Over 97% of scientists agree that global warming is happening right now, and we have no one but ourselves to blame. Despite this, many people still remain sceptical. In Australia, one in five people think it is a ‘hoax’, and in America just 45% of the population think global warming will affect them in their lifetime.
For many years it has been treated as a divisive political issue, which often leaves both sides at a stalemate. There are those who think that focusing too much on quelling environmental issues is economically unsustainable and should not be at the forefront of our government’s mind. While on the other side are those who say that without the planet there’ll literally be no economy to run. Between you and me, I’m going to say that the latter have a fair point.
Despite desperate calls for global warming to be given more political attention to at least try and fix the problem, the contrasting responses suggest we’ll be arguing about how to handle it until the cows stop coming home (due to heat exhaustion and starvation). Given people’s general unwillingness to change their minds, we honestly have no idea how long these discussions could go on for.
But people are inherently selfish, right? So what if they were to learn that global warming poses a direct threat to their health? The impact a changing climate has on so many aspects of our lives, including the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe, means that global warming is (and will continue to be) the cause of many major health crises. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will be responsible for 250,000 additional deaths per year.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, it is generally the countries least responsible for global warming that are the most vulnerable to these devastating health effects. But what many people who have the luxury of strong medical infrastructure don’t understand is that it will catch up to them eventually too. Sooner rather than later. Rising sea-levels will increase the displacement of populations, leading to overpopulation, which will assist the spread of disease, stretch resources thinner than ever before and so on and so forth. The domino effect is already in play.
In 2017, a report by The Lancet found evidence suggesting that its harm to global health is much worse than previously thought. Shifting the focus from an environmental issue to a health issue may provide the answers needed to get the sceptics on board. Health and science organisations along with governments may be more successful by running public health campaigns targeting citizens and world leaders who are still unconvinced that we are in the midst of a crisis.
If scientists are yet to convince everyone with the overwhelming evidence at hand, why would this shift in approach be any different? After all, people still eat junk food, drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes despite knowing how bad each one is for their health. This is because people are susceptible to their own cognitive bias, that is, creating their own convenient ‘reality’ which deviates from rational judgement. Think ‘fake news’ or ‘alternative facts’.
With this in mind, however, it might be nice to know that in Australia, both smoking and alcohol consumption have decreased in the past two decades. This is because public health campaigns for both are widely known and have had a lot of support for many years now.
A 1990 study found that people are not necessarily willing to accept risks to their health unless they perceive themselves as already ‘unhealthy’ or ‘at risk’. As something that we don’t immediately see or feel, the way we can feel the effects of smoking or drinking, convincing people that global warming is indeed a threat to our health may be a harder sell. Tailoring messages to specific groups, and perhaps even appealing to people’s fear and guilt is more likely to drive a change in behaviour. These techniques are obviously not without their ethical questions, but apparently they do work. So I guess the final question to ask is what should be done to change the attitudes towards something that concerns the health of every single person on the planet?