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Major Media Fail to Connect Pests and Diseases to Climate Change

Warmer Temperatures Mean More Bugs and Diseases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The climate crisis is causing a rise in pest populations and the diseases they carry, and major media too seldom make this important connection, Public Citizen said today in a new analysis.

Climate disruption in the form of warmer temperatures is extending the active seasons of disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks. Increases in rainfall, humidity and flooding can widen breeding areas for these pests. In addition, offspring hatch faster in warmer temperatures.

Despite the clear connection between pests, pest-borne illnesses and the climate crisis, only 25% of television transcripts, 22% of online news articles and 13% of print media pieces that discussed growing mosquito populations in 2018 also mentioned climate change. Among pieces on the spread of Lyme disease, 29% of television transcripts, 27% of print articles and 45% of online news articles also mentioned the climate crisis.

The climate change mention rate was even lower for ticks, West Nile virus and Zika virus.

“When media outlets don’t mention the reasons behind pest and disease outbreaks, they’re omitting one of the most important parts of the story,” said David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “Audiences need to know what’s causing the problem and how to fix it – and that means talking about the climate crisis.”

Public Citizen urges reporters to better connect climate change with increased pests and diseases this summer.

For the analysis, Public Citizen searched 2018 television news transcripts, print newspaper articles and online news articles on relevant topics – for example, “Lyme disease” or “Zika” near “spread” – to find the number of pieces on each topic that mentioned climate change. For print articles, Public Citizen searched the top 50 U.S. papers by circulation using data from Cision and used Nexis to search television transcripts from ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC and NBC. For online sources, Public Citizen used Media Cloud’s “U.S. Top Online News 2017” collection, which includes 32 sources.

Many significant local dailies were not included in the analysis, such as The Palm Beach Post and The Charlotte Observer. The same is true of papers that cover Capitol Hill, like The Hill, Politico and Roll Call, as well as trade publications such as E&E News.

Read the full analysis here.