“Goodell’s piece listed the usual suspects among the meteorologists and that’s not a difficult thing to do,” Ward said. “It’s very easy to single out the five or six prominent naysayers, and its very easy to single out the five or six who are basically on the other end of the spectrum—who are almost evangelists for climate science. What’s ignored are all the ones in between, and I think it’s unfair to characterize them as disproportionately skeptical.”
It’s the broadcast meteorologists in the middle of that bell curve that Ward is trying to reach through the one-day climate workshops he’s organized in various cities over the last four years. The next, which will focus on global warming’s relationship to extreme weather events, will take place at the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting in Nashville, TN, in June.
The courses delve into popular “myths” about climate science, like solar radiation being the primary cause, but they aren’t meant to “convert” anyone, least of all so-called climate skeptics, which would be an “unrealistic goal in any event,” according to Ward (who hates labels like “climate skeptic”).
“What we’re really interested in is exposing broadcast meteorologists to the most current peer-reviewed science in these areas,” he said, “pointing out to them some outstanding resources (online, books, organizations, etc.), and giving them some familiar faces they can always reach out to get their questions answered in the most authoritative way.”
Ward has welcomed his share of doubters, however, including Pann, the Baltimore weathercaster who criticized Goodell’s Rolling Stone article on Facebook. Pann attended a workshop in Oxford, MD, last March.
“Tony concluded at the end of this session that he was impressed, but not convinced,” Ward said, adding that he couldn’t say why that was (Pann declined to be interviewed for this article).
“I was disappointed that he wasn’t more impressed with the presentations,” Ward said. “We had world-class experts on weather and climate, like MIT’s Kerry Emmanuel, and a solar radiation expert, Judith Lean, from the Naval Research Lab, who just blows people away.”
On balance, however, Ward feels like his efforts are paying off. Of the roughly 100 weathercasters that have participated in his workshops, between five and 10 indicated that they’d changed once skeptical positions on climate science.
“More importantly,” he said, “about three dozen have indicated anecdotally that they had found new avenues of information and data on a subject about which they had had only some cursory understanding, and now are actively involved in staying abreast of. These have gone from the ‘I-don’t-know’ to the ‘I’m-learning-more about-it-all-the-time’ stage. They’re the ones we’re most interested in.”
Ward and the C4 research group’s surveys agree that while some broadcast meteorologists don’t cover climate change because of skepticism or fear that it won’t play well with their audiences, the main impediment remains a lack of airtime. Education won’t necessarily change that, but it pays off outside the studio as well, when meteorologists get questions about climate at schools, Rotary clubs, and other civic events, Ward said: “Off-air communications are key.”
Unfortunately, there aren’t many workshops like Ward’s. The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) distributes environmental information to meteorologists through its Earth Gauge program, and coordinates with COMET, part of the University Consortium for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), in Boulder, CO, to provide online training and course materials. But only 42 percent of weathercasters have participated in continuing education courses or organized learning experiences on climate change, according C4’s national survey, and the majority say that they are unsatisfied with the opportunities available to them.
There’s been talk about doing more, Ward said, but funding is tight. “I honestly find it strange that there are not more face-to-face opportunities given that many people talk-up the need to better inform TV meteorologist on climate issues,” he said.
Perhaps it’s time to start focusing on the meteorologists who want that education rather than the ones who don’t.