Global climate change impacts on human and natural systems are predicted to be severe, far reaching, and to affect the most physically and economically vulnerable disproportionately. Society can respond to these threats through two strategies: mitigation and adaptation. Industry, commerce, and government play indispensable roles in these actions but so do individuals, if they are receptive to behavior change. We explored whether the health frame can be used as a context to motivate behavioral reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation measures.
In 2008, we conducted a cross-sectional survey in the United States using random digit dialing. Personal relevance of climate change from health threats was explored with the Health Belief Model (HBM) as a conceptual frame and analyzed through logistic regressions and path analysis.
Of 771 individuals surveyed, 81% (n = 622) acknowledged that climate change was occurring, and were aware of the associated ecologic and human health risks. Respondents reported reduced energy consumption if they believed climate change could affect their way of life (perceived susceptibility), Odds Ratio (OR) = 2.4 (95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.4 - 4.0), endanger their life (perceived severity), OR = 1.9 (95% CI: 1.1 - 3.1), or saw serious barriers to protecting themselves from climate change, OR = 2.1 (95% CI: 1.2 - 3.5). Perceived susceptibility had the strongest effect on reduced energy consumption, either directly or indirectly via perceived severity. Those that reported having the necessary information to prepare for climate change impacts were more likely to have an emergency kit OR = 2.1 (95% CI: 1.4 - 3.1) or plan, OR = 2.2 (95% CI: 1.5 -3.2) for their household, but also saw serious barriers to protecting themselves from climate change or climate variability, either by having an emergency kit OR = 1.6 (95% CI: 1.1 - 2.4) or an emergency plan OR = 1.5 (95%CI: 1.0 - 2.2).
Motivation for voluntary mitigation is mostly dependent on perceived susceptibility to threats and severity of climate change or climate variability impacts, whereas adaptation is largely dependent on the availability of information relevant to climate change. Thus, the climate change discourse could be framed from a health perspective to motivate behaviour change.