Just #SayItsClimateChange

Weather Forecasters Should Champion the Cause .... and Help Save The Planet, too

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by Charles Ellison | Publisher’s Riff | @ellisonreport

No, it’s not just you. You’ve probably spent each day of this massive Polar Vortex watching your local meteorologist cackle off the latest mercury counts and ice cold data-points and wondered: Why won’t they mention that it’s climate change? For some reason, it seems to hover over countless weather forecasts like a proverbial dark cloud of super storms. It is the elephant in the weather newsroom. Too many of our weather forecasters, some of the most knowledgeable and personable people we know on television every morning before we rush into our daily routines, have an aversion to warning us about the insanely obvious.

They just refuse to say it’s climate change.

Local Meteorologists Really Need To Stop Joking About It

This has been an ongoing problem for some years. But with climatic weather hitting us back-to-back all year long, and killing people while at it, we’ve reached a crucial pivot point where it’s time for everyone in a position of political, policy or pop-culture influence to publicly acknowledge what’s occurring as vividly as a speeding train getting closer to the car-blocked road crossing. Problem is: we’re all in the car, yet many local weather forecasters are standing there next to the warning sign trigger and unwilling to press it.

But general consensus and daily warnings from local meteorologists could actually be the breakthrough towards instigating public pressure on policymakers. If there is one face, one voice daily news consumers trust, it’s their weatherperson. The weather report is the most treasured report on any day, our navigator for how to dress and how to prepare for what’s outside before we leave our home. You’re listening for the weather first, more than likely, before anything else.

Instead, what we get during climatic - and, frankly, near-apocalyptic - weather cycles is giggly hacks who joke endlessly about how cold or hot it is outside. These days, it’s augmented by social media gimmicks like ratings-driven hashtags urging viewers to send in just as gimmicky selfies and other pics of their lone adventures through snow storms, city-stopping polar wind chills and, during the summer, devastating urban heat islands. Mind you, none of this is the least bit funny as the situation is serious enough to warrant alarm and action … not comedic stand-up chuckling with your anchor buddies or more corny one-liners about how you slipped on a patch of black ice that morning.

Viewers really shouldn’t tolerate this anymore. If you see you’re local weather forecaster horsing around with their colleagues on broadcast television about the weather, and not holding a serious daily forum on climate change, then it’s time to demand a new approach. Call them out on social media, tell them to #SayItsClimateChange. Encourage your friends and family to do the same. And, if they’re still reluctant, call the station and let them know you’re not watching their newscast anymore - and you just told a bunch of other viewers to do the same.

Other Weather People Think It’s an Issue, Too

Even 20-year broadcast meteorology veteran Jeff Berardelli got tired of it, quit his cushy weather forecasting gig in West Palm Beach and went to grad school to learn more about how he could dedicate his life to raising more awareness. Writes Berardelli in a recent Washington Post column:

Action to confront the problem has been frustratingly slow, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We know what’s causing it. We know how to fix it. All that’s missing is a critical mass of public willpower to accelerate solutions. To achieve that, we need to talk about climate change. A lot.

And I know just the right profession to lead this charge: broadcast meteorologists. For many people, we are the only scientist seen on a consistent basis. We are a trusted local source of information, with an influence that few, if any, others have.

Berardelli was quite kind to his weather fake-the-funk colleagues in broadcasting. But his point is definitely one that should be heeded by the weather broadcasting industry, most definitely on the local level. Nationally, institutions like the Weather Channel are definitely trying to push that warning, and there are big weather forecasting icons like Al Roker of the NBC Today show are also, unapologetically, out on the front lines clapping back at climate change “skeptics” with bruising commentary on how irresponsible it is to keep doubting the science.

Yet, it’s not happening on the local level for a variety of reasons. Sean Sublette, also a TV meteorologist, in a recent Slate interview …

Surveys suggest that there are a sizable number of broadcast meteorologists who are climate skeptics. Does this concern you, and is there anything to be done about it?

I think what we are seeing is that the number is dropping, and it’s been dropping very quickly from what we’ve been able to tell, especially in the last three or four years.

Each meteorologist has his or her own personal feelings, and that will come out in the way they decide to approach the subject. There’s not much you can do about that. But I do think we are seeing a progression of operational meteorologists becoming more willing to accept the scientific consensus and to talk about it, especially in a nonpolitical way. Sadly, this is still a very political issue here in the States, unlike the rest of the world.

That “number” Sublette references may not be dropping fast enough. A George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication survey in 2016 found that just 46 percent of forecasters “are convinced that the climate change over the past 50 years has been primarily or entirely due to human activity” even though 99 percent believe that climate change is happening.

What was more striking about that survey, however, is that even though most broadcasters are convinced climate change is here, the majority - about 6 in 10 - aren’t communicating that message in their broadcasts or on social media. Nor are enough convinced their constant reporting on climate change could shift public opinion. There are a variety of reasons for that, as Sublette points out here. Meteorologist perspective on climate change, or slow response to climate change awareness, is definitely not aligned with a majority of their viewers

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But, as Umair Irfan noted in this Vox assessment of opinion data on climate change, we’re not there on action, yet …

[I]t’s easy to say you’re worried about climate change and rhetorically support policies to fight it. Gauging how intense that concern is among the general public and whether it will lead to anything more meaningful is a bigger challenge. Are people genuinely worried, or is it just fashionable to say that climate change is a problem?

Forecasters, as a community, really could play a major role in speeding up that process by simply acknowledging climate change … on a daily, constant basis. Perhaps that could prompt local outrage which turns into community action and a move towards lasting planetary solutions. Just #SayItsClimateChange