Denial: Our Biggest Environmental Health Threat?

By Rebecca Rehr

ecoAmerica’s most recent contribution to the National Environmental Health Association’s Journal of Environmental Health, “Denial: Our Biggest Environmental Health Threat?” was published in the May 2021 issue.

We all recognize air and water pollution, certain ingredients in food or consumer products, vectorborne diseases, and many other issues as environmental health threats. People in the U.S. are also waking up to the fact that climate change and all its implications could be our biggest environmental health challenge. There’s one important thing missing, though, from this list: the psychological condition of denial. Denial, an extreme form of disagreement, is in fact an environmental health concern. Many of the subjects dominating our headlines over the last year—climate change, COVID-19, vaccines, election integrity—are great examples. People are given conflicting information or disinformation on various topics. They make their decisions on the basis of social identification and whatever they believe, and there probably exists a news source or discussion board that validates people’s perspective. Science and facts typically ground one side of the dichotomies. The other might be grounded in disinformation, fear and emotion, or conflicting priorities and self-interest. If we are going to help our organizations and communities effectively manage environmental health threats, we need to be able to help them manage denial.

 

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