Friday, September 22, 2017

Broadcast meteorologists can play a big role in educating the public about climate change

Hurricane Harvey, from International Space Station. (Photo by Randy Bresnik, NASA)
A broad consensus of scientists agree that the extreme weather of recent years--hurricanes, flooding, heat waves and wildfires--is somehow related to climate change, but broadcast meteorologists are often reluctant to talk about it on the air, and some are outright skeptical of the science. "The reasons are complicated, ranging from what meteorologists are taught in college to not wanting to upset their viewers. But they are increasingly changing. I’ve spoken to many former colleagues who want to start having these conversations on air and doing what they can to inform the public about the issue," Sean Sublette writes for Vox.

Sublette writes that he worked for 19 years as a TV weathernan in the Roanoke-Lynchburg, Va., market, and became more and more concerned about climate change as he learned more about it. In 2013, when he was chief meteorologist at the local ABC affiliate, he decided it was time to "speak up about how our planet was changing. This was science, not policy," he writes. He worried that his audience might not want to hear it, but he believed it was important. So, one evening he discussed recent scientific findings about the rising average global temperature and sea levels, and said that they were primarily a result of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. He posted a blog item sharing the same facts. Then he sat back and waited for the storm. To his surprise, it never came. "No hate mail came; no fussing from my news managers ensued," he writes. He received one comment on his blog post that said, "I don't really like the news, but people need to hear it." He still had to be careful not to go too far to repel his conservative viewers, but he began more confidently including facts about climate change in his broadcasts.

That experience helped him realize other meteorologists might need help talking about climate change on the air. They're in a unique position of influence: "For much of the public, meteorologists are the only scientists people see on a daily basis, so they have a unique position in the media landscape. Talking about climate change from that position could make a real difference in how the public discusses climate change and its solutions. It’s something we increasingly have a responsibility to do," Sublette writes. These days he works for the nonprofit Climate Central's Climate Matters program, which helps broadcast meteorologists talk about climate change with the public.

As the public continues to ask questions and learn about climate change, Sublette says he hopes weathercasters will keep talking about it. "Broadcast meteorologists are some of the most qualified people in the media to discuss the subject and are the liaison between the public and the research-based scientific community. Increasingly they are stepping up, and we hope to see it continue."

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