How TV Weathercasters Are Fighting Climate Misinformation
By Pam Radtke Russell in New Orleans
Local TV weather forecasters have become foot soldiers in the war against climate misinformation. Over the past decade, a growing number of meteorologists and weathercasters have begun addressing the climate crisis either as part of their weather forecasts, or in separate, independent news reports to help their viewers understand what is happening and why it is important.
And the reports are having an impact.
Studies by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication show that in communities where local weather forecasters are reporting on the climate crisis, "public opinion is changing more rapidly", said Ed Maibach, director of the center and an author of the studies. "We showed a really strong impact – people who saw the climate reporting came to understand climate change was more personally relevant," he said.
The change has come as meteorologists and weather forecasters themselves have changed their opinions on the climate crisis and its causes. In 2008 a survey of some American Meteorological Society members found that only 24% of weathercasters agreed with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that warming was caused by humans. In 2010, a study by Maibach found that 54% agreed that global warming is happening. But by 2017 a full 90% agreed that climate crisis is happening, and 80% indicated it was human-caused.
"There's been an enormous shift," he said.
The change has been partially brought about by Climate Central's Climate Matters reporting program founded after Maibach released a study showing that the public has a high degree of trust with local forecasters.
"All TV weather forecasters are really good science communicators," Maibach says. Not only are they scientists, but they are trusted by their viewers because they don't generally report on politics or other controversial topics, he says.
Today, more than 600 TV weathercasters participate in the program, which provides training, scientific information, charts and videos for education and newsroom use.
Here's a snapshot of four of those local TV news forecasters.
‘You have the chance to shift the public view a little’
Keith Carson, WLBZ/WCSH, Maine
At the beginning of his career, Carson wasn't fully onboard with the idea that climate crisis was occurring and it was caused by humans. Carson began working in the field in 2006. Today, though, he says: "Frankly it's getting harder and harder to deny it scientifically." And now he knows how easy it is now for anyone to twist facts and create even more divisiveness.
These days, Carson regularly shares information about the climate crisis and other scientific topics with viewers through a nightly science segment called "Brain Drops".
For Carson, the issue is bigger than just climate change. "If people are going to dismiss science and the scientific process, it opens the door for other regressions," in scientific thinking.
Carson talks about climate change with his viewers about once every two weeks. "I think it's important to do, but not to hammer it daily. It's against human nature to change minds, and hammering it home daily would make some people dig in more." He approaches the topic like many of his colleagues do, by simply presenting the facts about what is happening.
Weathercasters, he says, have a unique opportunity because they are an integral, well liked part of the community, "and you have the chance to shift opinion a little".
While Carson does get some pushback from viewers, most of those who comment on his climate reporting are not his viewers, he says.
From stories on breweries to ranchers: find a way to relate
Elisa Raffa, of KOLR10/KOZL, Springfield, Missouri
Raffa, a self-described science geek, believes her job is to educate her viewers about how climate change will impact them. She's done stand-alone news segments about how climate change will impact fishing in local lakes, a local coffee shop and a local brewery. One piece detailed how ranchers must be more careful with their cattle as black vultures move into the region because of warming temperatures.
"It gets people to look at climate change outside of the political realm," she says.
Raffa is careful to ask objective questions about things such as precipitation and temperature, and rarely outwardly underscores climate change as the problem. Her sources usually do that themselves. That hits home with viewers who see climate change from a relatable perspective.
"Climate change will impact us in so many ways, and I love teaching my viewers and helping them learn how they can prepare and adapt and be more resilient," she said.
In addition to her special reports, Raffa talks about the climate crisis in subtle ways during her forecasts. She highlighted a recent uptick in morning high temperatures hoping to show her viewers that overnight temperatures are increasing.
"This is what I signed up for," she said. "This is a science issue. It's my duty to communicate this to the public. If I don't, who is going to?"
‘I used to be more subtle … but now we see more effects’
Jorge Torres, KOB-TV, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Over his career, Torres, chief meteorologist at KOB, has become bolder in addressing climate change. "In the beginning I was more subtle, but as more and more facts become apparent, I am more open now saying this is human induced. For me the biggest aspect is carbon dioxide," he says. "We are seeing that increasing globally and we are seeing the effects locally."
Earlier this year, Torres did an extensive news piece on the issue of water in New Mexico and how smaller snow pack will impact the state's water supply. Temperatures are getting warmer and warmer as well, he says, a fact that he points out during his daily forecasts.
"Whenever the weather story allows me to say," something about the climate crisis, he does, but he ensures it is in the proper context.
The bottom line is that he wants viewers to be open-minded about it. "Don't just hear something and dismiss it."
The forecaster quoting Bubba Gump
Heather Waldman, WGRZ, Buffalo, New York
As the trusted "station scientist", Waldman says that talking about the climate crisis is a natural fit for her and other weathercasters. "It fits in our identity."
Waldman and her station have unveiled a series of short, entertaining and informative videos called "the climate minute", that are online and are scheduled to run this week on TV.
Weather presenter Heather Waldman talks global heating in 'The Climate Minute' – video
The one-minute videos are time-consuming to produce because while Waldman uses information from Climate Matters, she also does her own research, reading IPCC and other reports.
She says she decided on short one-minute videos because she doesn't want to lose the audiences' attention.
"The audience isn't going to pay attention to anything for more than a couple of minutes and we use succinct, catchy images. The goal to find some sort of thing, where people say oh, this will have an impact – this is affecting me right now."
On an upcoming piece on how ocean acidification is affecting shrimp populations, she is using Bubba Gump shrimp quotes to keep it fun.
"Intrinsically we have the responsibility to present not just weather facts but climate facts – we don't want to pontificate, but we want to make them actionable and entertaining."
Pam Radtke Russell is a senior editor at Engineering News-Record, in New Orleans, and a specialist on climate adaptation.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Between 2000 and 2013, Earth lost an area of undisturbed ecosystems roughly the size of Mexico.
- Planting Projects, Backyard Habitats Can Re-Create Livable Natural ... ›
- Humans Are Destroying Wildlife at an Unprecedented Rate, New ... ›
- UN Biodiversity Chief: Humans Risk Living in an 'Empty World' With ... ›
- Scientists Warn Worse Pandemics Are on the Way if We Don't ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
- The Vicious Climate-Wildfire Cycle - EcoWatch ›
- How Climate Change Ignites Wildfires From California to South Africa ›
- 31 Dead, 250,000 Evacuated in California Fires as Governor ... ›
World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
If you are taking medication for an underactive thyroid, check your prescription.