Emerging climate science findings and related public health concerns give rise to a National Public Radio broadcast examination of public health as the most compelling message for climate change communicators.

A National Public Radio “All Things Considered” broadcast by science reporter Richard Harris asks whether “a child” — rather than the iconic polar bear — should be “the current poster child for global warming.”

Polar bears come in for a lot of bad press as icons of a warming world.

Harris reported September 10 that “some health officials” think so. He pointed to “emerging science” that he said shows people respond more favorably to warnings about a warmer climate when they involve health, rather than environmental, issues.

“This is a new topic for public health,” George Luber of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, told Harris. “This is emerging largely as a result that the scientific evidence around climate change has evolved to the point that public health feels confident engaging the science — that this is a credible threat.”

Perhaps young children, symbolizing the need to protect public health, should be the ‘poster child’ for our warming climate?

American University communications professor and researcher Matthew Nisbet pointed to research indicating people indifferent to climate change as a concern warm-up to the subject when it is seen as a health issue. “Not only does it lend to emotionally engaging responses among a broad cross section of Americans, it also helps to localize the issue for people and to view the issue as more personally relevant,” Nisbet said. He pointed to public health concerns as “a value that’s widely held across the political spectrum.”

Not all may agree, Harris reported. He also interviewed George Marshall, of the Oxford, England-based Climate Outreach Information Network, who said he has doubts. “There’s a real danger people will just hold their hands over their ears and say, ‘I don’t want to hear this!'” Marshall said.

The five-minute/24-second Harris broadcast and a transcript of it are available online.

Topics: Policy & Politics