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Health risk perception and shale development in the UK and US

Harthorn, Barbara Herr, Halcomb, Laura, Partridge, Tristan, Thomas, Merryn ORCID:, Enders, Catherine and Pidgeon, Nic ORCID: 2019. Health risk perception and shale development in the UK and US. Health, Risk and Society 21 (2) , pp. 35-56. 10.1080/13698575.2019.1601685

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In this paper, we examine discourse in public deliberations in pre-development locales in the UK and US about advantages and disadvantages of future shale development (‘fracking’). We aimed to understand how people anticipate potential health effects, broadly construed, of environmental toxicity and disturbance in the context of planned, but not yet implemented, energy development. In day-long deliberations with small, diverse groups in two cities in each country (London, Cardiff in the UK; Los Angeles, Santa Barbara in the US), participants discussed impacts on health and well-being using three main rubrics: ‘It’s money or health’, ‘Why take chances?’ and ‘Beyond the tipping point’. Throughout, participants framed health as an intrinsically moral issue, with collective responsibility as a dominant normative frame. We identify the concept of compound risk to underscore effects of multiple risks and hazards on people’s sensibilities about anticipated future health and environmental harm. The findings demonstrate how and why diverse publics in pre-impact sites in both countries saw shale extraction as high stakes development that poses significant, often unacceptable, risks to human and environmental health and well-being. Risks extended beyond toxicity to broad threats to health, including, for some, the end of life as we know it on the planet. Overall, participants’ discussions of health were more connected to social categories and their underlying moral principles than to technological details. This work contributes evidence of blurred boundaries between environment and health as well as the importance people place on social risks in the context of proposed energy system change.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: 1369-8575
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 1 April 2019
Date of Acceptance: 28 March 2019
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2023 11:40

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