American Psychological Association Poll

by Dr. Mona Sarfaty & Ira Dreyfuss  |  Feb 9, 2020

A new poll tells us that health professionals who talk about the climate crisis can expect to have willing listeners. The survey on behalf of the American Psychological Association is the latest to point out that Americans take the climate crisis seriously, and that many want to take action.1

The Harris Poll results show 56 percent say climate change is the most important issue facing society. Seventy-two percent of respondents say they are very or somewhat motivated to make a change in their own lives to reduce their climate impact. Sixty-eight percent of all adults (18 years and older) had at least some anxiety about the state of the climate, and 47 percent of those ages 18-34 report that stress about climate change affects their daily lives. Sixty percent of those who accept the fact of climate change say they have made some change as their step in a more climate-healthy direction.

Those findings are heartening. It means that when we tell people (including our patients) about the health dangers of climate change, they’re likely to be ready to hear. When we suggest things they could do, they’re likely to be ready to act.

I wish I could tell you that the poll showed everyone is ready to act, but the downside of 60 percent reporting doing or being willing to do something means 40 percent did not take action. We have some motivating left to do. But the mental health field, allied with communications science, gives us reliable guidance on how to do it. When people experience the impact of climate change, they are more ready to learn. As health care providers, we have the opportunity to teach patients the effects in their own lives, such as asthma exacerbations, oppressive heat, exposure to diseases carried by insects, and worsening heart disease. As trusted science-based professionals, we can educate policymakers about the broader issues of carbon pollution in all its forms. We can feel confident that when we speak, our words will carry weight. We can create change.

1. The online survey of 2017 Americans ages 18 and older was performed December 12-16 of 2019. The Harris Poll, which did the work, is one of America’s most respected public opinion companies. The findings align with work done by the Center for Climate Change Communication, here with us at George Mason University.