HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Climate Change, Health, and Frustration

Three recently released scientific reports funded by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) demonstrate how climate change could increase human-health risks originating from ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. They are summarized on the National Ocean Service websiteA University of Washington study concludes that higher ocean temperatures will lead to harmful algal blooms in Puget Sound that will cause shellfishery closings and threaten the state’s $108 million annual shellfish industry, possibly within a decade. The other study was conducted by the University of Georgia. It indicates that the increased desertification in Western Africa will lead to the coastal areas experiencing a growth and persistence of Vibrios, a group of ocean bacteria that can cause gastroenteritis and infectious diseases in people. The other study concludes that the increase in spring rains expected over the next 50 years will lead to 20 percent increase in the volume of sewage overflows, with harmful effects on the Great lakes. This study was completed by the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. These represent yet more evidence that U.S. climate policy must be geared toward reducing the causes of climate change as a health imperative.

The most frustrating part of working on climate change law in this country is the necessity to counter the influence of people who deny that climate change is happening. These publoic debates have transformed the political agenda from discussing what to do to about climate change to whether there is a need to do anything at all. Political discourse in Washington needs to catch up with the rest of the world. For those in need of quick references to use to silence the misinformed, one of the best sites is NASA’s Global Climate Change page. It uses its own satellite data showing compelling evidence of sea level rise, global temperature rise, shrinking ice sheets, warming oceans, glacial retreat, extreme events and ocean acidification. Another source is the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose excellent reports can be accessed here.

Fox News network is fanning the flames of this misinformation, according to a December UK Guardian article. It reports about a leaked email from Fox News's Washington bureau chief ordering journalists to include skepticism of climate change in all their reporting on the issue. The email, obtained by Media Matters, reads in part: "We should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question… It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies." There is probably no point in informing the Bureau Chief that these “critics” have been debunked, and it is Fox News itself that is “intensifying” that debate. - MM

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