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ICYMI: making climate deaths visible, a deep dive into media matters…and what Ken Wyatt said about Tony Abbott

When will health authorities declare the climate crisis as a public health emergency and act accordingly?

When will governments realise that the media crisis is a public health emergency, both globally and locally, and act accordingly?

When will Australians recognise that taxation policy is a critical health matter?

These, and so many other questions (and answers) are canvassed in this week’s ICYMI column, which also brings news on childcare, Indigenous data governance, and conflicts of interest in public health research.

Don’t miss the interview with former Minister Ken Wyatt, as well as updates on opportunities, awards and events.

The quotable?

To say that trust in the news media has declined is correct, but too vague. The reality is that destroying confidence in the practice and products of journalism is a potent and successful political strategy.”


Climate

Australian public health legend, the late Professor Tony McMichael, is quoted in this article in Nature Medicine,After millions of preventable deaths, climate change must be treated like a health emergency’.

The health impacts from climate change have been apparent for at least 20 years, but the climate crisis is still not treated like other global public health emergencies, writes Dr Colin Carlson from Georgetown University Medical Center.

In a related X/Twitter thread, Carlson said:

Cutting greenhouse gasses isn’t enough anymore. National governments have to meet the challenge of climate and health with substantive commitments: access to essential medicines; access to high-quality care; access to food and clean water. And the World Helath Organization needs to give them a blueprint.

The present-day death toll of climate change exceeds every public health emergency of international concern before COVID-19 combined. Eventually, WHO will have to convene an Emergency Committee. The only question is whether Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wants it to be his legacy or the next DG’s.

But no one will act unless we change the narrative that climate change is still a future crisis to be prevented at the last second. Four million people are dead. They had names, families, dreams. Most of them were children. Every single one of those deaths was preventable.

Five years ago it was “ten years to save the planet.” Now, it needs to be “four million people are dead.” Say it, say it, say it. Write to your Senators, write it on the walls under a bridge, write it anywhere someone will see. Climate change is a public health emergency.

Meanwhile, Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a co-author of McMichael’s 2003 study, who is now the head of the climate change and health unit at the World Health Organization (WHO), is quoted in a related article in Grist.

The article also quotes an open letter by McMichael just weeks before his death in 2014: “Our mismanagement of the world’s climate and environment is weakening the foundations of health and longevity.”

And yet, says Carlson, a very small proportion of the four million deaths caused by climate change so far “will have been recognised by the victims’ families, or acknowledged by national governments, as the consequence of climate change”.

Read: Africa’s path to climate-resilient health systems

Read: ‘Smoking gun proof’: fossil fuel industry knew of climate danger as early as 1954, documents show

Experts say the documents show the fossil fuel industry had intimate involvement in the inception of modern climate science, along with its warnings of the severe harm climate change will wreak, only to then publicly deny this science for decades and fund ongoing efforts to delay action on the climate crisis.

“They contain smoking gun proof that by at least 1954, the fossil fuel industry was on notice about the potential for its products to disrupt Earth’s climate on a scale significant to human civilisation,” said Geoffrey Supran, an expert in historic climate disinformation at the University of Miami.


Media matters

It’s only the fifth week of 2024, and already there are a flood of reports about cutbacks to journalism and media organisation in many countries. Given the interconnected nature of our world, this will have consequences for policy and public debates in Australia, especially as misinformation and disinformation proliferate.

As Reporters Without Borders recently noted, more than half of humanity will be called to the polls for presidential, parliamentary, regional or municipal elections in 2024 – 4.1 billion voters. Eight of the world’s ten most populous countries will have elections this year. They include the United States, which will organise one of the most important votes for the future of democracy.

This CNN article cited below, ‘News industry off to brutal 2024 start as mass layoffs devastate publishers’, cites recent cuts to The Los Angeles Times, TIME, Business Insider and other outlets as “part of a much larger and unrelenting storm battering the journalism industry”.

Over the past 18 months, most news organisations in the US have been forced to make difficult decisions to reduce their workforces, including CNN, The Washington Post, NPR, Vice Media, Sports Illustrated, Vox Media, NBC News, CNBC, while local and small outlets have also cut back.

“The latest round of layoffs come after 2023 marked the worst year for job cuts in the journalism sector since COVID-19 upended the world in 2020, with roughly 2,700 jobs eliminated,” reports the CNN article.

A Columbia Journalism Review article by a journalist who is “likely the last Washington bureau chief for the Daily News”, explores the implications for democracy.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the state-owned Channel 4 is set to cut almost 250 jobs, or about 15 percent of its full-time workforce, reports The Guardian.

US journalism academic Dr Jay Rosen explored some of the factors in a long X/Twitter thread on 29 January, reproduced below.

Factors converging on the news industry to hollow it out, weaken the product, scare investors, and threaten jobs:

1. With a few exceptions, the search for a stable business model has been unsuccessful, in part because the problem changes faster than R & D in the news business.

2. The rich guy rescue plan rarely works. The rescuer typically underestimates how hard it is to find money in news and keep quality reasonably high. When that is made clear, rich guy’s commitment starts faltering. And the hedge funds lie in wait. See San-Diego Union Tribune.

3. The ad industry doesn’t need the news industry when there are so many other ways to purchase