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Ever wonder just why climate change denialism is so prevalent even as hard evidence continues to mount that we are rapidly nearing a point beyond which massively destructive changes may be inevitable? There are, of course, numerous factors behind this situation. As researcher Peter Gleick observed in Forbes, “when scientific findings have big consequences for policy and politics, anti-science ideology and denial flourish.”

Think Progress reports that a new organization, Forecast the Facts, is attempting to insure that TV weather forecasters don’t contribute to this state of affairs. They are worried about the tendency of some forecasters to either ignore climate change or promote denialism in their role as trusted TV weathermen:

It’s a big problem: weather reporters reach millions of people every night, and right now they’re not telling their viewers the full story. We can change that. …

St. Louisians and others in Southeastern Missouri who live in range of KTVI-TV (FOX2) might be interested in the prominent position of that station’s Dave Murray on Forecast the Facts’ list of weather reporters who promote denialism. The report quotes Murray as saying that:

…he prefers to talk about climate change and weather cycles rather than global warming. Murray said, “The climate is always changing and has been since day one” and will continue to do so.

“We have been in a warmer-than-average pattern for the last 10 to 15 years,” said Murray. “That cycle is now just starting to flip to a colder-than-average pattern that will last 15 to 20 years, although there will be some blips in this pattern.”

The St. Louis Business Journal article from which the quote was taken surveyed several Missouri weather forecasters, and while none seemed as overtly denialist as Murray, several noted that they shy away from talking about global warming because it’s “controversial” (Eirch Aldrich, KOMU-TV, Columbia; Lisa Teachman, KMBC-TV, Kansas City; Zach Paul, KRCG-TV, Jefferson City).

It’s heartening to note that other Missouri weather forecasters are less worried about political fallout. Some, while they do not explicitly talk about global warming, do not dispute the concept, but quite legitimately note that they have little time and it is not always possible to relate immediate weather patterns to long-term climate change patterns. Fortunately, there are even some forecasters, like Cindy Prezzler (KSDK, St. Louis) and  Dave Sinder (KY3-TV, Springfield), who consider it appropriate to draw attention to the relationship between weather and climate change.

The divide between Missouri’s TV weather men and women is not unique.  Although the American Meteorological Society has formally come down on the side of the climate scientists, affirming anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming, a recent study finds that only about half of 571 weather forecasters surveyed believed that global warming is real and less than a third believe it is due to human activities.

There are numerous reasons for this divergence; a report on the subject in the New York Times suggested that a major reason might be the difference in the methodology used by meteorologists and that of climate scientists. The tools used to predict a blizzard over the period of a week are quite different than the methodologies used to analyze long term trends and build comprehensive predictive models.

The article also quoted several sources who believe that resentment may play a role. It suggests that TV forecasters – only about half of whom even have a four-year degree in meteorology – may experience “a little bit of elitist-versus-populist tensions” when confronted with dicta laid down by mostly academic climate scientists who operate very differently and who aren’t always respectful of the minutiae of predictive meteorology.  

Whatever the reason, the problem is serious because research also shows that up to 56% of Americans trust TV weather forecasters more than other sources on the subject of global warming. Consequently, it is important to address the problem of meteorologists who persist in misinforming the public while, as Forecast the Facts, notes, “their viewers are facing unprecedented heat waves, droughts, and flooding, which scientists say are fueled by global warming.” If policy shaped by those who are willfully or otherwise ignorant of the facts worries you, visit Forecast the Facts and see what others are doing and what you can do too.