Australian Fires and Climate Change: How to influence bigger changes

# burningplatformforclimatechange Part 3

A little history

The name John Snow is famous for more than Game of Thrones. In 1854, Dr John Snow took unpopular action and stopped an epidemic. Its a famous public health story, and it roughly goes like this:

In the midst of a cholera epidemic, John Snow became convinced that it was being spread by the local town water supply being contanimated. It was used for everything, including washing and the release of sewage. Despite extensive research and evidence he struggled to find anyone to believe him. So he turned off the water supply by removing the handle, and the epidemic all but disappeared in this town. He saved many, many lives.

The story is seen as a hallmark in public health, because it focusses on prevention of the issue, rather than trying to cure the illness. It also demonstrates that bigger changes are possible if applied to whole communities, rather than asking people to refrain from an individual action (eg drinking from the town water).

Another story –

Many decades ago, when trying to reduce the number of burns to children from hot baths, a number of strategies were tried. They started with educating mothers about the dangers of hot water, and teaching them how to test the water with their wrists before placing the child in it. It had low to moderate success. It wasn’t until the government stepped up the action and legislated a change to the temperature that a hot water unit could be set to that burns dramatically reduced. It demonstrates a key principle about how influential different types of actions are.

When trying to influence radical change, we tend to focus first on education and influencing personal lifestyle changes. Think quit smoking campaigns. This is important and does make a difference – but the scale of the impact is small. When it comes to turning a nation or a world, around to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will take far more than you or me to make a some changes.

Lets take an example from my last post. If, for example,you decided to change your eating habits to support the environment and eat less meat – well done for taking positive action. But it will take more than a few people changing what they eat to change the production and farming rates of livestock. So what else can you do?

  1. Tell someone, hopefully many, what you are doing. I know we don’t like to be “righteous” like for example the “reformed smokers” we often rave about, but you don’t have to preach about it. You simply need to let people know, and why. Hopefully this may cause them to pause and think about it, and they may share your story as well. This is how social action movements start. Not telling anyone, is like organising a party and being upset that no-one came, when you didn’t invite anyone! How can anyone make an informed choice if you don’t let them know about it! Remember we need to push forward a tsunami of lots of people making individual changes.
  2. Take a stand on what’s important. Be brave. When conversations come up that can be uncomfortable, take a deep breath and express your views. Follow through with your views and beliefs by being intentional about what you support and participate in, or don’t support or participate in. Yes, you risk being criticised. But if you are authentic and speak with compassion, most people will respect you. Not taking a stand has risks also. Inaction on climate change – well we’ve seen the result of this with our bushfires. Which is the greater risk? Try this article here on difficult conversations.
  3. Be well informed . Don’t trust the post on social media that makes outrageous claims – get used to researching the background information. You know the ones “mother is evicted because she sent potato chips to her child’s school (I made that up) – but the ones that seem so outrageous are usually because not all the facts have been presented correctly. Here’s a post about having difficult conversations from an organisation that can also keep you informed about climate change
  4. Vote accordingly – not just at the polls but with your money. Consumer trends are vigorously monitored as used as insights into pervading community views for election votes. What you do in your own home isn’t nearly as visible as what choices you make that cost money. Every choice you make sends a sign about your views.

Not sure if doing these things will make a difference? Think about the changes to gay marriage – a social movement on a grand scale, that influenced legislation. Or the number of restaurants and food products that now offer “low fat” “gluten free” or “keto” options. We, as a community, are capable of changing industries. The big question is – what messages can you send about what you think needs to change?


  1. Amanda on January 12, 2020 at 7:44 am

    Great article Lisa, thank you. As someone working in public health and injury this completely resonated with me, except I’m still baffled when people refer to John Snow and I find out they are talking about Games of Thrones – LOL!

    • Lisa Cockington on January 12, 2020 at 7:58 am

      Thanks Amanda – I have the same reactions to “John Snow” and I’m a Game of Thrones fan. I had to do some fact checking before I published this in case my public health memory was confused!

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