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Green Groups Rebrand Global Warming Around Public Health
Following the demise of cap and trade legislation, green group leaders acknowledged that despite spending several hundred million dollars to pass the bill, they were unable to create public demand for action in key Midwest Congressional districts and states.
"The community that tried to move a climate bill fundamentally lacks political power and doesn't have the ability to either deliver punishment or reward to members of Congress who don't vote for us," Kathleen Welch, a Washington-based philanthropy adviser told Politico in 2011. Her admission was echoed in statements by Fred Krupp, Bill McKibben and others.
Now, as Politico reports today, it appears that green groups led by the National Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club are seeking to address this weakness. “We’re going to talk a lot about the health implications of dirty air,” Heather Taylor, director of NRDC’s political arm told Politico. “I think that the Midwest is one of those places where [there are] a million great clean energy stories, especially. And they’re not being told right now, because we’ve tended to be in other markets. That’s an area where we feel like it’s time to go tell those stories.” You can watch one of their TV ads emphasizing this message later in the post.
In a polarized America, if you are going to build support for candidates in the Midwest and other battleground states that will back legislation on climate change during the next Congress, you have to switch focus to emphasize public health and economic resilience, goals realized through incremental actions like eliminating coal plants and boosting fuel efficiency.
“Critics for a long time have argued that environmentalists and our issues don’t connect with people,” Sierra Club National Political Director Tony Cani told Politico. “The idea is this: When it comes to any issue, whether it’s Keystone, EPA regulations or any other issue … how does that impact individuals? How does it impact families? I think that it’s fair to say that that’s not always been a strength of environmentalists.”
HISTORY OF MESSAGING ON CLIMATE CHANGE, 2006 to 2010
As I reviewed in a 2009 paper at the journal Environment, in 2006 and 2007 the dominant focus of climate messaging was around the "climate crisis" and the risk of catastrophe. This message was set in motion and promoted through Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Along with this frame was one of political accountability, emphasizing the "war on science," the actions of the Bush administration and conservatives, and the efforts of Democrats to "return science to its rightful place" in politics, as Obama would later declare.
In late 2007, Gore with his newly launched WE campaign switched focus temporarily to a message emphasizing national unity in the face of an existential threat, similar to Americans coming to together to win WWII or to put a man on the Moon. Yet by 2009 and for most of the cap and trade debate, Green groups led by the Environmental Defense Fund and the WE campaign focused on climate action as leading to jobs. EDF in ads told viewers that "Cap=jobs" and the WE campaign ran ads featuring construction workers, ranchers, and clean energy technicians around the brand theme "Repower America."
Yet the focus on jobs lacked a moral foundation. It offered the promise of benefits, but didn't build a case for why we should act and why we have a responsibility to do so. The emphasis on economic benefits in the context of the recession also turned the debate into "some economic benefits" as claimed by greens versus "dramatic economic costs" as claimed by opponents, a balance that given the economic context favored the opposition.
A SLOW SHIFT TO FOCUS ON PUBLIC HEALTH
Public health has been a dramatically under-communicated dimension of the climate change story, yet it is a dimension that has perhaps the best ability to connect with a wider diversity of Americans, to erode polarized differences, and to create a moral foundation for action.
Consider that through 2009, in an analysis I conducted for the Centers for Disease Control with several colleagues, we found that health impacts such as extreme heat, disease, and respiratory problems, and more vivid threats such as hurricanes, were mentioned in fewer than 5% and 10% of the climate change-related articles in national and regional papers, respectively.
One reason that human health impacts were dramatically under-communicated was that major funders were not considering these types of human dimensions in their investment strategies. As I detailed in the Climate Shift report, between 2008 and 2010, the 9 major national foundations that were part of the Design to Win alliance distributed more than $360 million in grants related to action on climate change and energy, but among these grants only $1.9 million included a focus on public health and well-being, less than .05% of all funds distributed.
WHY THE FOCUS ON PUBLIC HEALTH AND GAS PRICES MATTERS
1. Public Health Partners Have a Built in Network in the Midwest, Greens Don't
Partnering with NRDC and the Sierra Club is the American Lung Association. This partnership is important since by their own admission, green groups lack the network in many conservative or swing districts to make major communication gains. For public health groups, this network exists and they have a playbook specific to tobacco to draw from.
