Redefining climate change

A major challenge for researchers focused on climate change is actually convincing the public that climate change is happening.

Now new research from George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication shows that framing climate change as a public health issue helps people better understand and relate to the topic – even those who aren’t convinced that global warming exists.

In the exploratory study, researchers asked participants to read a short essay on the human health implications of global warming then interviewed them about their beliefs on climate change. Even those classified as “doubtful” that climate change is happening found the information valuable. And those classified as “disengaged” said the essay offered valuable information on how to take action on climate change.

Edward Maibach, director of the center who conducted the research, said the idea is to shift the debate away from remote regions and foreign cultures and help Americans understand the personal implications.

“Re-defining climate change in public health terms should help people make connection to already familiar problems such as asthma, allergies and infectious diseases,” he said. “The public health perspective offers a vision of a better, healthier future – not just a vision of an environmental disaster averted.”

The study also provides clues about specific public health messages that trigger negative reactions, such as eating less meat. (You can read the full study in the latest issue of the BioMed Central Public Health journal.)

Maibach’s research shows the importance of sharing evidence in a context that people can relate to. What other fields could frame their discoveries to make them more relevant to the general public?

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