People Care More if Climate Change Impacts their Health

A new exploratory study out of George Mason University has found that people will care more about climate change if it is framed as a public health problem.

The authors of the study interviewed 70 Americans and had the respondents read a public health framed essay on climate change. Their results found that, on the whole, those involved in the interview process responded positively to the information provided.

“Re-defining climate change in public health terms should help people make connection to already familiar problems such as asthma, allergies and infectious diseases, while shifting the visualization of the issue away from remote Arctic regions and distant peoples and animals,” said Edward Maibach, director of the George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication (4C). “The public health perspective offers a vision of a better, healthier future—not just a vision of an environmental disaster averted.”

The study interviewed approximately one dozen people in each of the Six Americas, a term originally put forth by an earlier GMU study that categorized people’s beliefs, behaviours, and policy preferences about global warming into six distinct segments of Americans. The six segments (seen below) are Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive.

Not surprisingly, members of the first two categories (Alarmed and Concerned) had strong positive reactions to the short essay. Surprisingly, though, was the reaction of those who were less sure if climate change is happening who found that the information provided was valuable.

Nearly half (44%) of the comments made by the Disengaged segment of respondents indicated that the essay “reflected their personal point of view, was informative or thought-provoking, or offered valuable prescriptive information on how to take action relative to the climate problem,” while “39% of the comments made by respondents in the Doubtful segment reflected one of these three themes.”

“Many leading experts have suggested that a positive vision for the future, rather than a dire one, is precisely what has been missing from the public dialogue on climate change thus far,” says Maibach. “We believe this survey is one step in shaping a way to talk about climate change that will reach all segments of the public—not just those who already are making behavioral changes.”

Source: George Mason University

Image Source: kevindooley via Flickr

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