Climate denial fading among broadcast meteorologists

Maybe it's a form of scientific peer pressure. Maybe they're reading more. Whatever the reason, your local TV weather personality/climate change denier is an increasingly rare breed.

A newly released study by George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication shows that a growing number of broadcast meteorologists accept climate science and man-made climate change as fact.

More than 90 percent of the 464 broadcast meteorologists questioned in the survey now agree that climate change is happening. That's up from about 82 percent of TV meteorologists and weathercasters in the 2011 survey.

The numbers are encouraging. Your local TV meteorologist is usually the most visible scientist in people's daily lives.

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George Mason Umiversity


Still, my observation is that most TV weather people don't take air time to report on climate science in the daily TV weather segment. Climate change is often perceived as a form of kryptonite for local TV meteorologists and news managers. Report on credible peer reviewed climate science, and you risk alienating 30 to 50 percent of your audience who still live in the dark ages on climate change.

AMS CBM logo

The irony is that while many TV weathercasters use their American Meteorological Society (AMS) credentials and certifications to boost credibility with their audience, they don't take responsibility to report the overwhelming body of credible climate science accepted by the AMS statement on climate change. Given the need for greater communication of climate science to the general public, maybe AMS should make climate change reporting part of the renewal process for certification for broadcast meteorologists?

Yale Forum on Climate Change and Media

Two colleagues I met at conferences in Washington, D.C. last fall and respect in reporting on this have written nice pieces on this topic.

Jason Samenow from the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang offers this perspective.

But broadcast meteorologists views about the human role in climate change still lag those expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international group of climate scientists, which in 2013 concluded “it is extremely likely [greater than 95 percent chance] that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

About half of broadcast meteorologists have not fully bought into the IPCC’s conclusion that most to all recent climate change is human-induced, survey results show:

Within the community of television weathercasters, there has long been a contingent unconvinced human activities are substantially contributing to climate change. As recently as 2010, a quarter of broadcast meteorologists agreed with the statement “global warming is a scam” according to a previous GMU survey. At the time, the New York Times wrote about the “divide” between broadcast meteorologists and the climate science community:

“In a sense the question is who owns the atmosphere: the people who predict it every day or the people who predict it for the next 50 years?” said Bob Henson, a science writer for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, who trained as a meteorologist and has followed the divide between the two groups.

Dan Satterfield with WBOC TV in Salisbury, Maryland has this take.

A new study by George Mason University shows something that a lot of us who work in broadcast meteorology have noticed- the rapid disappearance of climate change deniers among TV weathercasters. I’m not the only one who has noticed it, because I frequently hear talk about it from colleagues at various conferences. It’s very rare to hear ridiculous pronouncements about climate change from TV weathercasters these days, but it was far different just a few years ago. It actually got so bad, that a group called Forecast the Facts took to publicizing some of the most egregious ones, eliciting howls of protests by those who disagreed with the consensus opinion.

I had little sympathy for those whose public comments got the attention of the Forecast the Facts folks, because in every case the comments made were ridiculously wrong, and if they had taken the time to look at what the science showed, they would have known it. Statements  blaming the sun,volcanoes, or even claiming that CO2 was good for you, were often heard, along with unsubstantiated accusations of fraud leveled against various climate scientists. A lot of the statements looked to be taken directly from right-wing talk radio, or political blogs featuring unflattering pictures of Al Gore, and they all had one thing in common, the science was overwhelming clear that they were  wrong. The weathercasters in question just never took the time to search out what the real science showed.

There were numerous rather sheepish  apologies made, and many took the opportunity to educate themselves about climate science, and among those who still are in denial, the fear of putting their foot in their mouth may be the reason they are so quiet. You just might wonder how much your local TV forecaster knows about climate science, and the answer is it can range from nearly nothing (among those who do not have even an undergrad degree in a science field), to a firm foundation among some who have enough of a technical background to understand the science published in the different journals. I know more than a few without significant formal science training who have taken it on themselves to learn a great deal about the subject, and know where to get reliable information. Atmospheric science is a broad field, with many different specialties from forecasting, to cloud physics, to the Earth’s overall energy balance and how it affects our climate.

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