In the ALA and other public health groups' efforts to regulate tobacco, major Congressional legislation was blocked by the tobacco lobby until 2009. Yet over the previous 30 years, anti-smoking groups won incremental policy victories through smoking bans and cigarette taxes, while socially stigmatizing smoking through campaigns in support of these goals. Moreover, it was legal action by States Attorney General that ultimately forced Congress to consider national legislation in 1998. The bill failed but built momentum for legislative success in 2009, the first time after 50 years of efforts that Congress enacted a bill that regulates tobacco as a controlled substance.
2. A Public Health Frame Personalizes and Localizes the Climate Pollution Story
As I wrote in the 2009 paper at Environment, by re-framing climate change in terms of public health, several points of emphasize likely connect better with audiences beyond the environmental base:
The public health frame stresses climate change’s potential to increase the incidence of infectious diseases, asthma, allergies, heat stroke, and other salient health problems, especially among the most vulnerable populations: the elderly and children. In the process, the public health frame makes climate change personally relevant to new audiences by connecting the issue to health problems that are already familiar and perceived as important. The frame also shifts the geographic location of impacts, replacing visuals of remote Arctic regions, animals, and peoples with more socially proximate neighbors and places across local communities and cities. Coverage at local television news outlets and specialized urban media is also generated.
In research with Ed Maibach and colleagues, we find that by focusing communication on the health risks of climate change and the health benefits of local-level action, even those doubtful or dismissive of climate change support forms of mitigation-related actions, a starting point for building support for eventual national policy. [See discussion and study at BMC Public Health.]
As Maibach and I have also described, by focusing on public health, you additionally activate new trusted spokespeople and opinion leaders among local public health officials, nurses, doctors, and health advocates.
With Mindy Weathers -- a graduate student at GMU -- we put together a report and primer on Conveying the Health Implications of Climate Change, intended to serve as an education tool and resource for public health officials, professionals, agencies, and offices across the country.
3. Personal Stories Build the Foundation for National Action
Localizing the issue of greenhouse gas pollution in terms of personal stories also resonates strongly with the strategy of health care reform advocates in the run up to the 2008 election.
Families USA spent several million in 2008 creating a “story bank” of media that documented the personal struggles of individuals without health insurance or who had been denied coverage. This became a major resource for journalists, campaign speechwriters and communication staff, helped elevate attention to health care during the election, and set an important frame of reference for the policy debate after Obama was elected. The efforts by Sierra, NRDC, and ALA should be designed and used with these types of goals in mind.
4. A Public Health Focus Can Transcend Polarization
As evidenced by the study above, public health is a widely shared value. Indeed, as was the case in the battle over tobacco and second-hand smoke, concern for the health of innocents including women and children is a moral foundation held by both liberals and conservatives.
In the XL Pipeline debate, opposition to the pipeline from Midwest state and local Republican political leaders did not come from appeals to act on behalf of the environment or global warming, but rather because of concerns over health risks related to the contamination of the Ogallala aquifer. "I want to emphasize that I am not opposed to pipelines," wrote Gov. Dave Heineman in a letter to Obama. "I am opposed to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route because it is directly over the Ogallala Aquifer.”
5. A Public Health Frame Morally Stigmatizes Fossil Fuel Companies
The tobacco campaign began to turn when grassroots activists across states shifted the perceived norms around smoking from something that was attractive and done openly in public to something that was harmful to innocents, disgusting and done in private. In the process, advocates morally stigmatized tobacco companies as knowingly creating an addictive product that harmed the public's health especially innocents such as kids. Tobacco executives then lied before Congress about the issue.
Defining greenhouse pollution as harming innocent kids and fossil fuel companies as morally irresponsible is a parallel strategy. Partnering with ALA and public health officials gives Green groups the moral authority to make this argument.
Sierra and NRDC do this in the first of the ads that they are running in the Midwest. See below.
6. Greens for Too Long Have Ceded the Conversation on Gas Prices to Conservatives
Focusing on fuel efficiency in cars as an antidote to high gas prices -- and thanking President Obama for the fuel efficiency rules -- is also an important strategy. For too long, Greens and Democrats have ceded the gas price conversation to conservatives who redefine the issue as a supply problem (i.e. drill more) rather than a demand problem (ie. fuel efficiency, public transportation that saves money and benefits public health).
In a study at the American Journal of Public Health with Ed Maibach and Tony Leiserowitz, we find that conservative perceptions mirror expert opinion, as they are highly concerned about the possible economic and health impacts of a spike and volatility in gas prices. Liberals -- opposite to climate change -- display greater divergence from expert opinion and are less concerned about these impacts, suggesting an ideological blind spot to the importance of the issue.
