Climate change or public health: Which matters more?

Aug 04, 2014 by David Funkhouser
Climate change or public health: Which matters more?
This chart shows the effect of political orientation on selecting health vs. climate as a compelling reason for fossil fuel reduction. Source: N. Petrovic et al., Climatic Change, July 2014

Political leanings unquestionably influence how many people hear the conversation over climate change. The political polarization of the discussion has made it difficult to reach agreement on changes in environmental policy.

Might more people be persuaded to act if the issue was framed in terms of public health?

A new study by Earth Institute researchers suggests that talking about the human health impacts of air pollution related to burning fossil fuels might make a more convincing argument for action among conservatives, who are generally more skeptical of the scientific evidence for climate change.

In a series of surveys, the researchers asked people in the United States a series of questions about their beliefs and level of concern about the burning of fossil fuels, as well as air pollution more generally, and their willingness to take action to mitigate the effects. They tried to assess how political orientation – from very liberal to very conservative – affected the outcome.

The researchers found that people who identified themselves as conservative find public health to be a more compelling reason for supporting fossil fuel reduction compared to climate change.

Climate change or public health: Which matters more?
Effect of fossil fuel terminology on belief in harmful health effects in public health frame (Study 2). US conservatives are less likely to agree that air pollution is harmful, but only when fossil fuels are mentioned. Source: N. Petrovic et al., Climatic Change, July 2014

For randomly selected groups, the surveys phrased questions about air pollution in different ways, focusing on climate change or , to test the effects of that differing language on responses. The survey results "provide the first experimental evidence that health is a stronger motivator of attitude change than climate change among conservative individuals," the authors wrote. "While we hypothesized that liberals would be equally supportive regardless of frame, we find instead that climate change is a stronger motivator for liberals."

The study was published online this week in the journal Climatic Change. In separate surveys, the researchers also varied the questions for some respondents to eliminate references to fossil fuels – words that can perhaps trigger associations with the debate – and instead used the term "air pollution" to refer to emissions from the burning of .

The survey results indicated that conservative individuals were more likely to agree that emissions are harmful to human health when they are referred to as "" in the absence of fossil fuel terminology – suggesting that the term "fossil fuel" may have become politicized enough to reinforce respondents' political identities.

The researchers also found responses were dependent on the type of solution being proposed – for instance, more communal approaches such as environmental regulation, versus actions that involve personal responsibility. That finding "suggests that including a broader set of policy options, such as incentives for business and technology development, may provide opportunities for political agreement and should be considered in future research," the authors said.

The authors noted the limits of their study and suggested that further research with broader, more representative sampling of the population would be helpful to corroborate their findings.

Explore further: Climate change inaction betrays the next generation, scientists warn

More information: "Motivating mitigation: when health matters more than climate change." Nada Petrovic, Jaime Madrigano, Lisa Zaval. Climatic Change, July 2014, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-014-1192-2

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mememine69
1.9 / 5 (13) Aug 04, 2014
Climate Blame journalism has done to science what naughty priests did for religion.
Find us one single scientist that "believes" as much as you exaggerating "believers" do and beyond science's laughable 32 years of "could be" and "95%" certainty that THE END IS NEAR! A mob of goose stepping "believers" do not speak for science but science is 100% certain the earth is not flat but 95% sure CO2 "could" flatten it?
Delmar
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 04, 2014


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Scroofinator
2.3 / 5 (9) Aug 04, 2014
Another stupid article intended to stir up controversy...

There really is only one answer:
As climate change will likely have an effect on public health, it's more important.
Bart R
not rated yet Aug 04, 2014
Not as if the ozone, smog, heat stroke, increase in invasive species carrying disease, drought, flood, poor crops and high food prices caused by burning fossil fuels could be considered not a public health problem.

Whether or not your teenager gets sex education? That can't be considered a climate issue.

Oh, and the European penchant for ascribing 'excess winter deaths' to cold rather than poor air quality to justify subsidizing coal? That rings up a big no sale.
antigoracle
1.6 / 5 (13) Aug 04, 2014
Well, you got to hand it to the AGW Cult. Brace yourself for the deluge of "studies", all peer-reviewed of course, preaching the evils of CO2 on our health.
Mimath224
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2014
I think it has to be pretty obvious to most that any climate change would have some impact on health and imo area health authorities would best suited for that research. Also it is hospitals that have to make a case for more funding and probably have mountains of data on these issues.
sirchick
2 / 5 (4) Aug 05, 2014
How many people were asked? Less than 1% of American population i will assume.

These kind of researches never do big enough data samples, i get it costs money but its way unreliable unless you ask 50% or more of the entire population.. not that this data is at all important to science really.
Enviro Equipment Blog
5 / 5 (3) Aug 05, 2014
Climate change or public health?

My vote goes for public health. History - if not basic common sense - shows that humans react more strongly to something that affects their life and health for more then their environment… Even even though the latter is indirectly the same thing
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2014
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