Monday, December 20, 2010

What Drives Pubic Reaction to Climate Change?

Global annual fossil fuel carbon dioxide emiss...
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The Perception Factor: Climate Change Gets Personal (6 page pdf, Environ Health Perspect 118:a484-a489, Nov.1, 2010)

Despite the fact that “up to 98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing agree with the tenets of anthropogenic climate change outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” , the countries most responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases are having great difficulty in getting legislation passed that would lower their emissions soon enough to stabilize the atmospheric warming.

This need had been foreseen for more than three decades, going back to the first international meetings at the ministerial level: the World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979 and the Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in Toronto, leading up to the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro which paved the way for the Kyoto Protocol in 1996). The article reviewed today looks at the reasons behind the lack of action – the battle of perceptions in the media. One conclusion is that the public needs to hear much more about the impacts of climate change on human health from recognized health authorities – an aspect that is very much behind the thinking that went into this blog.

Key Quotes:

“Climate change is occur­ring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.”1

“Americans often are very selective about which sources of information they trust; they have incomplete, often oversimplified information; they don’t believe individual actions will make a difference; and/or they believe climate change won’t ever affect them or the people they know”

“cities in regions that are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change but that emit the least greenhouse gases.. are most likely to act to reduce their carbon emissions. On the other hand, cities in less vulnerable areas with sources that emit high levels of greenhouse gases .. are significantly less likely to agree to take mitigation action”

“This has been exceedingly well established in data that political ideology and some deeply held worldviews related to political identity are cur­rently the biggest factors that determine a person’s view of climate change”

“Perhaps surprisingly, individual homes represent a huge and still largely untapped source of U.S. emissions reductions.. contribute roughly a one-third share of total U.S. carbon emissions, accounting for approximately 8% of the world’s total and equaling more than the total emissions of any other country except China”

“One way to encourage Americans to adopt a more serious outlook toward climate change is by having medical profession­als link health issues and climate change impacts.. 60% of local public health directors asked said they are seeing health effects related to global warming, and more than 70% said they thought they would see more in the next decade”

“Public health officials have a really important opportunity to explain to people in their jurisdiction . . . that climate change is not just a problem in the future. It is a current problem that will become more pronounced, and our health will suffer,”

“We need to look at household emissions and treat them with the same amount of attention and policy resources as any other emitter source.”

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