Focusing Events and Constrains on Policy Addressing Long-Term Climate Change Risks

Friday, 19 December 2014: 4:00 PM
Kristin O'Donovan, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, United States
When policy makers are aware of immediate and long-term risks to communities, what do they do to plan for and mitigate the effects of climate change? This paper addresses that question in two ways. First, as an organizing framework it presents an overview of the empirical evidence on focusing events. Focusing events are defined as sudden, rare events that reveal harm or the potential for future harm that the general public and policy makers become aware of simultaneously. These large-scale events are typically natural and disasters, crisis, or technological accidents. This paper considers the empirical evidence of the relationship between focusing events, the harm revealed by the event and policy change aimed at reducing future risk of harm. Second, this paper reviews the case of flood mitigation policy in the United States from 1968 to 2008. It considers the ways in which policy makers have and have not integrated future flood risks into mitigation policy and planning, particularly after large-scale floods. It analyzes the political, intergovernmental, demographic and geographic factors that have promoted and constrained long-term flood mitigation policy. This paper concludes with a discussion of the meaning and implications of potential focusing events and constrains on policy for long-term climate change concerns.