Wednesday, June 30, 2010

TV meteorologist in northern Alabama looks to better inform viewers about climate change

The South might not be the first place you would look for defenders of the science behind global warming, but a television meteorologist in Huntsville, Ala., is making it his mission to better educate his viewers about climate change. Dan Satterfield, right, weatherman at WHNT, "recognizes that many in his audience are 'climatically challenged,' and his profession has the power to help those afflicted by science illiteracy," Lynne Peeples writes in OnEarth, the journal of the National Resources Defense Council. Only about 7 percent of all TV meteorologists work at a station with a designated science reporter, which often turns them into the station expert, Kris Wilson of the University of Texas, told Peeples. (OnEarth photo by Alex Martinez)

"People learn to trust weathercasters and like them, so whatever they say about things like climate change carries tremendous weight," Wilson said. "By choice or by default, weathercasters end up being the science experts." Satterfield said he remained unconvinced regarding global warming until the mid-1990s, but repeated exposure to the "overwhelming evidence" of climate change, made him finally say, "Whoa, I need to start looking into this." After going back to school for a master's degree in earth science, Satterfield began sharing his views on the air. He expected a backlash from his conservative audience, but "aside from a handful of complaints, the show's ratings and viewer questions suggested that people were listening," Peeples writes.

"Satterfield has a backbone," Bud Ward, editor of the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, told Peeples. "He makes other meteorologists think, 'If he can do it in Huntsville, I can do it in Cleveland.'" Satterfield as produced longer specials about climate change in addition to frequent snippets in his three-minute weather segments, where he says "something short but powerful that dispels a climate myth." (Read more)

Satterfield's efforts are even more impressive as climate change skepticism appear to be on the rise even after global warming appeared to gain more support during the last decade. Part of that rise may be attributed to the news media, which has been "doing a lousy job of putting things in context," Kevin Krajick writes for OnEarth. He concludes "papers need to explain: scientists know the seas are rising; they don't know exactly how much; one study is only one study, and there will be many more to come before we arrive at a reliable number." You can read his exhaustive review of several texts examining climate change skepticism and examples of what he considers good climate reporting here.

No comments: