Air pollution, human health and climate change: newspaper coverage of Australian bushfires

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We examine 512 Australian newspaper articles published over a five-year period (2016–2021) that report on air pollution due to bushfire smoke and resulting human health impacts. We analyze to what extent these articles provide information on the possible range of negative health impacts due to bushfire smoke pollution, and to what extent they report on climate change as a driver behind increased bushfire risk. A temporary surge in articles in our sample occurs during the unusually severe 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires. However, most articles are limited to general statements about the health impacts of bushfire smoke, with only 50 articles in the sample (9%) mentioning an explicit link between bushfire smoke inhalation and cardiovascular and respiratory problems or increases in mortality risk. About 148 of the 512 articles in the sample (29%) established a connection between bushfire risk and climate change. We carry out a further keyword analysis to identify differences in reporting by Australia's two main publishing groups (News Corp Australia and Nine Entertainment), which shows that articles in News Corp Australia outlets offered the lowest climate change coverage. We suggest that more detailed communication strategies are needed to strengthen public preparedness for future impacts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number125003
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • climate change
  • air pollution
  • human health
  • Australian bushfires
  • newpaper coverage


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