Interview with Dr. Edward Maibach
Published: March 22, 2022
This year for the Michael & Susan Dell Center Lectureship in Child Health, we are very excited to introduce our keynote speaker, Dr. Edward Maibach. His extensive career as a public health professional has created significant changes in promoting public engagement about climate change. Identified by Reuters as one of the world’s 10 most influential scientist working on climate change in addition to many accolades, Dr. Edward Maibach has a unique perspective on the public health problems facing the world today and how we can work to bring awareness to these issues to create a change of approach.
In his talk, “Limiting global warming to 1.5 to 2.0oC: A necessary and unique role for health professionals,” Dr. Maibach explains why a stable climate is fundamental to human health and wellbeing. He also highlights the importance of how communities and health professionals can work together to accelerate society’s response to climate change.
1. Please describe how your academic and professional journey led to your work towards public engagement in climate change. Did you always know that your career would be dedicated towards climate change?
I’m a public health professional, first, foremost and always. Quite by chance, 15 years ago I had the opportunity to listen to some of the world’s leading climate scientists lecture for a few days. They helped me understand that climate change is the mother of all public health challenges going forward. If humanity doesn’t rise to this challenge, our children and grandchildren, and theirs, will be in for a world of pain.
2. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work in engaging the public about climate change? Is there any relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change?
The pandemic has made the world smaller in many ways, and that has helped my efforts to organize the health community, worldwide, to rise to the challenge of climate change. Climate change absolutely is increasing the public health burden associated with vector-borne diseases, but I’m not aware of any connection to Covid-19.
3. From your experience, who do think play the largest roles in exacerbating the effects of climate change? Who do you think play the largest roles in reducing the effects of climate change?
Rather that point to “who”, I’ll point to “what”: the biggest culprit is fossil fuels. Rising to the challenge of climate change requires us to pursue three BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals) simultaneously. #1: We must decarbonize the world’s economy, real soon. #2: We must dramatically scale-up both natural and technological approaches to removing the heat-trapping pollution we’ve released into our skies over the past hundred or so years. #3: Every community—from Austin (TX) to Zachary (LA)—must embark on a path of making itself more resilient to climate change, because the climate will continue to change for decades or more even if we make rapid progress on #1 and #2.
4. Is there a research project that has had a profound impact on you?
Our Climate Matters project that supports TV weather casters as trusted, local, climate educators has taught me to swing for the fences. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish if you build the right team to execute the right plan.
5. What are some challenges you face when communicating with different communities about climate change? What are the common perspectives and opinions associated with climate change in the United States?
In a word: Politicization. Fighting climate change should never have been a politically polarizing issue. Either we learn to stop fighting each other, and start fighting climate change, or as I said before, we will be gifting our children and grandchildren a world of pain.
6. How would you encourage a change in perspective about climate change?
Changing the conversation to focus on human health—the health harms of climate change, and the profound health benefits of climate solutions—is the best path forward. That is exactly what I will speak about in my talk.
7. Do you have any advice for aspiring public health professionals that also want to work in addressing climate change?
Every health professional can get involved in this issue; we need as many as we can get. Because climate solutions are health solutions (think: no more air pollution), and many health solutions are climate solutions (think: plant-forward diets), fighting for climate solutions is not that different than what we’ve been fighting for since I first became a public health professional in the early 1980s. But the stakes are much higher now, so we need all hands on deck.