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A Closer Look: the Influence of Health and Faith on Climate

By Meighen Speiser
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Are Americans looking to leaders outside of the political arena for guidance on climate change? ecoAmerica and Lake Research Partners set out to find this answer in the May 2018 American Climate Perspective Survey (ACPS). The ACPS found that there is increasing opportunity for faith leaders and health professionals to lend their leadership to climate.

And the good news is that both are taking up the mantle. In addition to American Public Health Association making 2017 the year of climate and health, other associations have increased their climate advocacy, including the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) who recently hosted Climate, Health, and Nursing: A Call to Action conference, bringing nurses together to discuss climate impacts on health and strategize protecting vulnerable communities. And, in addition to Pope Francis’ climate encyclical, Laudato Si, a diversity of faith leaders are elevating climate as a visible national issue. American Baptist Churches USA’s Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer recently announced its recommitment to care for God’s creation, including a call for clergy, congregations, and individual disciples to advocate for climate issues and solutions.

Despite all of this promising momentum, there is still work to do to fill the climate leadership gap. As the ACPS found, relatively few Americans are currently hearing information from faith or health leaders.

Opportunity Health

ecoAmerica and Lake Research Partners found that Health professionals are the second most trusted messengers for information on climate change (62% nationally), just after scientists (70%), with a 5-point increase since 2015. But, unfortunately, only 20% of Americans report hearing about the climate from health professionals. As the report shows, Americans are increasingly feeling the impact of climate change on their health, and a majority are increasingly correlating climate solutions with the benefit of better health. All considered, the opportunity for health leadership on climate is simultaneously great and unfulfilled.

Hope in Faith

Although currently only 10% of Americans nationwide are hearing about climate change from faith leaders, four times as many people trust faith leaders as messengers on the topic. Nearly one in four (24%) Americans are talking about climate change at their place of worship already. As the report shows, the increase in both trust and climate conversation among people of faith is trending rapidly upward over the past few years. These results signal hope that faith leadership on climate is ascending with increasing growth potential.

Our Challenge

The climate movement is faced with a profound opportunity to accelerate health and faith leadership on climate. Americans seek guidance, and their trust in health and faith leaders on climate is growing. As we move into election season, and as climate impacts accelerate, we must inspire and empower health and faith leaders to become more visible on solutions. Missing this opportunity misses the mark for ensuring a healthy, thriving, habitable world.

ecoAmerica is doing all we can to meet this challenge, offering the Climate for Health program for health institutions and professionals, and Blessed Tomorrow, empowering a coalition of faith denominations and leaders to take up the mantle on climate solutions.

Read additional findings on the opportunity for faith and health leadership on climate by downloading the May 2018 American Climate Perspectives Survey here.