3 April 2010

TV Weather People and Climate Change

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Yea, That's me.

A lot of TV weather people avoid talking about climate change on air. There are multiple reasons for this. Among them are the fact that the person you see doing the weather on TV in many cases does not know that much about science. (Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to stop some from saying some really silly things.)

The number one reason is the political overtones involved in it. This is actually a good reason not to do it and something I thought long and hard before I said something.

There are two parts to this story and here is why I decided to do it.

What we DO about climate change is a political issue.  The reality of the threat and it’s magnitude is a scientific question.  Especially when you consider that the average person sees only one person with a background in science each day.


The person giving them the forecast on TV.

I’ve long thought that those of us who are real meteorologists with a background in atmospheric physics have an obligation to provide accurate scientific information. We get plenty of questions about science everyday, from “What’s that bright star in the western sky?” to “How big was that quake??”

So with that justification for doing so, the next question becomes “what do I say??”.

Survey of TV weathercasters- Ed Maibach George Mason Univ. Click to download report.

This is where things have gotten really messed up.

I was on an advisory panel for a survey of TV weather people on climate change. It was conducted by Ed Maibach of George Mason University. The results of this survey absolutely floored me. 26% of the respondents believe global warming is a scam.

This is amazing.

I shouldn’t be surprised.  Just this week, I heard one on-air weathercaster blame the sun and another claimed the planet is getting cooler!

Why are so many TV weather people  so skeptical?

Arctic Temperatures

I wish I knew. The lack of science training in some may be a factor, but I think it is much deeper than that. I know some really smart forecasters who make a right turn into a brick wall when it comes to climate change.

It is very difficult to forecast the weather for the next 7 days and perhaps the idea of talking about the weather 100 years ahead is the problem. I used to feel exactly the same way. I’ve since learned that climate and weather  are two very different things.

The climate science community needs to work hard on explaining this to TV weather people and the public at large. Weathercasters on the other hand need to take a page from good journalists and learn to set aside political beliefs and really study the science. Especially if they are going to talk about it on air. They have an obligation to do so.

With this in mind, should I not say on air that scientists are divided? That there is deep division and the science is not good?

Let’s look at it from a logical and scientific perspective.

EVERY major scientific organisation on Earth has endorsed the IPCC reports. This includes strongly worded warnings, that we must act, from the American Meteorological Society, the AGU, the AAAS.

A common myth is that Antarctica is getting colder. If your local weather person says this- they are wrong.

The oldest and most distinguished scientific body on Earth, The Royal Society has done likewise. Then there is NASA and NOAA the two major government science bodies in America. They too agree.

On the other side you have a tiny handful of scientists, only a few of which have published anything recently in peer reviewed journals, who disagree. Even more telling is to look online at the number of scientists who are writing blogs about the latest research.

Real Climate is the most popular and is written by several scientists from NASA and Universities. Climate Progress is another one that takes on the political issue and covers the science. Joe Romm the author has a doctorate in physics. Only in it for the Gold is another excellent resource by Dr. Michael Tobis.

If we are getting cooler, why is Greenland melting? Click for full size on any of these images.

The most popular blog on the “other side” is written by a retired TV weatherman who never even finished an undergraduate degree in either Meteorology or climatology. In second place is one written by the former spin master for extreme right wing Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has said that all the scientists in the world are perpetrating the greatest hoax in human history. Yet another is written by someone who has a doctorate in, wait for it…

political science.

This in itself should tell you something, but it still does not cover the science.

Peer review and scientific method have taken us from living in log cabins to exploring the outer planets in two centuries. The great thing about the way science works is that the knowledge is built upon those that have come before.

It's not the sun- really. (From Dr. Judith Lean USNO)

If you want to make the claim that the sun is responsible for climate change, then you will need to show why the dozens of papers that show it’s not are wrong. You need to show why people like Dr. Judith Lean at the U.S. Naval Observatory is wrong when she puts together a graph of the sun’s output showing it has been remarkably constant in the last 50 years.

