the remaining 16% did not answer the question (Howe 2015). One of the biggest controversies with climate change is whether it is human-caused or not. Within the same opinion poll, 57% of adults believe climate change is caused by humans, while 32% believe it is caused by natural changes. The remaining percentage did not answer the question.

Current public opinion regarding natural disasters indicate that most Americans believe natural disasters are becoming worse. The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) for Public Affairs conducted a poll in 2017 and found that 68% of Americans believed natural disasters are becoming more frequent and intensifying. Of these, 46% believed this is due to climate change caused by human activities, while 39% believe natural disasters are worsening due to both man-made climate change and natural climate variability (Associated Press 2017).

Other polls such as the Washington Post-ABC News Poll show that 55% of americans in 2017 believed climate change influenced the intensity of hurricanes  substantially increasing from the 39% of Americans who believed climate change influenced hurricanes in 2005 (Guskin 2017).

Hypothesis 1: People believe climate change is a problem.

Hypothesis 2: People believe climate change influences natural disasters.

Relevant Survey Questions

These are the survey questions from our opinion poll, that appear relevant to the topic of natural disasters:

  1. Global Climate Change is a major problem we need to address now.

Options: Agree   Disagree I Don’t Know

  1. Might climate change have played or be playing a role (intensity, size, etc.) in … the hurricanes of 2017, the Thomas Fire/Mudslides, California’s recent drought, and coastal erosion/ changed beach extent.

Options: Very Likely  Somewhat Likely No strong opinion  Somewhat unlikely Very unlikely I don’t know

  1. The fires of 2017-2018 seriously impacted me.

Options: not at all  only initially to this day  I don’t know

  1. The correct response to these coastal disasters was/is.


The general public feels that….

   Of the 1,327 people who answered, 89% said that climate change is a major problem we need to address now. Eight percent of people said they were unsure and 8% said climate change is not a problem. The question, “might climate change play a role in the hurricanes of 2017,” resulted in 78% of people saying they believed that it is likely that climate change played a role in their size or intensity. Seventy-three percent said they believed climate change likely influenced the Thomas Fire, 81% believed it influenced the California drought, and 73% believed climate change influenced coastal erosion. The percentage of people who said they were initially impacted by the 2017-2018 fires was 45%. Thirty-six percent said they were unaffected, 15% said they were still affected, and 10% said they were unsure.

Figure 1. The bar graph above shows the percent of people in the counties of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles who believed climate change is a major problem we need to address now. Eighty-nine percent of these people believe climate change is a major problem that needs to be dealt with.  

Figure 2. Shows the average percent response for the question addressing the likelihood of whether climate change plays a role in the frequency, duration, or intensity of the hurricanes of 2017, the Thomas Fire/mudslides, California’s recent drought, and coastal erosion. The average percent of people who believed climate change likely influenced these natural disasters was 76.25%, 8.5% were neutral, and 12.25% believed is was unlikely that climate change affected these natural disasters.


The public opinion of people in the counties of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles on the topic of climate change being an issue, shows us that the majority of the public believes that climate change is an important issue that should be promptly addressed.

The current state of public opinion in the Counties of Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles  surrounding the topic of natural disasters indicates that the majority of the public believe climate change influences the potency or magnitude of natural disasters. Of the people who believed climate change is a problem the majority believed that climate change influenced natural disasters.

Key Takeaway

In all of the counties (Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles) where the survey was conducted, most people believed that natural disasters are likely affected by the major problem of climate change.


Abramovitz, J. 2001. Unnatural Disasters. World Watch Paper 158:15–16.

Bandrova, Temenoujka. 2006. Mapping of Nature Risks and Disasters for Educational Purposes. Kartografija I Geoinformacije., 5(6):4-8.

Howe, P., Mildenberger, M., Marlon, J., & A., Leiserowitz. 2015. “Geographic variation in opinions on climate change at state and local scales in the USA,” Nature Climate Change.

Kunreuther, H., Michel-Kerjan, E., & M., Pauly. 2013. Making America More Resilient toward Natural Disasters: A Call for Action. Environment, 55(4):15–23.

Sovacool, B. K., Tan-Mullins, M., & W., Abrahamse. 2018. Bloated bodies and broken bricks: Power, ecology, and inequality in the political economy of natural disaster recovery. World Development, 110:243–255.