Society for the Anthropology of North America
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
In the past decade Americans’ belief in global warming has decreased dramatically, trust in climate scientists has eroded, and climate science has become highly politicized. As environmental health is one of the five core areas of public health, public health departments (PHDs) could serve as reliable, trustworthy, and unbiased sources of information. In 2017, the American Public Health Association declared climate change a national priority. But how does this prioritization look at the local level, where the relevance of climate change is likely to be most keenly felt? We wanted to understand if and how local PHDs were presenting, communicating, or translating science about climate change and the accessibility of such information to the public. We compiled and analyzed an exhaustive database of all U.S. state (n=50) and county/district (n=2677) PHD websites. The overwhelming majority do not address climate change or its effects on human health, let alone draw significantly on science to explain or translate it. Drawing on previous research showing that hegemonic narratives and beliefs are pervasive in areas where energy extractive industries are dominant, and significantly influence the worldviews of residents, we examined in depth two states: Colorado and Kentucky, finding that the dissemination of information on climate change varied with energy extraction activity within each state. The abdication of PHDs in presenting scientific information about climate change is a conspicuous absence, representing the loss of a mediator the public might trust to arbitrate between the two “sides” so often in opposition in the current political climate.