People may risk living in disaster zone if they think threat is a once-in-a-lifetime event

ABC News

Humans may be willing to put daily pleasure ahead of the threat of long-term disaster when selecting where to live, a new international study suggests.

Study co-author Professor Ben Newell, of the University of NSW, said the research examined how people would react to being told of a predicted increase in the risk of natural disasters with climate change.

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Professor Newell, from the School of Psychology, said it was surprising how little weight participants in the study gave to disaster threat.

“Even when the long-run value of living in the place is lower than staying safe, people still persisted with these riskier choices,” he said.

“It is like living by the coast is fine most of the time, but are you willing to risk that chance of inundation?”

It was previously assumed more information would lead people to reduce their exposure to risk.

However, Professor Newell and his colleagues from the UK and Israel, who published their research today in Nature Climate Change, found the opposite was true.

Information after a disaster could have the “paradoxical effect of changing people’s perception of risk in the opposite direction”, Professor Newell said.

“There was a tendency after a disaster had hit for some people to move into that area, which is consistent with a kind of thinking that lightning isn’t going to strike in the same spot twice,” he said.

“Saying that it is a ‘one in a 100-year storm’ is not the best way to get across the accumulation of the risk,” he said.

“We need to emphasise the occurrence rather than the non-occurrence of these events.”

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