The sensitivity of conservatives to gas prices and their low information, intuitive sense that gas prices are connected to public health offers a strong opening for engagement on the issue, an opportunity to start a broader conversation about the connections between energy policy, public health, and economic well-being.
Maibach, E., Nisbet, M.C., Baldwin, P., Akerlof, K. & Diao, G. (2010). Reframing Climate Change as a Public Health Issue: An Exploratory Study of Public Reactions. BMC Public Health, 10: 299.
Maibach, E., Nisbet, M.C., & Weathers, M. (2011, April).Conveying the Human Implications of Climate Change: A Climate Change Communication Primer for Public Health Professionals. Fairfax, VA: Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University
Nisbet, M.C. (2009). Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter to Public Engagement. Environment, 51 (2), 12-23.
Nisbet, M.C., Maibach, E. & Leiserowitz, A. (2011). Framing Peak Petroleum as a Public Health Problem: Audience Research and Public Engagement. American Journal of Public Health, 101: 1620-1626.
Nisbet, M.C. (2011, April). Climate Shift: Clear Vision for the Next Decade of Public Debate. Washington, D.C.: School of Communication, American University.
Ready to see the future? Nanotronics CEO Matthew Putman talks innovation and the solutions that are right under our noses.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.
- An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
- Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
- Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
The plica semilunaris<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTgyMzg1NX0.ZY8qmhtoZfbRMAqrNnmbgyk7GLabglx_9lBq3PKcy7g/img.png?width=980" id="99882" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="68e8758894b0359c6ef61b2c158832b2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The human eye in alarming detail. Image source: Henry Gray / Wikimedia commons<p>At the inner corner of our eyes, closest to the nasal ridge, is that little pink thing, which is probably what most of us call it, called the caruncula. Next to it is the plica semilunairs, and it's what's left of a third eyelid that used to — ready for this? — blink horizontally. It's supposed to have offered protection for our eyes, and some birds, reptiles, and fish have such a thing.</p>
Palmaris longus<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzQ1NjUwMn0.dVor41tO_NeLkGY9Tx46SwqhSVaA8HZQmQAp532xLxA/img.jpg?width=980" id="879be" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="970e9c15f3c3d846dde05e2b2c6ebf12" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmaris longus muscle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> We don't have much need these days, at least most of us, to navigate from tree branch to tree branch. Still, about 86 percent of us still have the wrist muscle that used to help us do it. To see if you have it, place the back of you hand on a flat surface and touch your thumb to your pinkie. If you have a muscle that becomes visible in your wrist, that's the palmaris longus. If you don't, consider yourself more evolved (just joking).</p>
Darwin's tubercle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgxMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODUyNjA1MX0.8RuU-OSRf92wQpaPPJtvFreOVvicEwn39_jnbegiUOk/img.jpg?width=980" id="687a0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b38a957408940673ccc744f0f6828d18" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Darwin's tubercle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> Yes, maybe the shell of you ear does feel like a dried apricot. Maybe not. But there's a ridge in that swirly structure that's a muscle which allowed us, at one point, to move our ears in the direction of interesting sounds. These days, we just turn our heads, but there it is.</p>
Goosebumps<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzEyNTc2Nn0.aVMa5fsKgiabW5vkr7BOvm2pmNKbLJF_50bwvd4aRo4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d8420" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f735418322b34382dcd882299c9ccc48" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Goosebumps. Photo credit: Tyler Olson via Shutterstock<p>It's not entirely clear what purpose made goosebumps worth retaining evolutionarily, but there are two circumstances in which they appear: fear and cold. For fear, they may have been a way of making body hair stand up so we'd appear larger to predators, much the way a cat's tail puffs up — numerous creatures exaggerate their size when threatened. In the cold, they may have trapped additional heat for warmth.</p>
Tailbone<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDMzMDc3N30.p9BEtkf3-PV3EtDSQMUGUeopsimiCHUagx97P4f8IBw/img.jpg?width=980" id="e8ab8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0063ce99bdd22fbebe1279244b87935c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Coccyx. Image source: decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock<p>Way back, we had tails that probably helped us balance upright, and was useful moving through trees. We still have the stump of one when we're embryos, from 4–6 weeks, and then the body mostly dissolves it during Weeks 6–8. What's left is the coccyx.</p>
The palmar grasp reflex<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjY0MDY5NX0.OSwReKLmNZkbAS12-AvRaxgCM7zyukjQUaG4vmhxTtM/img.jpg?width=980" id="8804c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="45469ca5ee5f43433a782f7d4ac0a440" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmar reflex activated! Photo credit: Raul Luna on Flickr<p> You've probably seen how non-human primate babies grab onto their parents' hands to be carried around. We used to do this, too. So still, if you touch your finger to a baby's palm, or if you touch the sole of their foot, the palmar grasp reflex will cause the hand or foot to try and close around your finger.</p>
