Forecast Calls for an Easy Solution

Columbia Journalism Review has a good piece on a very weak link in convincing the American public–the only public in a highly developed country still in need of convincing–that the earth’s climate is changing because of human activity: TV weathermen. It turns out that many of the people Americans trust to tell them the weather are climate change deniers. A recent survey of TV meteorologists showed that only one quarter believed in global climate change and that it is caused by humans, a quarter said they were “neutral” on the matter, and half rejected it. 29% even agreed with the claim that global climate change is a “scam.”

The piece goes on to discuss why this might be, and efforts being taken to change the views of TV meteorologists. This matter is controversial only in the US. It’s not an open question. So here’s an easy solution for any TV station that gives a crap about truth, and about the future of life on earth: do not employ any weather reporters who do not declare that they believe in man-made climate change.

That notion may strike some as offensive, as some kind of loyalty oath. One might invoke the right to free speech, or declare it’s wrong to tell journalists what to think. Such objections miss an important point: in journalism, there are already many beliefs that get you cast out of the profession. Would a sportswriter keep her job if she espoused the view that black athletes aren’t as smart as white athletes? A religion reporter wouldn’t get hired by a standard news organization if he declared Islam a gutter religion or said Mormons were members of a cult. Someone who pushed a truther theory about 9/11 or denied the Holocaust would get canned.

Declaring people who embrace and espouse widely discredited beliefs can go too far. It’s a matter of degree; some beliefs are minority views but not obviously ridiculous. But others are authoritatively refuted, and it’s the latter that are disqualifying. Or should be. If you want to be a meteorologist on TV, you should be forced to declare that you accept the scientific consensus that Earth is undergoing a human-caused climate change. Making a lot of money scaremongering about a two inch snowfall or telling people when it’s too hot to leave your pets in the car should be limited to people who don’t deny accepted scientific theories of reality.

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1 Response to Forecast Calls for an Easy Solution

  1. Vinnie says:

    But I’ve never once heard a TV meteorologist explicitly deny climate change. If one did, this would be a problem. Not *not* denying climate change, however… is not. If anything, I’ve noticed that some of the good meteorologists will at least gently insinuate some attribution to the effects of climate change, which I consider sufficient, if not above and beyond the call of duty, given the job description. TV meteorologists are paid to look nice in a suit and tell us what to anticipate from ambient outdoor conditions over the next five-to-seven days, and I’ve generally considered them forthright and dutiful in this role. Selective truth is not only part of the TV news business model; it *is* the business model. Short time horizons. No inductive reasoning. To rearrange the sports analogy, this is like expecting a baseball play-by-play announcer to fill all the in-game downtime explaining how each previous at-bat relates to long-term trends in slider usage and the exploitation of prospects in Latin American scouting academies causing a decline in plate discipline or something or other. (Okay, it’s not the best analogy, but neither were yours.) Bottom line: it’s not gonna happen. If “weather is not climate” works as a quickie rebuttal to some fool who denies global warming on the basis of an April snowstorm, I think it also works as defense for the silence of the weather reporter on matters of climate change.

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