In search of the climate hesitant

Beliefs held by others are always more complicated than we like to admit. For vaccine communication we’ve long known that the “pro-” or “anti-” vaccine dichotomy isn’t much help when studying how to actually increase vaccine uptake. Sure, behaviour for any one vaccination is binary (either someone has had the vaccine, or they have not), but the attitude related to such a behaviour is far too interesting to just cut in half and say, “these people are for the vaccine” and “these people are against”.

The concept of vaccine hesitancy allows us to bring some much-needed nuance to the study of vaccine attitude. Once – and this is by far more important than any held belief – a vaccine is available and easily accessible to an individual, their attitude (a combination of beliefs, feelings, and intentions) toward vaccination can be said to fall on a continuum between automatically accepting, or actively demanding a vaccine, and complete vaccine refusal. Where people lie on this continuum is then predictive of how likely they are to seek or accept a particular vaccine.

Image from 2014 SAGE working group on vaccine hesitancy [link]

To immunise a population, every vaccination matters. So, identifying those who are on the fence, and persuading them to vaccinate, is absolutely something that we want our Public Health system to be actively engaged in. A knowledge deficit (e.g., not knowing how vaccines work or why they are safe and effective) is sometimes part of the puzzle, but, at its heart, most vaccine hesitancy stems from how and why we feel the way we do towards vaccines.

All of us take short cuts in our vaccine decision making, none of us are reading all the primary research or conducting our own clinical trials. We live in an age of decentralised knowledge, where no one person can know everything, so our decisions need to take place within a web of trust. We listen to people and organisations we trust, they shape our perception, which in turn shape our behaviours. For most of society this trust heuristic works pretty well, reliable sources are trusted, and we gain access to that, oh so sweet, acquired immunity. For some however, trust is lost or misplaced making the road to immunity much more dangerous.

With climate change we have a similar issue, we can’t all collect data, run our own climate models, judge the economic, biodiversity, and health impact of such modelling, devise equitable and effective solutions, and plan and implement such solutions.

So, we take short cuts, we listen to some people, we don’t listen to others, and we believe what we believe about climate change. This is the topic I want to explore on this blog. There is a path through climate change (so I am told, admittedly, by the people that I trust on the subject), but it’s going to need a public that is engaged and onboard with an agenda that, if it is to be successful, will dramatically change our society. This isn’t going to be a blog about what I think people should believe, but instead it’s a blog that tries to understand who believes what, where, and why about climate change and its proposed solutions. And, as with vaccines, we’re going to need a far more complicated model than “these people believe in climate change” and “these people do not”. We need to find the middle people, work out what makes them tick, and move them towards action. Whatever that may look like.

Title image link. Obtained through a site for evidence-based and impact focused climate photography.

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