Health Protection Agency
Bernd introduced the basic facts about climate change, and highlighted three of the ten health impacts of climate change included in the recent 3rd HPA report on the subject (link below). He focussed on extreme temperatures, air pollution and ultra-violet radiation, as these are three impacts with which he is particularly familiar.
I found it interesting to hear him point out that there are different audiences that might be targetted with different messages / communication. He mentioned that the elderly in the UK were particularly affected by cold spells - not just mean temperatures, but by particularly long periods of cold weather. He also mentioned that some of the areas that are most affected by air pollution (specifically ozone) were those living in suburban areas - as emissions from the centre of urban areas tended to disperse to these. Lastly, he talked about the need for different messages concerning UV exposure to different age groups. For the elderly, more sun exposure could be beneficial for health. For the young, however, increasing exposure to UV could lead to higher rates of conditions like skin cancer developing in later life.
Adam also talked about different groups of people - this time in terms of characteristics that are associated with denial of climate change. Typically, it is characteristics like being male, white and older that are linked to the highest levels of scepticism. Also, those who are the most vocal supporters of a free market economy are more likely to also be sceptical about man-made (anthropogenic) climate change.
However, he also thought that health-related messages might be able to reach this challenging group of people. It's already been suggested that linking energy-saving behaviours to saving money instead of reducing climate change can sometimes be an effective strategy (although not always).
Adam also talked about the idea that people have a "finite pool of worry" and that climate change often gets pushed down below other, more pressing concerns such as financing every day needs and social concerns. He mentioned that climate change as an issue is "psychologically distant" - in the sense that it is something that happens very gradually, with the most severe effects always seeming far in the future - but also physically distant (there will be greater effects in other countries) and also distant in the sense that it is very intangible (difficult to link individual events specifically to climate change).
After the talks, we had a short discussion on how climate change health impacts might best be communicated, and what the research needs are in this area.
We returned briefly to the theme of audience that had already been mentioned by both speakers. We discussed how challenging audiences such as climate deniers might be approached by talking about health co-benefits, as has previously been suggested with money-saving co-benefits. We also talked about different groups such as older people, those at risk of floods and people living in places with higher concentrations of ozone needing specialist communications, and research needed to show what works best for those specific groups.
Different messages that could be employed were discussed at greater length. As well as health co-benefits of climate change reduction (mitigation) strategies, we talked about adaptation (what people will need to do to adapt to changes in climate). We talked about needing to know what is already understood about climate change health impacts, so that specific messages can be developed to address knowledge gaps in particular groups. It was also mentioned that the use of multiple messaging could be effective - since different types of people might respond better to different messaging within the same communications.
Lastly, we briefly mentioned different media that could be used to convey and communicate (two/multi-way) information on climate change health impacts. We acknowledged that more needed to be said about this, but the time available was limited. There was a feeling that collecting together good examples of climate change communication using different media could be valuable resource. Hopefully the next Communicating Climate Change meeting on the 15th April at the AIR building, Tremough Campus in Penryn could address this need. The workshop session will be part of the Air Pressure week, showcasing creative works that communicate climate change.
Bernd's talk included links to a number of resources on climate change health impacts, included here for convenience:
Health Protection Agency
Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK 2012
Department of Health original report (2001) & update (2008)
Health effects of climate change in the UK
Climate Change Risk Assessmet report (2012), Health section
Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation
European Environment Agency (2012)
- The Health Practitioner's Guide to Climate Change: Diagnosis and Cure (2009)