THE BLOG

On TV, They Talk About the Weather, but Not Climate Change

11/07/2012 12:42 pm ET | Updated Jan 07, 2013
  • Steve Valk Communications Director and Regional Manager, Citizens Climate Lobby

Superstorm Sandy was a huge wake-up call on climate change for America. Many of our nation's TV meteorologists, however, missed that call, and with it the opportunity to educate the public about the impact global warming has on our weather.

For some unfathomable reason, the majority of folks who deliver weather forecasts to millions of Americans do not accept the science of climate change and won't bring it up on their telecasts. It isn't that most meteorologists are climate change skeptics, as Inside Climate News reported earlier this year; just the ones who are on television. They comprise about 10 percent of the membership of the American Meteorological Society, which recently revised its official statement supporting of the scientific consensus on climate change.

What does the AMS say about Sandy and global warming?

While the organization hasn't released an official statement, AMS Senior Policy Fellow Bob Corell co-authored a piece in Politico this week, saying that "we should consider Sandy -- and other recent extreme weather events - an early taste of a climate-changed world, and a grim preview of the even worse to come, particularly if we continue to pump more carbon pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes up into the atmosphere."

Pretty strong and unequivocal. But it falls on deaf ears where many TV meteorologists are concerned. In Atlanta, here's how 30-year weatherman Glenn Burns at WSB-TV responded to a viewer's email when asked about the AMS statement on climate change:

"Thanks for your concern on climate change. We are also in the middle of an extreme sunspot cycle which correlates perfectly with the extreme heat this summer. Not only that, the NWS [National Weather Service] temperature sensors at the airport are not accurate. NASA even called me personally and told me they were 5-6 degrees warmer than surrounding areas. We need to learn how to deal with climate change. Our climate has been changing since the beginning of time. Only the civilizations that adapted to it have survived. That should be our goal."

Wow.

Sadly, Burns' response is not atypical. Over at Channel 5 in Atlanta, another weatherman with over three decades on the air, Ken Cook, talked to a volunteer from Citizens Climate Lobby. Among other things, he discounted the findings of the International Panel on Climate Change, calling it a "highly politicized group." As the conversation moved to clean energy, he said that $500 million was wasted on Solyndra, a favorite talking point among Republicans this year. The implication from Cook was that global warming is some hoax perpetrated to make money for the renewable energy industry.

The good news, however, is that there are some TV forecasters who did connect the dots, as evidenced in this report from KXAN in Austin, Texas:

And a report from ABC News10 in San Diego included an interview with IPCC author Dr. Richard Somerville, who told viewers there is only one way to slow the warming process: "Reduce the world's dependency on coal and oil and natural gas. This is quite doable."

While these stations have taken a responsible approach on climate change, many more fail to bring it up, even in the face of major catastrophes.

It's time to demand that people who report the weather let their audiences know where the bombs are coming from whenever there is a "Pearl Harbor moment" on climate change like Sandy.

If your TV station was remiss in connecting the dots on Superstorm Sandy, Forecast The Facts has a tool to help you connect with your local meteorologist and express your concerns.

If that proves fruitless, try asking them to connect those dots with a letter to the editor in your local newspaper.

Nothing gets someone's attention like seeing their name in the paper.