Originally posted on the 23rd October 2014 via University Copenhagen IARU Sustainability Conference website and reposted with permission from author Jack Fisher.
‘The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.’ – Professor Colin Butler referring to the popular Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani’s quote in a 2005 New York Times article named ‘The Breaking Point’.
Peter Bakker, President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, passionately exclaimed that the 4 things scientists should do to better in disseminating their information to non scientists were to ‘give us facts, adapt language to a risk based framework, help us understand behavioural science and talk in solutions’. The latter being the most important.
As I learned in an workshop in London only last weekend, with the global advocacy group NCDFREE, negatively framed messages are often greeted with little enthusiasm, little interaction, and most importantly, very little response. Yes, the picture may be bleak. Yes, these global health challenges do need to be highlighted among public and professional domains. Yes, health scientists can’t act upon these without the relevant funding from national and international organisations. However when we talk about climate change in a global context, we have to take Mr Bakken’s comments seriously, and therefore don’t just talk the talk, but actually walk the walk when it comes to multi disciplinary collaborative action.
One potential solution to achieving this could be with the formulation of Planetary Health which was referred to by a number of talks during the afternoon session. The Lancet released a manifesto earlier this year highlighting the role of social medicine and the need to drive away from a capitalist society which drives bio-psycho-social inequalities within societies. More importantly there is specific reference to the need to frame health messages to tailor to different audiences within this crucial agenda.
However it is alarming to find no direct reference to business within this manifesto. The only reference unfortunately is to our ‘tolerance of neoliberalism and transnational forces dedicated to ends far removed from the needs of the vast majority of people, and especially the most deprived and vulnerable, is only deepening the crisis we face.’
It is an all too familiar story that we as health academics tar the whole of the business world with the same brush. Even Katherine Richardson, Chair of the Scientific Steering Committee, University of Copenhagen, referred to Peter Bakken as the ‘bad guy’ during his introduction. Lucky enough he took this reference with a pinch of salt, but emphasised that ‘not all individuals within business are bad guys’. I’m sure we can’t say that all scientists are working for the good of academia.
This post was written for the IARU 2014 Global Challenges: Achieving Sustainability conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Jack Fisher is a MSc Global Health student at University of Copenhagen. He has no conflicting interests to declare.