A new study, called Public Perceptions of the Health Impacts of Global Warming, just released by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Centre for Climate Change Communication, reveals that most Americans are mostly ignorant of the current and potential impacts of global warming.
“Few Americans have thought much about the health consequences of global warming,” claim the authors. “Asked how often, if ever, before taking this survey they had thought about how global warming might affect people’s health, seven in 10 said they had given the issue little of no thought. Only one in 10 said they had given the issue a “great deal” of thought and only about two in 10 (22 per cent) said they had thought about it a “moderate amount.”
When asked “In your view, what health problems related to global warming are Americans experiencing, if any?” most respondents (43%) either failed to answer the question or answered that they “don’t know” (14%). Ten per cent incorrectly answered that there are no problems, and 27 per cent named one. Those belonging to the latter group mostly mentioned respiratory problems, lung diseases, injuries and mortality due to extreme weather conditions. Less than 5 per cent of this group identified anything else.
Only one in three Americans thinks global warming is affecting some social groups more than others, while the rest were either “not sure” (45%) or convinced that no group is at a higher risk (23%).
Unsurprisingly, the study subjects were just as oblivious to the other health impacts which arise due to global warming as well. For example, only 12-15 per cent thought thousands or millions of people around the world are negatively affected by the consequences of global warming, and just over a third thought these same consequences will become more widespread in their community in the next decade.
Yet despite the lack of information, almost half of the respondents felt government agencies should become more involved in addressing such health-related issues.
Jerome A. Paulson, chairman of the American Academy of Paediatrics Council on Environmental Health, claims that the US Environmental Protection Agency should pay more attention to the health effects of climate change: “Despite these alarming statistics and the imminent health effect of climate change, the public health perspective has been notably absent from discussions of the EPA’s new rule to reduce carbon emission. Ignoring the impact of air pollution and public health is leaving out an important piece of the puzzle.”
The researchers conclude their paper with a warning: “Public health actions, especially preparedness and prevention, can do much to protect people from some of the impacts of climate change. Early action provides the largest health benefits. As threats increase, our ability to adapt to future changes may be limited.”
Original research paper: Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Feinberg, G., Rosenthal, S., & Marlon, J. (2014) Public Perceptions of the Health Consequences of Global Warming: October, 2014. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.