The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday December 4th

Study: N.C. officials more likely to implement environment policy if community threatened directly

In the study, 88 city and county public officials from North Carolina’s coastal counties participated in an online survey with climate change scenarios to determine what would cause them to take action.

The study considered the influence of knowledge, perception and ideology on policy decision-making. It found the perception of an environmental threat to an official’s community is the most influential factor in prompting policy change.

Brian Bulla, assistant professor of public administration at Appalachian State University, who co-authored the study, said public officials need more than just scientific knowledge about climate change to change their policies.

“One of the things we found was that officials seem to be more comfortable with saying they would take adaptive action if they could witness first-hand the impacts of climate change,” he said.

N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Durham, said he has noticed reluctance among state officials to take action on environmental issues.

“They don’t think about the way that local decisions add up to having climate impact in the aggregate,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think most local elected officials don’t see climate change as being something that they have the responsibility or the power to address.”

Gavin Smith, associate research professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UNC, said, given President-elect Donald Trump’s reluctance to combat climate change, his presidency may force officials to make changes locally.

“There may be a disinvestment in federal dollars, but I would predict that the people that are going to be innovating are going to be innovating in spite of potential changes in federal policy,” he said.

Smith said these policy dilemmas are going to require community effort, not just government action.

“It can be achieved through good climate change adaptation planning,” he said. “It is feasible, and there are communities out there that are showing that it can be done.”

Meyer said he hoped local officials across the aisle can work together on climate change issues.

“I think that the coastal areas see and feel the impact of climate change sooner than other parts of the state do,” he said. “It would be wonderful if elected leaders of both parties in the coastal areas were able to come together to sound the alarm and bring attention to how important it is going to be for the state to address climate change issues.”

Smith said it is important to build long-lasting infrastructure when dealing with long-term effects of climate change.

“One of the issues we’ve got to think about is we need to act today in anticipation of these effects manifesting themselves, whether it’s in the short term or in the long term,” he said.

Bulla hopes North Carolina officials can step up and show some creative leadership.

“It’s tough for officials; I understand that. But just because things are tough doesn’t mean we can’t tackle them,” he said.



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