TOOLBOX: Covering the Health Effects of Climate Change

March 19, 2008

Climate change is widely expected to affect human health, though much about the extent of the impacts, and the locations in which they will occur, remains uncertain.

Three upcoming conferences in March and April 2008 will offer journalists a chance to mingle with experts and explore this topic in greater depth.

In general, many experts anticipate that health may be affected by forces such as:

    • more extreme and variable weather, such as heat waves, frigid weather, hurricanes, and tornadoes
    • drought, which can reduce drinking water and slash crop production
    • flooding, which can contaminate drinking and surface water, and dislocate people
    • rising seas, which can have similar effects
    • alterations of marine species, which could reduce food supplies
    • changes in habitat or viability of animal disease vectors that directly affect people, such as mosquitos or rats
    • changes in disease transmission from disease vectors that affect animals, which can then infect humans, as with bird flu
    • changes in settings that lead to increased transmission of disease via microbes, as occurs with cholera and many other diseases
    • alterations in formation of or reactions among chemical pollutants in the atmosphere
    • stress caused by dislocation or other coping efforts
    • increases in allergens, some of which can be debilitating
    • changes in exposure to ultraviolet rays

As interest in climate change issues gains steam, there likely will be many newsy developments related to ongoing and anticipated health effects. One conference that's just wrapping up, and two coming up in the next month and a half, offer good opportunities to meet experts and pick up story ideas.

    • International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, March 16-19, 2008, Atlanta; climate change was the first topic listed in the plenary and panel sessions, and many related topics, such as dengue fever, malaria, and bird flu, were covered.
    • Association of Health Care Journalists, March 27-30, 2008, Washington, D.C.; the conference calendar includes a session on climate change and health on the morning of Saturday, March 29, 2008, which will be immediately preceded by the unveiling of the American Public Health Association's blueprint for addressing climate change. This document should be available afterward here. Scores of other organizations and government agencies that are interested in this topic - many working at the city, county, and state level - are listed here.
    • Covering Climate: The Health Angle, April 30, 2008, Cambridge, MA; sponsored by the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.

Although interest in this topic is high in many quarters, including many federal agencies, there is still a mixed message. The Bush administration was accused of drastically altering the testimony of CDC Director Julie Gerberding's testimony on the subject to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Oct. 23, 2007.

Among other government, university, scientific, and advocacy resources are:

A sample of Environmental Health Perspectives articles that cover a range of experts and angles includes:

For many other pertinent media articles, search the archives of Environmental Health News. This collection (results of search for "Climate - Spread of disease") will get you started, but you can also search the archives by any word(s) you like, under the various labels and categories listed on the left, and get many other hits. For more clues on search tricks within this site, see EHN's help page or contact Pete Myers.

    • EHN recently launched a spin-off daily news digest, The Daily Climate, which is worth scanning if you are looking for news stories in this area.