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Why Don't TV Meteorologists Believe in Climate Change?

Climate scientists agree in vast majority that human-caused global warming is occurring. But most U.S. weather forecasters don't. Why?

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"In these and other courses, students are shown the changes in atmospheric composition and their impacts on atmospheric science and climate. The words 'climate change' ... do not necessarily appear on the course descriptions, but they are in the course syllabi or lectures."

Brune says changes are afoot. The course Climate Dynamics, currently an elective for meteorology students, was approved as a requirement starting next year. The class will cover climate change and its human influences, Brune notes.

Most undergraduate programs, including the University of Oklahoma, have added optional climate-related coursework during the past few years, a decision that some experts say could portend an increase in the number of forecasters who accept human-caused climate change.

D'Aleo, formerly of The Weather Channel and a former professor of meteorology at Lyndon State College of Vermont, says that introducing climate science into curricula will bias students against the belief that long-term climate change is driven by natural forces.

"When I was a professor years ago, we taught students how to think, not what to think," he says.

AMS and the National Weather Association (NWA), the other major U.S. professional organization for meteorologists, offer optional broadcast meteorology certification programs. To obtain AMS certification, forecasters have to take courses on a range of topics from atmospheric physics to remote sensing, to pass a written exam and to have their on-air work and forecasts reviewed.

The AMS doesn't require climate science coursework to earn certification. Nor does the society test forecasters' global warming knowledge during the exam. "There is no discussion of changing the requirements to include [climate change]," says Seitter of AMS. The certification program is geared toward making sure broadcasters have adequate knowledge of forecasting, "since this is what these guys are getting paid to do."

Seitter notes that forecasters are encouraged to take global warming courses on their own.

To get NWA certification, TV meteorologists similarly have to pass a written exam and have their work critiqued by the society. Applicants are not tested on their climate change knowledge.

Souweine of Forecast the Facts believes the AMS and NWA programs need to change. "A certification for meteorologists that has no requirement for them to be able to speak intelligently and in an informed way about climate change seems like an empty certification," he says.

Souweine says the campaign plans to put pressure on both societies to require such coursework.

But whether or how a weathercaster chooses to discuss climate change may come down to something harder to influence, says Maibach: their personal politics and beliefs.

In recent years, climate change has become a partisan lighting rod, with the majority of Democrats, about two-thirds, believing that Earth's temperature is rising from human activity, with only one-third of Republicans agreeing with them, say polls. 

No candidate who was vying for the GOP presidential nomination admitted to the scientific consensus, even if they supported climate policy in the past.

Meteorologists are not immune, says Maibach. "Climate change has become so politically polarized that someone's party affiliation is now the dominant lens through which people come to look at the issue—even if they have scientific training."

Maibach says he believes that personal politics are so central to views on climate change that he is considering asking TV meteorologists to state their party affiliations in upcoming surveys.

Audience Expectations

Weathercasters are often the only people at their stations with scientific backgrounds. As a result, they often engage in on-air chit-chat with news anchors on science issues, including global warming. They also write articles for the station's website and are frequently invited to give guest lectures at schools and various community organizations.

 
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