What It Means When Reporters Tell Us Miami Is Drowning

A new study suggests that news reports of extreme weather build a dangerous tolerance for risk-taking.

Hal Wanless, a geologist at the University of Miami, told Elizabeth Kolbert that Miami Beach has less than 50 years left till it's taken by the sea.

However, reports of Miami Beach's flooding may not stop people from setting up shop there. A recent study published in Nature: Climate Change demonstrates that the manner in which strange weather events are presented by the media greatly affects people's reactions to living in an at-risk area, though not in the way you might expect.

"A common response is to assume that more information is better, and that providing summaries of risk levels will lead people to reduce their exposure to relevant risks," researcher Ben Newell writes in a release about the work. "Data from field studies on non-climate-related disasters, however, point to the opposite effect."

The researchers write that the “‘news reports’ of disaster occurrences can increase the tolerance for risk-taking (which implies that rare events are underweighted).” Reports of these events need to be given the weight that they deserve by informing the public of the bigger picture, telling audiences how often these events will occur in the future.

Discourse relating to climate change can often be misleading. It's easy to manipulate data to look harmless — to treat these weather anomalies like, well, anomalies.

The only #climatechange chart you need to see. https://t.co/XWPo00GulS (h/t @powerlineUS) pic.twitter.com/QcrN2fCouT

— National Review (@NRO) December 14, 2015

But when we zoom in to see what's happening, we end up with something quite different.

@NRO @powerlineUS Let me zoom that in for some of your older followers: pic.twitter.com/OEVHxDXMjU

— Ryan (@RyanMcGarry) December 14, 2015

“To cope with its recurrent flooding, Miami Beach has already spent something like a hundred million dollars,” Kolbert wrote in her article for The New Yorker. “It is planning on spending several hundred million more. Such efforts are, in Wanless’s view, so much money down the drain. Sooner or later — and probably sooner — the city will have too much water to deal with. Even before that happens, Wanless believes, insurers will stop selling policies on the luxury condos that line Biscayne Bay. Banks will stop writing mortgages.”

Many believe in the power of human innovation. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all. Governments across the world have laid out bold plans to help divert the rising waters or stop them. But what about in a state where officials are confronted with such Orwellian rules that they're banned from using the term "climate change." How can an honest conversation about the rising sea levels happen when they're forced to refer to it as “nuisance flooding?”

As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explains, the government can only send signals of the coming trends. They alone cannot save the planet from these disasters.


Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Staff

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

The dos and don’ts of helping a drug-addicted person recover

How you talk to people with drug addiction might save their life.

  • Addiction is a learning disorder; it's not a sign that someone is a bad person.
  • Tough love doesn't help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.
  • As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
Keep reading Show less

The most culturally chauvinist people in Europe? Greeks, new research suggests

Meanwhile, Spaniards are the least likely to say their culture is superior to others.

Image: Pew Research Center
Strange Maps
  • Survey by Pew Research Center shows great variation in chauvinism across Europe.
  • Eight most chauvinist countries are in the east, and include Russia.
  • British much more likely than French (and slightly more likely than Germans) to say their culture is "superior" to others.
Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less