Big threats vs. the potential for human intervention: Floridians weigh investments in resilience

What threats are Floridians most worried about when it comes to the state’s infrastructure? What potential do people see for adequately funded human interventions to make a difference in preventing or mitigating damage from these threats? 

Those are just two of the important questions about Florida’s future that Resiliency Florida sought to learn more about in a recent scientific survey of Florida voters. 

The results are quite illuminating. 

No concern ranks higher, among all demographic groups, than water quality. More than 5 in 6 Floridians – 84% – said they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the quality of the Sunshine State’s water. The concern was shared by equal portions of Republicans and Democrats, and across all age groups. Concern over water quality was followed by extreme weather (80%), energy independence (78%), air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions (76%), food security (74%), coastal shoreline erosion (72%), sea level rise (68%), and flooding (63%).

Among this list, the survey found only a 20-point gap from the most concern to the least, suggesting that Floridians share a fairly strong sense of worry across the board. However, you’ll find a much larger range when asking people to rate how much of a difference human efforts can make in mitigating each of these threats, assuming adequate funding and expertise are available.

Floridians see the greatest potential for making a difference in the area of water quality, with more than two-thirds of respondents (68%) believing that adequately-funded efforts can make a “big difference.” This is followed by energy independence (59%), food security (58%), and air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions (50%). 

For all other threats, however, fewer than 1 in 3 Floridians believe human efforts can make a big difference, even if those efforts are properly funded and led by teams with deep expertise. Specifically, just 31% believe that proper efforts could prevent or mitigate the damage of flooding, while 28% feel this way on coastal shoreline erosion, 27% on sea level rise, and 22% on extreme weather. 

These results reflect that while Floridians are most concerned about water quality, they are also most confident that efforts can make a difference to protect this essential resource. This suggests overwhelming public support for state investments in water quality and resource projects, as the return on those investments is perceived as both necessary and promising. 

The same, however, can’t be said for other threats. The survey found a high degree of pessimism among Floridians when it comes to intervention on extreme weather, coastal shoreline erosion, sea level rise, and flooding. 

Some of that pessimism may be well-placed. It’s difficult to see, for example, how human intervention could meaningfully or quickly change the course of sea level rise. But in another respect, doubtful perceptions may be based on a lack of awareness of the many resilience-related infrastructure projects, either underway or proposed, that will help reduce the magnitude of such threats. For example, Florida’s Beach and Shore Preservation Act, passed in 1986, has been critical in addressing coastal erosion while providing a return on investment to the state of $5.40 for every $1 spent.

Additionally, projects funded by the Resilient Florida Grant Program specifically relating to sea level rise are in progress in Palm Beach, St. Johns, and Miami-Dade counties, with dozens of other projects across the state intended to mitigate similar issues. In total, more than $1.2 billion in state funding has been committed over the past two fiscal years through this grant program, with 189 projects operational in 33 of Florida’s 67 counties. 

As we work to expand federal, state, and local investment in Florida’s resilient infrastructure, there also must be an equal effort to educate the public on these efforts and their potential to make a meaningful difference. 

The Florida Resilience Conference, set for October 5-7 in Bonita Springs, will bring together state leaders, local governments, federal agencies, industry executives, and policy experts for in-depth discussions on Florida’s burgeoning resilience programs.The conference program features concurrent sessions on beach management, agriculture, energy, and infrastructure. 

We hope you will join us as we work to address the concerns that Floridians themselves have identified as mattering to them.

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