Among those most affected by a thinning ozone layer, rising temperatures and increased air pollution are older adults. Recent research finds that even air pollution within legal limits could mean an early death for older residents. Continue reading
Writing about the increasing temperatures around the globe has been a mainstay of environmental and science journalism for decades, but it has become increasingly more relevant for health journalists as well. Environmental health has always been a significant part of health coverage, and the impact of climate change on human health grows larger by the year. For example, covering natural disasters such as hurricanes (a great guide here) or tornadoes, or simply writing about extreme heat waves often calls for at least a mention of climate change these days. Continue reading
Climate change has been making the headlines.
More than 300,000 people kicked off Climate Week NYC 2014 with a march through the streets of New York, in what has been called the largest demonstration on climate change ever. The march coincided with U.N. meetings on climate change and the introduction of the Climate Change Health Promotion and Protection Act by Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).
During Climate Week, Jonathan Patz, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin, presented an extensive literature review on the health consequences of climate change at the Civil Society Event on Action in Climate Change and Health. The paper was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Sept. 22.
The study focused on the ways in which climate change affects health and is especially important for health writers. If you want to cover the intersection of climate change and health in your area, but don’t know where to start, you might find these areas of Patz’s research especially helpful: Continue reading
Science journalists have struggled to reconcile the undeniable long-term relevance of climate change reporting with the lack of day-to-day immediacy inherent in such a gradual event. Writing in the Yale Forum, Lisa Palmer makes a persuasive case that the work of health journalists will lead the way in creating an immediate, personal link between readers and the warming globe they live on.
Photo by Buzz Hoffman via Flickr
More than anything else, the link between health and climate promises to transform abstract observations into personal actions and reactions as opinion among health professionals reaches critical mass.
In May 2009, the health community took an especially firm position on climate change when a joint commission led by the British medical journal The Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health published findings that climate change poses the biggest public health threat of this century. The report outlined “major threats” to global health involving disease, water and food security, and extreme weather events, and added a cautionary statement: “Although vector-borne diseases will expand their reach and death tolls, the indirect effects of climate change on water, food security, and extreme climatic events are likely to have the biggest effect on global health.”
Reporters looking for a deeper look on health and climate would do well to review Linda Marsa’s December, 2010, cover story in Discover, which she is now expanding into a book. “Climate change is going to be the biggest science story for the rest of my career,” Marsa told Palmer. For more on how Marsa’s Discover story came together, AHCJ members can see this background questionnaire in which she explains her sourcing and gives advice to those who aspire to report on the intersection of health and climate.
Related tip sheets and resources for AHCJ members
In The Nation, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum assess the state of science journalism and seek to answer “how did it come to this?” and “what happens next?” Their sober and engaging account takes readers from the glory days of moon landings and Carl Sagan’s wildly popular Cosmos series to today, when science journalism has become a niche market served by specialized outlets and polemic-driven blogs. While The Nation as a whole embraces a certain political position, the report comes across as forceful but even-handed.
Their evidence includes observations like “From 1989 to 2005, the number of US papers featuring weekly science-related sections shrank from ninety-five to thirty-four” and “Just one minute out of every 300 on cable news is devoted to science and technology, or one-third of 1 percent.”
Part of the problem, Mooney and Kirshenbaum say, is that today’s relatively inexperienced journalists (the experienced ones were too expensive for the tastes of profit-driven media conglomerates) chase from one hot new story to the next without contextualizing anything, leaving readers rudderless, confused and exasperated. Likewise, the writers say, in an attempt to be impartial (and perhaps as a result of a lack of prior knowledge in the field), reporters inject balance where it may not be necessary, giving equal time to contradictory and widely discredited opinions.