The Role of Public Health Agencies in Addressing Climate Change as a Human Health Concern
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Publisher:The Ohio State University
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. School of Environment and Natural Resources Honors Theses; 2010
With global average temperatures and average sea levels rising, an increased occurrence of extreme weather events, and losses in biodiversity, climate change has become increasingly evident in the scientific community. A relatively new issue, however, has been the linkage between climate change and its effects on human health; with extreme weather events occurring more frequently and with increased severity, water resources, food resources, and human lives are at stake. Although discussing climate change within the context of human health is relatively new, public health agencies must become aware of these potential impacts in order to properly protect their jurisdiction. In order to analyze the underlying factors that influence attitudes towards climate change and health among public health professionals, the research presented in this thesis involved a survey of Environmental Health (EH) Directors across the country. EH Directors within public health agencies are assumed to be responsible for addressing the health-related issues predicted to be affected by climate change. The survey also evaluated whether or not an EH Director’s department is addressing, or plans to address, the health related impacts of climate change. This study examines attitudes and decision behaviors in two parts: First, the factors that influence EH Directors’ attitudes towards climate change were evaluated by assessing respondents’ environmental attitudes, gender, and political ideology. It was found that out of the three independent variables, environmental attitudes and political ideology made strong, unique contributions in explaining EH Directors’ attitudes towards climate change. Second, the study looks at what factors influence climate change adaptation behavior within an EH Department. Out of all of the independent variables analyzed, EH Directors’ perception of the risk posed by climate change played the largest role in determining whether or not the EH Departments had programmatic activities that addressed climate change adaptation. Resource issues, including funding, staffing, and training, also appear to influence whether or not an EH Department addressed the health-related impacts of climate change. In order to prepare public health agencies for climate change, additional resources will be needed. These resources include funding for local health impact assessments, staff, and training. At the same time, EH Directors must perceive the health risks posed by climate change as real, local threats. Further research is needed on the exact extent that climate change will impact human health, including data on the specific local health impacts that will affect each department’s jurisdiction.
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