Other people's suggestions<p>Amir's followers dove right in, offering both cool and questionable additions to her list. </p>
Fangs?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Lower mouth plate behind your teeth. Some have protruding bone under the skin which is a throw back to large fangs. Almost like an upsidedown Sabre Tooth.</p>— neil crud (@neilcrud66) <a href="https://twitter.com/neilcrud66/status/1085606005000601600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hiccups<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sure: <a href="https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG">https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG</a></p>— Stephen Roughley (@SteBobRoughley) <a href="https://twitter.com/SteBobRoughley/status/1085529239556968448?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hypnic jerk as you fall asleep<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What about when you “jump” just as you’re drifting off to sleep, I heard that was a reflex to prevent falling from heights.</p>— Bann face (@thebanns) <a href="https://twitter.com/thebanns/status/1085554171879788545?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p> This thing, often called the "alpha jerk" as you drop into alpha sleep, is properly called the hypnic jerk,. It may actually be a carryover from our arboreal days. The <a href="https://www.livescience.com/39225-why-people-twitch-falling-asleep.html" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">hypothesis</a> is that you suddenly jerk awake to avoid falling out of your tree.</p>
Nails screeching on a blackboard response?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Everyone hate the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. It's _speculated_ that this is a vestigial wiring in our head, because the sound is similar to the shrill warning call of a chimp. <a href="https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN">https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN</a></p>— Pet Rock (@eclogiter) <a href="https://twitter.com/eclogiter/status/1085587006258888706?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Ear hair<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ok what is Hair in the ears for? I think cuz as we get older it filters out the BS.</p>— Sarah21 (@mimix3) <a href="https://twitter.com/mimix3/status/1085684393593561088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Nervous laughter<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">You may be onto something. Tooth-bearing with the jaw clenched is generally recognized as a signal of submission or non-threatening in primates. Involuntary smiling or laughing in tense situations might have signaled that you weren’t a threat.</p>— Jager Tusk (@JagerTusk) <a href="https://twitter.com/JagerTusk/status/1085316201104912384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 15, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Um, yipes.<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sometimes it feels like my big toe should be on the side of my foot, was that ever a thing?</p>— B033? K@($ (@whimbrel17) <a href="https://twitter.com/whimbrel17/status/1085559016011563009?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.
A new coronavirus vaccine on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP
Medical workers draw blood from volunteers participating in a trial of a coronavirus vaccine at the Budenko Main Military Hospital outside Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
A report from the New York Times raises questions over how the teletherapy startup Talkspace handles user data.
- In the report, several former employees said that "individual users' anonymized conversations were routinely reviewed and mined for insights."
- Talkspace denied using user data for marketing purposes, though it acknowledged that it looks at client transcripts to improve its services.
- It's still unclear whether teletherapy is as effective as traditional therapy.
Talkspace.com<p>Former employees also questioned the legitimacy of certain interventions by the company into client-therapist interactions. For example, after one therapist sent a client a link to an online anxiety worksheet, a company representative instructed her to try to keep clients inside the app.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was like, 'How do you know I did that?'" Karissa Brennan, a therapist who worked with Talkspace from 2015 to 2017, told the Times. "They said it was private, but it wasn't."</p><p>Other former employees said the company would pay special attention to its "enterprise partner" clients, who worked at companies like Google. One therapist said Talkspace contacted her for taking too long to respond to Google clients.</p><p>Talkspace responded to the Times with a Medium <a href="https://medium.com/@founders_22883/talkspace-founders-respond-to-a-new-york-times-article-78d6f5c45c59" target="_blank">post</a>, which claimed the Times report contained false and "uninformed assertions."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Talkspace is a HIPAA/HITECH and SOC2 approved platform, audited annually by external vendors, and has deployed additional technologies to keep its data safe, exceeding all existing regulatory requirements," the post states.</p>