In the last few weeks since beginning my new position as Program Manager of ecoAmerica’s Climate for Health program, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in two exciting events in support of ecoAmerica’s national climate and health initiatives.
On my first two days, I attended the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE)’s “Climate Change, Health, and Nursing: A Call to Action” conference, co-sponsored by Climate for Health. The dedication and passion exhibited by the nurses in attendance was inspiring and, for me, an incredible introduction to our collaboration with ANHE and my work with Climate for Health more broadly. (For another perspective on the conference, check out intern Mark Oswald’s blog post.)
Shortly after, I had the opportunity to remotely support ecoAmerica’s efforts to expand climate action and its Path to Positive Communities campaign through its Climate Day LA festivities in Los Angeles. As I joined others from ecoAmerica in posting and sharing the day’s events and quotes from the many inspirational speakers on social media, I was moved by the many calls to action and stories of how so many were devoting their life’s work to promoting and protecting the public’s health and wellbeing from the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.
The day highlighted, for me, the intersectionality of our many efforts and reinforced the notion I first learned in my graduate training in public health that the pursuit of health and wellness isn’t limited to doctor’s visits, preventative actions like exercise and good nutrition, or even any sort of other traditional intervention explicitly related to health and medicine, as important as all of these are.
Rather, the event highlighted for me that this pursuit also encompasses actions taken by city planners to promote walkability, green space and reduced dependence on the automobile; faith leaders who fight for justice and social equality in their local communities, nationally, and internationally; and, yes, doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who advocate on behalf of climate and social justice issues both as professionals and as concerned citizens and as part of their central mission to protect the public’s health. Each of these upstream interventions enables us to address causes of ill health and inequality at their source and thus reduce the necessity of costly treatments to remedy their, often tragic, consequences. As Nourbese Flint, of the organization Black Women for Wellness, put it at Climate Day LA, emphasizing the necessity of the broad scope of our interventions: "Affordable housing, economics, and women's health intersect with climate change." Indeed, and so when we broaden our view of what constitutes the problem of climate change, the range of solutions available to address it expands as well.
Effective Communication is Key
Key to any effective intervention in support of climate and health promotion is effective communication. However, as Stuart Wood reminded us in his Path to Positive Communities blog last week, talking about climate change can be challenging. That’s why ecoAmerica has conducted exhaustive research to identify the most effective ways to discuss climate change, which can be broken down into the 15 simple steps found in our “Let’s Talk Health and Climate” guide. A quick summary:
1. Start with people, stay with people: If you want your audience to care about climate change, then show you care about them. Start from their perspective, not yours.
2. Connect on common values: Once you understand your audience’s priorities—family? freedom? health? – you can open their hearts and minds by talking about those values, and by showing you honor and share them.
3. Acknowledge ambivalence: Don’t be self-righteous. Respect people’s viewpoints and allow them their own space.
4. Make it real: Focus on local realities people can see with their own eyes (simple, irrefutable facts about health impacts or record weather) to make climate change concrete and relevant.
5. Emphasize solutions: Using tangible, local examples, point out how climate solutions such as low-cost solar energy are accessible, are available here and now, and are creating safe and healthy communities that protect our families’ health.
6. Inspire and empower: Encourage your audience to adopt a can-do attitude. America can lead on climate, and so can your state, town, family, and you!
7. Focus on personal benefit: Even as they spend money on fossil fuel energy that could be better used, most Americans believe action on climate change comes with a financial cost. When people realize they will gain benefits from climate solutions, they are more willing to participate in them.
8. End with your “ask”: Encourage your audience to turn their new knowledge into action. Give them a clear set of tasks that link to the solutions you’ve discussed.
9. Sequence matters: Research reveals that you can take the same set of six facts, arrange them in different ways, and end up with very different results. Follow steps 1 to 8 in order for maximum effectiveness.
10. Describe, don’t label: The most persuasive language is vivid, familiar, and descriptive. Avoid terms like “mitigation,” “adaptation,” or complex health terminology not used by the general public.
11. Include at least 1 powerful fact from a trusted messenger: One or two facts with emotional power add weight to a message. Trusted messengers or organizations lend credibility.
12. Ditch doom and gloom: Negative information on climate can be overwhelming, causing people to disengage. Discuss only one or two climate impacts and how they are connected to health, but don’t over-emphasize them at the expense of common values, solutions, benefits, and personal empowerment.
13. Use stories to strengthen engagement: Stories help make your message relevant and vivid. Weave in your personal story—how you became concerned about climate change, for instance.
14. Stay above the fray: Focus on the big picture. Don’t get caught in a trap of preaching, nitpicking about details, or getting sidetracked by doubters. Trade blame for a focus on choice and solutions.
15. Message discipline is critical: Stay on your talking points. Repeat key points. Refrain from explaining the same thing in different ways—this can be more confusing than enlightening. Follow the steps outlined in this guide. Be consistent across all messaging platforms, but be sure to tailor your message to your audience.
Armed with the right tools, including these 15 steps, and a sense of passion to protect and promote the public’s health in response to climate change, we can ultimately remediate its impacts and play our part in forming a more just and healthy world.
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Tim Kelly is the Climate for Health Program Manager at ecoAmerica. He has over six years of experience working within the health sector conducting outreach and education on the impacts of environment on our health. If you have comments, questions, ideas, or would like to submit a blog of your own, feel free to contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.