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Perceptions of Global Warming Among the Poorest Counties in the Southeastern United States

Kearney, Gregory D., DrPH, MPH; Bell, Ronny A., PhD, MS

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: March/April 2019 - Volume 25 - Issue 2 - p 107–112
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000720
Research Reports: Research Brief Report
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The geographic position and high level of poverty in the southeastern United States are significant risk factors that contribute to the region's high vulnerability to climate change. The goal of this study was to evaluate beliefs and perceptions of global warming among those living in poverty in the poorest counties in the southeastern United States. Results from this project may be used to support public health efforts to increase climate-related messaging to vulnerable and underserved communities. This was an ecological study that analyzed public opinion poll estimates from previously gathered national level survey data (2016). Responses to 5 questions related to beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of global warming were evaluated. Counties below the national average poverty level (13.5%) were identified among 11 southeastern US states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia). Student t tests were used to compare public perceptions of global warming among the poorest urban and rural counties with national-level public opinion estimates. Overall, counties below the national poverty level in the southeastern US were significantly less likely to believe that global warming was happening compared with national-level estimates. The poorest rural counties were less likely to believe that global warming was happening than the poorest urban counties. Health care providers and public health leaders at regional and local levels are in ideal positions to raise awareness and advocate the health implications of climate change to decision makers for the benefit of helping underserved communities mitigate and adequately adapt to climate-related threats.

Department of Public Health, Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina.

Correspondence: Gregory D. Kearney, DrPH, MPH, Department of Public Health, Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University, 600 Moye Blvd, MS 660 Lakeside Annex, Greenville, NC 27834 (KearneyG@ecu.edu).

The authors acknowledge Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC).

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The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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