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Climate change should be billed as a 'health' not 'environmental' disaster

Ecologist

22nd July, 2010

Public may be more likely to accept responsibility for climate change and support mitigation action if they see it as a threat to human health, suggests research

If the human health impacts of climate change were explained in more detail to people they might be more willing to accept tougher action to reduce its impact, according to a US study.

A survey of US adults found they reacted more positively to information about the health impacts of climate change, such as allergies, asthma, vulnerability to extreme heat and a rise in infectious diseases.

Perhaps even more importantly, they were receptive to information about the health benefits associated with mitigation-related policy actions, to which they might previously have been opposed.

The researchers from George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication (4C), whose study was recently published in the BMC public health journal, said the health impacts of climate change had been 'dramatically under-represented' in discussions by scientists, policy-makers and NGOs who instead focused on 'geographically remote' impacts like melting ice caps in the Arctic.

'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 visualisation of the issue away from remote Arctic regions and distant peoples and animals,' said co-author Edward Maibach.

Links with health community


The study says the climate scientists and environmental NGO's should work more closely with health specialists to get across the health impacts of climate change and also work on the health benefits of policies to tackle it.

'The public health perspective offers a vision of a better, healthier future—not just a vision of an environmental disaster averted,' said 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 behavioural changes,' he added.

Useful links

Reframing climate change as a public health issue: an exploratory study of public reactions

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