The piece, a ten-minute spot about how climate-related drought is threatening trout in Montana, shows that Climate Central is off to a good start. It has all the locally-focused science, commerce, and policy that the group set out to capture, as well a fair nod toward the opinion that declining snow packs, stream flows, and fish populations in the region have nothing to do with warming from greenhouse-gas emissions. The real beauty and innovation of the package is not the broadcast itself, however, but the bountiful range of supporting and complementary information that can be found at Climate Central’s Web site. This includes an annotated transcript with links to relevant scientific research and other data; graphics on current wildfire, wind energy and average temperature statistics; and an interactive climate forecast map. In addition, there are supplementary interviews and reports at Climate Central’s branded YouTube channel and Facebook group. The team hopes to produce state-by-state similar packages, building up an educational database where people can find many “levels” of information.
“It’s almost like typing in your zip code and getting climate information,” Cullen said, noting Climate Central’s emphasis on local trends and statistics. “A lot of people feel like they’re experiencing more extreme events. So their relationship with their daily weather very much informs their feelings about climate change.”
The trout and drought piece will be part of an “occasional series” series at PBS. Climate Central is already putting the finishing touches on its next installment, about how growing biofuels is changing land use practices in Iowa. The broadcasts are collaborations between the two organizations. Linda Winslow, the NewsHour’s executive producer, said she was very pleased with the finished project and with Climate Central’s hard work, which involved a trip back to Montana, upon the program’s request, to get additional material. Though she was “somewhat dubious” when the group approached her because the NewsHour does not have much experience in such partnerships, and relying on outside content was a “big departure” for the program, the benefits were clear.
The NewsHour has half a dozen “core staff” that are responsible for covering science and health full or part-time, but “we lack the resources to go out into the field with a camera crew and fly around the country,” Winslow said. In that respect, Climate Central is providing a valuable service that helps the NewsHour “visualize” stories and meets its editorial standards. And two local radio stations, including an NPR affiliate, interviewed Cullen about climate change in Montana.
Yet the relatively long features it is producing for PBS are not what Climate Central wants to focus on in the long run, or where it thinks it can do the most good. Because the majority of Americans get their information from nightly news programs, the team wants to partner with local television stations directly to produce shorter broadcasts that are also radio and podcast ready.
Seventy-second spots should be organization’s “bread and butter,” said Climate Central executive producer Charles Lyons. With a public broadcasting station in Cleveland, Climate Central is starting to develop “Climate Minutes” for television and radio in northeastern Ohio that would also have “direct feeds” into local classrooms. Ideally, Lyons explained, the local producers would take the “driver’s seat” in guiding content, and Climate Central would provide scientific information, expertise, and high-end “visualizations” (i.e graphics) of climate data, trends, and forecasts. Cullen added that they also hope to develop relationships with local meteorologists. (Cullen stirred up a controversy in 2006 when she suggested that meteorologists who “can’t speak” about the fundamentals of climate science should not be given American Meteorological Society credentials, but she nonetheless stresses their importance as most people’s “gateway to science.”)