Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Sustainable living is a healthy, positive thing - pollies please note

Classified as: reflective journal - advocacy

My local community garden

Both Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd seem to have been backing away from climate change and environmental issues as if they might bite, in this election.

Research suggests concern over climate change has declined in Australia over recent years (Pugliese and Lyons 2010). There are powerful forces, both corporations and individuals, opposing action on climate change (McCright and Dunlap 2010). 

Once an issue has been 'polarised' (when some people take sides and express strong feelings about it), people in general may become wary of it. In these circumstances, some politicians may think it's best to avoid the subject.

However there is other research, and community experience, that shows a very different picture.

Linking climate change to health impacts (such as disasters, increased diseases, droughts and food insecurity) can lead to greater support for action to reduce emissions (DeBono et al 2010; Nisbet 2009)

Although there has been little research so far, positive messages may be even more effective. Edward Maibach and his colleagues (2010) in the US found that information about the positive health impacts of action to reduce climate change (for example walking vs driving) was positively received across all groups, regardless of their position on climate change.

When people see the benefits that sustainable living can provide for themselves, their families and communities, and the environment, they may feel much more positive.

The emerging themes from this research project (Promoting equity, environmental sustainability and health) support this view. One of key enablers for working with the community to promote environmental sustainability seems to be to address issues that are relevant to people’s lives and that provide direct benefit to them (like reducing energy bills), rather than framing the work around abstract or contested issues like climate change.

Below are some quotes illustrating this emerging theme:

Claire, manager, health and community organisation, talking about an energy efficiency program in a rural area: 

we made a concerted effort not to use climate change words... [a survey later showed that some] people were climate change sceptics, but they were still involved in the energy efficiency program, so it didn't matter if you had this belief [in climate change] or not, this was the practical what's in it for me thing that also had some environmental benefits, you know

Galina, President of tenants' association, large public housing estate in an inner metro area, talking about volunteer programs:

it's absolutely to educate people how to live well, you know ageing well and all that stuff  ... [one program] was a collaboration between our community and [a local environmental organisation] ... changing light globes ... to more effective ones ... we can reuse water ... if people are having a bath, they can use that water ... to flush the toilets ...[and] we've got our garden, and people who like ... can grow some vegetables and flowers

Luke, community member with experience of disadvantage, volunteer and community advocate, taking about community kitchens:

[it's also] preventing waste ... using food, you know from Second Bite's absolutely communal ... [and] people are growing through that whole experience of community kitchen

Pete, officer in health and community organisation, works with Men's Shed networks in rural and regional area:

if you went in to say the shed networks, if I went and talked about solar energy, or talked about water, they would give you fifteen different areas that they’ve actually researched on it, they’d actually give you it all, 
... so they’re actually thinking forward about that, but they’re thinking about lifestyle sustainability, they’re not thinking about saving energy at the power plant, they’re thinking about their own sustainability

The Pass the Parcel report from Southern Grampians and Glenelg PCP, mentioned in the project update, also provides more information on this theme.

So, in summary, what people are doing in these projects is improving their own health and well-being by improving their energy efficiency, reducing their household costs, increasing their access to fresh food, and building more inclusive communities. All of these things have environmental benefits as well as health benefits, and can help to reduce carbon emissions and the risk of climate change.

The Climate and Health Alliance has rated the parties on climate and health issues and I refer readers looking for information to support their voting decisions to CAHA .

Either way, I urge the major parties to stop treating the environment and sustainable living as a no-go zone, and start thinking about them as important issues for our future.

References cited:
Debono, Roberto; Vincenti, Karen; Calleja, Neville, Risk communication: climate change as a human-health threat, a survey of public perceptions in Malta, European journal of public health, 2012, Vol.22(1), pp.144-9
McCright, AM ; Dunlap, RE, Anti-reflexivity The American Conservative Movement's Success in Undermining Climate Science and Policy, Theory Culture & Society, 2010, Vol.27(2-3), pp.100-133
Maibach, Edward W.; Nisbet, Matthew; Baldwin, Paula; Akerlof, Karen; Diao, Guoqing, Reframing climate change as a public health issue: an exploratory study of public reactions.(Research article)(Clinical report), BMC Public Health, June 1, 2010, Vol.10, p.299
Nisbet, MC ; Scheufele, DA, What's next for science communication? Promising directions and lingering distractions American Journal Of Botany, 2009, Vol.96(10), pp.1767-1778
Pugliese, Anita ; Lyons, Linda, Australians' Views Shift on Climate Change; Fewer believe climate change results from human activities.(Survey) Gallup Poll News Service, August 6, 2010


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Galina is right on the money there - people are much more receptive to ideas that have a direct impact on their own lives and where they can see immediate benefits.

That's one of the reasons I was very impressed with the image of the polar bear suffering the effects of loss of habitat - and yet saddened - because I was sure that many people would not relate that image to what was likely to happen in their own lives.

Graham Bell