Poll Finds Most Pennsylvanians Link Climate Change To A Major Public Health Risk

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STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – A majority of Pennsylvanians view the warming climate as a major public health risk, according to a new poll from the Muhlenberg College Public Health Program.

Nancy Coddington / WSKG Public Media

Flooding along Rt. 6 in Pennsylvania. Photo by Nancy Coddington, WSKG.

Fifty-one percent of respondents called climate change a “major” public health risk, 26 percent said the warming presents a “minor” risk, and 20 percent told pollsters they believe it poses no risk.

Chris Borick, director of the college’s Institute of Public Opinion, said this was the first year the survey asked people about climate change from a health perspective, but he’s been polling on climate issues for over a decade and notes public acceptance of the issue has been growing — across the state and nationally.

“Pennsylvanians are, like their counterparts across the country, more likely than any time in the last decade to think climate change is happening, that it’s affecting their lives, and that the impacts are broad,” Borick said.

Over the past century, the state has warmed by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate-related risks to Pennsylvanians include frequent extreme weather events, injury and death from those events, and threats to health through air pollution, diminished water quality, and heat stress. A special report from the UN  last fall said that by 2040, the world faces myriad crises — including food shortages, extreme weather, wildfires and a mass die-off of coral reefs — unless emissions are cut sharply.

A poll conducted by Franklin and Marshall College in March, in partnership with PA Post, found 68 percent of registered Pennsylvania voters “definitely” or “probably” want the state to do more to address climate change.  The same question was asked by F&M pollsters in 2018. While the overall share of people agreeing with those statements remained steady, this year saw an increase among people who fall into the “definitely” category.

Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled a climate action plan last month that aims to reduce emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050, and he has called climate change “one of the big issues we have to deal with.”

The new Muhlenberg poll is the result of a telephone (landline and cell) survey of 405 adults in Pennsylvania between March 18 and April 5, 2019. The sample data was weighted by gender, race, age and educational attainment to reflect Pennsylvania population characteristics. The margin of error is +/- 6 percent.

StateImpact Pennsylvania is a collaboration among WITF, WHYY, WESA and the Allegheny Front to report on the commonwealth’s energy economy.