You also will need to show why Dr. Ben Santer is wrong. Santer showed conclusively that the pattern of warming is not what we would see from the sun getting brighter, but it IS what we would see if it were increasing greenhouse gases. There are many more too.

If you want to claim the planet is getting cooler then you need to show why Michael Mann’s data showing a stunning warming trend is wrong. A lot of people have tried.  Every single scientific review of the data says he has it right.

From Santer et.al- The observed warming very closely resembles the predicted warming from greenhouse gases and not solar or other effects.

You will also need to show why almost every tropical glacier on the planet is melting and the rate of the melting of the Greenland Ice Cap is increasing. While your at it, explain why the ocean temperatures are warming and hundreds of species are migrating northward in the Northern Hemisphere., while the planet cools. There are a dozen other independent climate proxies that all show warming.

Why are all of these wrong???

The world of science is waiting. All you have to do is write it up and submit it to a peer reviewed journal. That’s how science works. Political spin does not, but science does.

What about El Nino??
That’s not responsible either, but it didn’t stop McLean et.al from getting their paper published and turning themselves into the laughing stock of the science world this month. Need a laugh? Read all about it HERE.

Last, but not least, is the myth of bad data. This is a real favorite of the number one denial blogger. He claimed that NOAA’s weather stations were all badly placed and the data could not be trusted! Only a hundred or so out of thousands are any good he claimed, therefore we cannot trust it!

Michael Mann's "hockey stick" continues to hold up under intense scrutiny.

NOAA ran the data with the stations that he found acceptable and guess what? We have warmed more than we thought. Not less. The difference was incredibly minor. You can read more about this comical episode HERE.

While we’re going through the list of myths, let’s not forget that all time favorite the urban heat island effect!

If you want to discredit a hundred years of climate science based on this, then please tell Dr. Tom Karl the head of the National Climate Data Center (and President of the AMS) why he is wrong when he says the cities of the world cause us to be only a few thousandths of a degree warmer.

That’s three orders of magnitude less than the 0.8C warming we have experienced!! Also explain to him why he is wrong when he runs just the rural stations and and gets the same warming??

You also might explain why if it IS the cities, how come the oceans are all warming too??

Karl and other took the time  to do the math and write it up and submit to a peer reviewed journal. If he is wrong, you need to do the same. Neil Degrasse Tyson said “The laws of physics are real, everything else is just politics.

Show us the science. We are all waiting.

So we are left with the giant conspiracy to prevent the truth from being published. The claim is thousands of scientists around the world are all working together to prevent the “truth” from being published.

The great thing about a conspiracy is this. If someone proves it wrong, you can just claim the proof is part of the conspiracy! Every newsroom gets these conspiracy calls every day. Castro shot Kennedy, Area 51, contrails are really chemical mind control, etc. News folks just call them nutters. Twenty people can’t  keep a secret, much less thousands. Get real.

If it's the urban heat island effect- why are the oceans getting warmer?? HC= Heat Content. This shows the top 700 meters of the World ocean.

So there we have it.

No serious peer reviewed journal has published anything that put a serious dent in the current understanding of climate in years now. The evidence is not just overwhelming now. It’s a mountain. I couldn’t go through every argument, but John Cook, who studied solar physics at the Univ. of Queensland down in OZ, runs a great web site that explains the real science behind these myths.

Scientists are taught to be skeptics. Show us the data. Being skeptical is good scientific practice but ignoring a mountain of evidence while giving credit to claims in political journals instead is not scientific skepticism.

It’s politics.

This is why I am not afraid to talk about climate change. I think I’m obligated to do so when there is overwhelming evidence we are tampering with the very air conditioner of our planet.

I have all the world’s major scientific organizations backing me up as well.

Richard Feynman was right. “Science is what we do to keep from lying to ourselves”.