A tried and true method of reaching audiences

There has always been a very effective way of reaching and convincing audiences of your messages – find a trusted third party to deliver them.

Despite the advent of fake news and social media the principle still holds. If anyone doubts it think about who you listen to when buying a major item – advertisers, social media or some person in your office or family who knows everything there is to know about cars, TVs, computers or whatever.

The George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication has been pursuing the principle for some time – starting with ‘weathercasters’ – what Australians call weather presenters. The 4C has developed a very effective program doing exactly this and now the Australian Monash University Climate Change Communication Research Hub is developing a similar program.

The 4C has, however, gone two steps forward – in developing a program to recruit health professionals as advocates – as well as working to achieve the same outcome with the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In a recent Oxford Research Encyclopedia on Climate Science publication, Communicating the Public Health Risks of Climate Change, 4C researchers Melinda Weathers, Matt Nisbet and Ed Maibach said: “Effective public communication and engagement have played important roles in ameliorating and managing a wide range of public health problems including tobacco and substance use, cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS, vaccine preventable diseases, sudden infant death syndrome, and automobile injuries and fatalities.

“The public health community must harness what has been learned about effective public communication to alert and engage the public and policy makers about the health threats of climate change……., people’s health is already being harmed by climate change, and the magnitude of this harm is almost certain to get much worse if effective actions are not soon taken to limit climate change and to help communities successfully adapt to unavoidable changes in their climate.

“Therefore, public health organizations and professionals have a responsibility to inform communities about these risks and how they can be averted.”

They argue that historically “climate change public engagement efforts have focused primarily on the environmental dimensions of the threat. These efforts have mobilized an important but still relatively narrow range of the public and policy makers. In contrast, the public health community holds the potential to engage a broader range of people, thereby enhancing climate change understanding and decision-making capacity among members of the public, the business community, and government officials.”

Early in November 4C’s director Ed Maibach attended the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Workshop on climate change, air pollution and human health. The Academy, after the workshop, issued a declaration calling for a series of solutions to the health harms caused by air pollution and climate change and calling on health professionals to “play a leadership role in advocating for these solutions …to avert a sustained worldwide public health disaster.” It argues these health professionals “must convince the world’s leaders to double their carbon pollution reduction commitments.” The declaration lists 12 solutions to health harms caused by climate change.

GMU’s 4Cs says about the call for action: “Efforts are already underway in many nations to activate health professionals as advocates for climate and health. These include the work of the Climate and Health Alliance (Australia), the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, the US Climate and Health Alliance, the U.S Medical Society Consortium for Climate and Health, and in the EU, the Health & Environment Alliance.

“At the global level, the Global Climate and Health Alliance is working to tackle climate change and protect and promote public health, and Health Care Without Harm is working to transform hospitals and health systems worldwide so that they reduce their environmental footprint, and become anchors for sustainability and leaders in the global movement for environmental health and justice.”

The blog caught up with Ed Maibach in Washington just before Ed left for Rome. Talking about the campaign Ed said he even had a slogan for it – suggested by his son. The blog (old sub editors can’t help it) tactlessly couldn’t resist suggesting an edit. Ed preferred his son’s version.

But whatever branding eventually gets adopted there is no doubt that if you were planning to recruit third party endorsers it would be hard to go past the world’s health professionals and the current Pope. The current Pope, nevertheless, seems to have little traction with many of our most prominent lay Catholics and clerics. Tony Abbott is only the most high profile example of climate denial calling it “crap”. And his confessor, Cardinal George Pell, apparently feels the same. However, George may have some other things on his mind at present.