Storm over climate change among weather forecasters

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 2, 2012 9:08pm GMT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

But weather forecasters, many of whom see climate change as a natural, cyclical phenomenon, are split over whether they have a responsibility to educate their viewers on the link between human activity and the change in the Earth's climates.

Only 19 percent of U.S. meteorologists saw human influences as the sole driver of climate change in a 2011 survey. And some, like the Weather Channel's founder John Coleman are vocal in their opposition.

"It is the greatest scam in history," wrote Coleman, one of the first meteorologists to publicly express doubts about climate change, on his blog in 2007. "I am amazed, appalled and highly offended by it. Global Warming; it is a SCAM."

The climate change controversy has split the American Meteorological Society, whose members are Americans' prime source of news about weather and climate

In its last official view issued in 2007, the AMS acknowledged that global warming is occurring and that human activities exacerbate it, especially the burning of fossil fuels and the release of the climate-warming gas, carbon dioxide.

Research since 2007 has only solidified climate science findings, said AMS Executive Director Keith Seitter. AMS members who disagree, he said, are in a minority, though an often outspoken one.

"There are some extremely vocal people who are arguing on that issue, but I think the science has continued to become more clear, not less so," Seitter said by telephone from Boston.

The controversy has held up the society's updated view on climate change but Seitter said expects the new AMS statement to hew closely to its position in 2007 and include updated scientific findings.

An online grassroots campaign called "Forecast the Facts" said the society needs to go beyond a strong statement on climate change and require that its members "report the current scientific consensus on climate change."

"As it stands right now, it is considered within the realm of acceptable discourse for media outlets, corporations and politicians to deny climate change and to stand in the way of much needed action," Daniel Souweine, who heads the campaign, said in an email.

Forecast the Facts is supported by the non-profit environmental groups League of Conservation Voters and 350.org, and has gotten 14,000 signatures for its petition to the AMS, Souweine said.

They will be hard-pressed to convince forecasters like Bob Breck, a weatherman at Fox Channel 8 in New Orleans who is vocal in his skepticism over climate change.

"AMS has long been dominated by people in academia, which is ok, they're the PhDs ... except those of us who I consider operational meteorologists, we were basically ignored," Breck said by telephone. "I believe in global warming cycles and we have been in a warming cycle. What I don't believe is that the driver of this current warming cycle is carbon dioxide."

Most weathermen and women have degrees in meteorology - the study of how Earth's atmosphere behaves in the short term - but few have studied climate science, which examines the wider system where weather occurs.

THE DIVIDE

But meteorologists advise Americans every day, and that makes them powerful shapers of public opinion. Most don't mention global warming in their weathercasts, but many also blog, and that is often where the skepticism surfaces.

Most U.S. meteorologists -- 82 percent in a 2011 survey -- are convinced that climate is changing, but many say it's changing because of natural causes, or human and natural causes combined.

That contrasts with about 95 percent of climate scientists who are convinced that climate change is occurring and that human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, are a key driver of it. This tallies with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which reported with 90 percent certainty in 2007 on the causes and effects of climate change.

To Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, that split shows that efforts like Forecast the Facts are misguided.

"It presumes that AMS is part of the problem, and I actually think the AMS is doing really, really solid work to help their weathercaster members expand the way they currently define their day job to include climate education as part of their role," Maibach said.

Maibach, who tracks meteorologists' attitudes on climate change, said skeptics in the group believe their concerns are being ignored.

"They feel their views and their concerns about the science are not being taken seriously," Maibach said. "It's pretty easy to understand how one gets to a place of anger when they feel dismissed and disrespected."

(Reporting By Deborah Zabarenko, Environmental Correspondent; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Jackie Frank)

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Comments (4)
KrisCraig wrote:
Let’s replay the quote from the so-called “skeptic” at the local Fox News outlet:

“‘AMS has long been dominated by people in academia, which is ok, they’re the PhDs … except those of us who I consider operational meteorologists, we were basically ignored,’ Breck said by telephone. ‘I believe in global warming cycles and we have been in a warming cycle.’”

Soooo…. In other words, the people who have actually STUDIED global climate change, he complains, are the people whose opinions are being listened to; whereas, the guys who stand outside in a hurricane with a microphone and rely on software to spit out a forecast for them are being ignored.

My response to that: GOOD!! Scientists who are knowledgeable in their field SHOULD be the ones whose findings matter.

I also couldn’t help but notice his statement, “I BELIEVE IN [emphasis mine] global warming cycles….” That’s not science. If you “believe in” something purporting to be a factual statement, that’s called religion. Or dogma. Or bias. But it’s not science.

A true scientist would counter that he does NOT “believe in” human-caused global warming; rather, he would state that this is simply the only logical conclusion that can be drawn given the evidence presently available. Should new evidence come to light that contradicts that, however increasingly unlikely that would be, he would review it and re-evaluate his previous conclusions as needed.

THAT is what science is all about. This clown in New Orleans may know how to get a good camera shot in a rainstorm, but he’s clearly no scientist. I think he does, however, serve as a very apt example of those AMS members (the “operational” meteorologists, as he put it) who refuse to acknowledge the overwhelming and consistent scientific evidence that all demonstrates a clear and unmistakable human influence on climate change.

Feb 02, 2012 8:37pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
rgene wrote:
Lets be honest about this. Academics receive the funding for their “research” mostly from government grants. Getting government grants requires the “PhD” to submit a form that gives the government employees that decide who gets the funds a picture of what they want to accomplish. Then the correct agency(see EPA) reads the request and decides if it’s worthy and if the person who wants the funds is worthy, and if they pass both checks they get funding that they can spend on cars, sex, drugs or whatever they want because they don’t have to justify the expenses. They can pay salaries to friends or to their family members. So, if you want to feed fromthe trough, you have to say what the EPA employee wants to hear, and you have to be in good standing with the community. Therefore there is every incentive to make sure you are siding with the liberal establishment whether you know it is false or not. Every scientist who receives government funding or private funding from liberal organizations or trust funds has a l;arge incentive to go along even if they have to cheat to get their results to meet what is expected. Just remember the Piltdown Man and how the whistle blowers were treated for 30 years before the truth came out and they were vindicated.There is no settled science, it is impossible for an honest scientist to say that there are no other conclusions except that man is the cause, that the science is settled, or that they have satisfied the objections of the scientists that disagree. If there is one(only one) case that disproves or makes the hypothesis unproven, then the hypothesis is assumed to be unproven, and AGW has not been proven. It can be, but it has not, and until it has, we shoudl assume it is a flawed “religious belief” instead of a scientific certainty.

Feb 02, 2012 10:00pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
pmagn wrote:
“To Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, that split shows that efforts like Forecast the Facts are misguided.”

No. Its not. The time is passed when we should have called these guys out. This is a profesional body. And the mets who dont agree with the science on GW are either miss informed or have an agenda. The consequences are to high to ignore this.

These guys need to to sort them selves out and become part of the effort to address GW. Cause we have to.

Feb 03, 2012 3:34pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
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