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On-air meteorologists owe it to their viewers to discuss climate change, says The Washington Post’s weather editor Jason Samenow.
In a July 12 column on the Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog, Samenow pushed back against the criticism he has received for writing about climate change as a meteorologist, stating that “climate change is a scientific reality, and it’s one that is modifying the weather in important ways.”
The share of American meteorologists who recognize that human activities are driving global warming has increased in recent years, but that knowledge isn’t typically reflected in on-air coverage -- yet. Samenow lamented that only a minority of television weathercasters “feel very comfortable” presenting climate change information on air, according to the latest survey on the subject from George Mason University.
It is worth keeping in mind that vast differences exist between meteorologists and climate scientists (climate science is not meteorologists’ area of expertise), but Samenow nonetheless argued that “[i]gnoring climate change in weather reporting is anti-scientific by omission, and it’s irresponsible.” He quoted Raleigh, North Carolina meteorologist Greg Fishel, who said that even though broadcast meteorologists "have the least education [on climate change], we have [the] most responsibility to educate ourselves so we can educate the public in the right way.” Curbed urbanism editor Alissa Walker agrees, asking in a July 12 column for Gizmodo: “Why aren’t meteorologists, the people who tell the public about severe weather, also telling us what’s contributing to it?”
Samenow also noted in his blog post that even weathercasters in “politically conservative television markets” have found success when they’ve attempted to educate their audiences about climate change. He pointed to Columbia, South Carolina meteorologist Jim Gandy, who has “hosted a series of educational segments branded ‘Climate Matters’” that “demonstrably improved climate change understanding” among his viewers.
From Samenow’s July 12 blog post:
It is perhaps the most frustrating response I encounter as a meteorologist when I write about climate change. It stems from doubts about climate change or the view that it’s a political issue, one that shouldn’t contaminate straight weather reporting.
“Stick to the weather,” people say.
But climate change is a scientific reality, and it’s one that is modifying the weather in important ways.
Every meteorologist who is in the business of communicating weather information has an obligation to explain why the weather does what it does, and climate change is playing an ever-increasing role in this story. Ignoring climate change in weather reporting is anti-scientific by omission, and it’s irresponsible.
On-camera meteorologists who work in politically conservative television markets with significant contingents of climate change doubters have found success in their efforts to educate their audiences about the state of the science.
Jim Gandy, a TV meteorologist at WLTX in Columbia, S.C., has hosted a series of educational segments branded “Climate Matters,” which has demonstrably improved climate change understanding among his viewers.
“I have been doing it for almost six years and now people consider me an expert on climate change,” Gandy said. “I think our research showed that the subject did not turn people away. In fact, I find people quite interested in how climate change is affecting them and how it will in the future.”
However, despite overwhelming evidence that climate change is impacting weather, George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication found that only “a minority” of television weathercasters “feel very comfortable” presenting climate change information on air. Most say discussing climate change won’t help their careers. Some fear discussing the role of climate change on weather will upset their viewers — or even newsroom management.
But TV weathercasters need to find the courage to communicate about climate change responsibly. The science is on their side.