Conveying the Human Implications of Climate Change: A Climate Change Communication Primer for Public Health Professionals

Edward Maibach, Matthew Nisbet, Melinda Weathers
Posted on: 6/27/2019 - Updated on: 6/27/2019

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There is now widespread agreement among climate scientists that the earth is warming as a result of human activity, primarily due to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping atmospheric gases created by burning fossil fuels. It is also clear that current trends in energy use, development, and population growth will lead to continuing — and more severe — climate change over the course of this century and beyond. Climate change is expected to adversely affect the health of all Americans as well. In fact, many communities across the United States are already experiencing the negative health effects associated with climate change.

Fortunately, public health professionals have many opportunities to help the public and other decision-makers better understand the human implications of climate change, and to correct the misperception that climate change primarily harms the non-human world. Americans value good health and the well-being of their community members. We are positioned to explain how the rapidly emerging threats associated with climate change are connected with individual and community health. By communicating the potential of global climate change to harm human health in communities across America, and by conveying the potential to improve human health through actions that limit climate change, we can enhance public understanding of the full scope of the problem, and help enable appropriate responses by individuals and communities.

As such, this primer was developed to help public health professionals communicate the health implications of climate change to the public, to policy makers, and to other professionals whose work is — or will be — affected by climate change. Specifically, this primer is organized into three sections so as to answer the following questions:

  1. WHY should public health professionals communicate about climate change?
  2. With WHOM should public health professionals communicate about climate change?
  3. HOW should public health professionals communicate so as to be most effective?