#MasonCOMM's Ed Maibach Making a Difference in Climate Change Communication

by Catherine Wright

#MasonCOMM's Ed Maibach Making a Difference in Climate Change Communication

Our Friday Faculty Feature this week focuses on one of our most passionate #MasonCOMM faculty members, Ed Maibach.  He has been at Mason for 14 years and during that time built a thriving, well respected, and essential research center, Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication (Mason 4C).  Today, we’ll get to know who Maibach is and how he’s changing the world.

After earning his undergraduate degree in Psychology from UC San Diego, Maibach changed his focus to Public Health, earning an MPH in Public Health.  He completed his PhD at Stanford, earning a degree in Communication Science.  Maibach said that his “career experiences in public health convinced me that effective communication is necessary to address all manner of public health challenges.”  After success in this field, he turned his attention and interests to another important challenge, communicating about climate change, which he sees as the world’s biggest public health threat. 

Maibach is the faculty director for Mason 4C (fore-see)--as it is known around Mason—which is his brainchild. He was recently identified by Reuters as the most influential scientist working on climate change in a U.S. public university, and 7th most influential worldwide.  His research has influenced a wide range of organizations, politicians and candidates, and helped end what he calls the “climate silence in America.”  While sometimes considered an uphill battle, especially due to the often toxics politics in America, robust public dialogue about climate change is essential.  Maibach is passionate about his Center’s global contribution to climate change discussion.  He said, “Our research is being used to improve public understanding of climate change in America, and to a lesser degree, around the world.  What could be more important and exciting than that?”

Over his long career, Maibach has had over 300 books and articles published, a testament to his dedication to his craft.  When he first began his research he focused on a range of public health issues, “including HIV prevention, tobacco control, and fighting vaccine misinformation.”  At Mason, Maibach’s research “has focused exclusively on public understanding of climate change, and how to improve it.” 

As a result of his work, Mason 4C has “worked closely with the TV weathercaster community in America—which has resulted in lots of research publications, but more importantly has turned TV weathercasters into active public communicators who explain the local relevance of climate change in communities across America.”  The buy-in from this community is important for spreading facts about the impacts of climate change and gives local communities trusted sources to turn to when seeking information.  When asked about his work, Maibach said he is most proud of the paper “where we proved this effort is making a difference in public understanding of climate change (Myers et al., 2020, Weather, Climate & Society).” 

When not researching, Maibach teaches Climate Change and Sustainability Communication, Social Marketing, and a boot camp course for social science theorists.  Asked what his favorite class is, he said he enjoys teaching all of them because of the variety, but if pressed to pick one, he would say “Climate Change and Sustainability Communication is my passion project—because climate change is the world’s biggest problem and the world’s biggest opportunity, and because my life over the past 14 years has been devoted to addressing this problem and this opportunity.”  Maibach finds research rewarding but also enjoys teaching because he says “It forces me to slow down, and be thoughtful, patient and encouraging. In that way, it connects me to people in profound ways.”  He says it has also made him focus on the needs of students and “not to have unrealistic expectations” of them, making sure he meets them on their level of understanding of the subject matter about which he is so passionate. 

Maibach is on Mason’s Sustainability Council, a great fit for his work with 4C.  He proudly mentioned that “Over the next five to 10 years, Mason is going to become a dramatically different place as we fully rise to the sustainability challenges we face” and he is excited to be a part in that change.  He also is an avid runner, and each Sunday morning runs 10 miles.

When he first arrived, one of the first things he noticed was Mason’s wonderfully diverse student population.  His advice for all students, especially those who are graduating is to find your passion.  “If you devote yourself to making the world a better place, your life will be full of meaning.”

Maibach feels blessed that he gets to live and follow his passions.  His Center for Climate Change Communication, borne out of an idea that came to fruition, is one of the best examples #MasonCOMM can think of.  He followed his dream, putting in long hours of research and networking with people across America and the globe.  This has earned him the right to slow down, but for the foreseeable future, he will continue to fight so everyone knows the peril that faces humanity as our climate changes, and so they understand that we can turn crisis into opportunity for a better future, if we choose to.