14 April 2015
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.
The George Mason University survey still shows that we have more to do, but I think it’s very encouraging. Only about 64% of the weather casters who responded have at least a BS in meteorology, and far less have earned AMS CBM certification. I’d bet that most of the skeptics remaining are not in the group with a degree in the field, but after the last survey, the only factor that seemed to be predictive was political belief. I’m thinking this has changed somewhat as well, and am checking with a friend of mine who is one of the authors of the report.
Here is a brief summary:
I have been part of several efforts to increase the knowledge and awareness among broadcast meteorologists about climate change, and it is good to know that all that work by so many is having a rather profound effect. The AMS Committee on Station Science (that I currently chair) has also brought in several top scientists to talk to weather casters at the annual AMS Conference on Broadcast Meteorology, and we will be doing more of this.