OR: In (partial) defense of Matt Nisbet
I’m not going to rehash old complaints, but suffice it to say that I’ve had my disagreements with Matthew Nisbet in the past.
Those categories in italics (my emphasis) identify how few people worry that climate change will affect them—about one person in ten. Nearly five times as many people in the United States are more worried that climate change will affect polar bears and plants than are worried about themselves. Small wonder, then, that the study found more support for generic ways of dealing with climate change, like funding renewable energy research, and less support for ideas that suggest concrete personal costs, like increasing the gasoline tax by 25 cents.
Setting aside the issue of whether or not voters do support slight increases in energy costs for cleaner energy (I’m pretty sure they do), there’s certainly something to this. I caught part of a recent forum (hosted by American University) on NPR that has some bearing on this issue. The full video can be seen on Nisbet’s blog. Nisbet made the point that people are generally very concerned with environmental issues that are framed in terms not of far off catastrophe but of immediate public health. No matter what your opinion of his past “framing” arguments may be, Nisbet may be on to something here.
There seems to be an enormous amount of low hanging fruit to be picked in terms of public persuasion, should more emphasis be put on both the public health consequences of climate change and perhaps even more importantly on the health benefits of using clean energy. Prestigious medical journals like The Lancet (e.g. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions) and JAMA (e.g. Expansion of Renewable Energy Industries and Implications for Occupational Health) and governmental organizations like the CDC and WHO have been and continue to highlight this important aspect of the climate issue.
Sea level rise and dangers to charismatic megafauna are not themselves trivial issues, and should certainly not be ignored when discussing the threat of climate change. And it’s true that the public is not always as swayed by evidence-based medicine as it could be. That said, I think that a health-based climate communication campaign has a lot of potential, and I’m interested to see if Nisbet or any one else follows up on this.
[UPDATE: John Mashey, in the comments:
I wish the following would get more play, especially since it slices the problem in the US both by sector and by region: http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts