J3.4 Visualization of slow-developing hazards: Influencing perceptions and behaviors to facilitate adaptation planning

Wednesday, 26 January 2011: 9:15 AM
611 (Washington State Convention Center)
Tim G. Frazier, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID; and F. Murtinho, G. Broad, D. Campbell, P. Howe, and H. Reyes Hernandez

Increasingly federal, state, and local community decision-makers face the challenge of preparing for and adapting to impacts from climate change, often with a lack of full understanding of the risks associated with these impacts. Some climate change impacts, for example, will be felt in the short term (quick onset hazards such as sea level rise-enhanced hurricanes and their storm surge), while others will be manifested as changes to climate continue (e.g. slower developing hazards such as drought). Global climate models suggest that many of major global environmental problems in the future will be chronic rather than acute. Climate change, food insecurity, and water scarcity are prime examples.

Also problematic for decision makers is their lack of scientific knowledge and understanding of the disaster risk is often combined with the public's lack of experience with past disasters. The lack of the public's past disaster experience usually translates to a lower tolerance for risk-reduction efforts. Without a high tolerance for risk-reduction efforts many elected officials lack the political will to enact controversial and economically demanding mitigation and adaptation efforts. Insufficient or incorrect knowledge of risks and potential consequences has been cited as a factor in delaying mitigation and adaptation efforts.

While science is advancing rapidly at being able to describe, model, and predict these climate change and hazard phenomena, the communication of scientific findings to people ‘on the ground' can be limited by the availability of tools to depict the full depth and breadth of available data. At the same time, people facing hazards can be limited in their ability to communicate their depth of knowledge to researchers and policymakers by differences in organizational knowledge and access to technology, among other concerns.

In this paper, we discuss both the importance and difficulty of visualizing slow-developing hazards as a way to influence the perceptions of people in vulnerable communities and motivate action to mitigate and adapt to the hazards. We define visualization broadly, to encompass multiple modes and audiences in place-specific situations. We outline some of the key concerns when developing intervention strategies, with a focus on the role of media in addition to community-based social, occupational, and organizational networks. We present several brief case studies from rural Jamaica, Colombia, Mexico, and Southern California as a way to explicate the opportunities and constraints for visualization efforts in diverse settings across the Americas.

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