The current issue of the venerable Columbia Journalism Review has a fascinating cover story that goes some way toward explaining why people’s understanding of climate change is so, well, skimpy, if not downright biased or wrong. It all has to do with your local TV weatherman or –woman.
As the piece by The Washington Monthly’s Charles Homans points out, the local weather forecast is the most popular segment of local TV news shows and the weather forecaster usually the most respected reporter on a given program. They are tacitly assumed to be climate scientists when, in fact, they are meteorologists (or at least some of them are; lots aren’t)—and the difference between the disciplines is great.
The disturbing fact is that a large fraction, up to three-quarters, of weatherpeople are climate skeptics, and tend to pass along that skepticism to their viewers. The reasons are varied. For one thing, day-to-day weather is hard to predict and subject to many variables. Longer-term calculations of global warming are actually simpler, but a local weathercaster blindsided by an unanticipated snowstorm is likely to take that as proof that global warming is a hoax (see the East Coast recently).
Another reason is that these people have a general mistrust of government-sponsored science and don’t want to be seen as fans of Al Gore. It’s quite interesting and a bit depressing, just what you need with your coffee this morning.