Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER
The Obama administration has released a comprehensive new scientific report detailing how climate change affects human health, presenting the broadcast networks' nightly news programs with a good opportunity to cover a critical topic that they rarely addressed last year.
The Climate and Health Assessment, which is the result of three years of research by approximately 100 health and science experts in eight federal agencies, builds on the findings of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's National Climate Assessment and signifies increased "scientific confidence in the link between climate change and a broad range of threats to public health."
These threats include some of the most severe effects of global warming, such as increased incidence of death from extreme heat waves and worsened air quality, as well as some less discussed impacts, including the potential for carbon pollution to make our food crops less nutritious and the toll that weather-related disasters can take on our mental health. The report also details how climate change will increase or otherwise alter the risks of suffering from various diseases and illnesses, including Lyme disease from ticks, West Nile virus from mosquitos, water-borne illnesses, and Salmonella poisoning from food.
Any of these topics could provide fodder for an important and informative nightly news segment that would help viewers better understand the threats and challenges posed by climate change.
NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News did each provide a substantial report last year on the ways climate change is impacting allergies and asthma, respectively. But here, too, the Obama administration report provides opportunities for additional coverage.
For instance, the networks could examine these issues from an environmental justice perspective; the report finds that minority adults and children "bear a disproportionate burden associated with asthma as measured by emergency department visits, lost work and school days, and overall poorer health status." And when considering all of the various health impacts, the report identifies many specific populations that are "disproportionately vulnerable" to climate change:
[C]limate change exacerbates some existing health threats and creates new public health challenges. While all Americans are at risk, some populations are disproportionately vulnerable, including those with low income, some communities of color, immigrant groups (including those with limited English proficiency), Indigenous peoples, children and pregnant women, older adults, vulnerable occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions.
The networks could also cover some of these public health findings alongside a distressing new study on sea level rise, which projects severe impacts on coastal cities that will undoubtedly have profound implications on the health and well-being of millions of Americans. Or they could address the public health benefits of the most significant U.S. climate policy in U.S. history, the Clean Power Plan, which the networks infrequently covered in 2015 -- and which polluting fossil fuel industry groups and allied attorneys general are now fighting in court.
Major news outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, The Guardian, Time magazine, The Associated Press, and McClatchyDC have already covered the new White House report. Now is the time for the broadcast networks' nightly news programs to improve on last year's coverage and educate their viewers about the myriad ways that a changing climate is affecting our health.
Image at top via Flickr user Graeme Maclean using a Creative Commons license.