Howard Frumkin, dean of UW’s School of Public Health, is also a scientist who for 15 years has paid attention to health impacts of climate change. He sat for a Q&A recently to characterize the problems of climate change and the public’s response. (His well-used bike panniers were on the floor beside his chair.)
Q. Do you have a specific focus or point of passion regarding climate change?
A. I’m passionate in general about protecting people’s well-being and creating habitats in which we can thrive and our great-grandchildren can, too.
Q. Generally, to what would you attribute our lagging response to climate change? Is it public disinterest or lack of awareness – or does everyone have a fair understanding but feel powerless?
A. In part, regrettably, climate change has become very politicized; there’s an ideological overlay on our public discourse, fueled by a campaign of misinformation and obfuscation by vested interests. It’s not new – we’ve seen it with tobacco, asbestos. But the stakes are much higher now.
It’s also true that for most of us, the consequences of climate change seem far off in time and distant in place. That makes climate change a lower priority.
If we want to tackle climate change and reduce the risk it entails, then we’ll need to make changes in the way we travel, the way we use energy, the way we eat. And that’s not necessarily bad. There’s a strong case to be made that life will be better once we transition to a low-carbon economy.