On Climate Change

On Climate change

The health effects of climate change

The role of the nurse in addressing the health effects of climate change

“To mobilise people this has to be an emotional issue. It has to have the immediacy and salience. A distant, abstract, and disputed threat just doesn’t have the necessary characteristics for seriously mobilising public opinion.” Daniel Kahneman in Marshall (2014 p57). He stated “I am deeply pessimistic. I really see no path to success on climate change”.


Climate change needs:


  • Salience – qualities that mark it out as prominent and demanding attention, something concrete, immediate and indisputable. Climate change is none of these things for the mass of the population.
  • Acceptance of short term costs to mitigate uncertain long term losses. This is something we are not prone to do.
  • Certain and uncontested information. As long as billions of $ in the US and the UK support denial and the vested interests of the fossil fuel lobby in media this remains at the level of popular culture, and in politics, uncertain and disputed. Those with the power and finances to affect change do not want to do so as it is perceived to threaten their base values.


People, however:

  • Are more averse to losses than gains. If changing to a low carbon lifestyle means giving up the car, air travel, eating red meat, buying fewer consumer goods then the longer term gains of the health co-benefits will not be able to compensate for their immediate short term losses.
  • Are more sensitive to short term costs than long term costs, so again giving up the car is a more sensitive issue, and more salient, than flood damage 30 years from now.
  • Will privilege certainty over uncertainty. Scientists do not talk the language of certainty, and this is ruthlessly exploited by those with a vested interest in the status quo.

However, George Marshall argues that people will willingly shoulder a burden  – even one that requires short term sacrifice against uncertain long term threats – provided they share a common purpose and are rewarded with a greater sense of social belonging.

This provides a glimmer of hope especially for the  nursing commitment to climate change. Nurses often come into the profession with a purpose, a ‘shared humanitarian ethos of care’ rather than an extrinsic motivation based on money and consumer durables. How we create a greater sense of social belonging requires that we overty combat the atomistic, fragmented and individualistic culture based on the idea that “there is no such thing as society“.


Marshall G (2014) Don’t even think about it: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. Bloosmbury. New York


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