With additional reporting by Jerry Bader
A non-profit group is attempting to bring Climate Change to mainstream media. And the effort appears to be responsible for a shift in TV meteorologists attitudes on global warming. While the subject of Climate Change is itself a debated topic, the liberally funded non-profit group Climate Central stands out as a front-runner of climate change advocacy in media recognition and appearances. The group has even picked up the recognition of NBC, who speculates that the viewers understanding of Climate Change could be heavily influenced if forecasters continue to seek guidance from groups like Climate Central.
According to their website, Climate Central is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey which began in 2008. Their mission statement reads, “Communicate the science and effects of climate change to the public and decision-makers,” and they boast appearances of their content on many mainstream news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, NBC, PBS, and the National Public Radio to name a few. The group also lists “no advocacy” as a value of the organization detailing that, “We advance no specific policy, legislation, or technology to address climate change. We are scrupulously non-partisan:” However many of the donors that fund the group are liberal leaning.
While the group boasts its many contributions to mainstream media, it is not without criticism. In 2007, the now-Chief Science Adviser for Climate Central, Heidi Cullen, made news after she suggested on a blog that meteorologists that don’t agree with climate change should have their American Meteorological Society certification revoked. Cullen made the comment when she worked for The Weather Channel:
“If a meteorologist can’t speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn’t give them a Seal of Approval. Clearly, the AMS doesn’t agree that global warming can be blamed on cyclical weather patterns.
“It’s like allowing a meteorologist to go on-air and say that hurricanes rotate clockwise and tsunamis are caused by the weather. It’s not a political statement…it’s just an incorrect statement.”
More recently, NBC reported
that senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, James Lankford, and Jim Inhofe, called for an investigation of National Science Foundation grants saying, “the federal agency had ventured beyond science and into political advocacy, particularly with its support of a program to encourage TV weathercasters to report on global warming.” The program in question by the senators is run by Climate Central, which produces content
for TV meteorologists which has grown to include more than 300 local TV meteorologists who routinely reach millions of viewers:
Unlike climate scientists, TV meteorologists have unparalleled access to their communities. Through Climate Matters
, Climate Central provides regularly produced content on the relationship between weather and climate. Our team of data analysts, meteorologists, climate experts, graphic artists and journalists create graphics, text, animations, videos and research
to aid TV weathercasters in presenting science-rooted climate information in clear, concise and relevant ways.
The Washington Post
reported that evidence of Climate Central’s influence on the mainstream media can be seen not just during climate related segments, but more subliminally in what meteorologists are wearing, such as ties, pins or necklaces that show colored stripes “to show how the planet has warmed since the late 1800s.”
According to the Washington Post
, the pattern of stripes was developed by Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading in Britain, which was popularized by Jeff Berardelli
, a broadcast meteorologist for the CBS. It was noted in the article that Berardelli used his social network and the help of Climate Central
, to spread awareness of the tie-wearing initiative.
Furthermore, NBC reported
that that he number of stories on global warming by TV meteorologists has, “increased 15-fold over five years, according to data from the Center for Climate Change Communication
at George Mason University,” largely in part because of Climate Central. The article also noted that the stories will only continue to increase, “If the trend continues this year, there will be more than a thousand stories that touch on climate delivered during local TV weathercasts, up from just 55 such climate stories in 2012.”
While the stories about climate change have been increasing due in part by Climate Central’s influence, so has the reported number of meteorologist who believe in climate change. According to the Washington Post
, on a 2015 survey of broadcast meteorologists found that:
More than 90 percent of 464 broadcast meteorologists who responded to a 2015 survey agree climate change is happening and, of those, 74 percent believe human activity is at least half responsible, states “A National Survey of Broadcast Meteorologists About Climate Change: Initial Findings”, from the George Mason University (GMU) Center for Climate Change Communication
When Media Trackers attempted to get comment from television meteorologists about Climate Central they either didn’t respond or told us their management would not allow them to talk about it on the record. One agreed to have their comments published on the condition that we not identify them, or the state in which they work:
This meteorologist was not previously familiar with Climate Central’s work but reviewed it at our request. This person shared several observations:
“We are changing, no doubt. While there are always fluctuations over time, temperatures are rising, especially since the 1970’s.”
But our source also said it appeared that Climate Central, like many in the global warming debate, selected specific time frames, facts and statistics most favorable to support the theory that the rise in temperature is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. They also pointed out that Climate Central clearly tailored the presentation of its information in a way that would be attractive to TV weather personalities, such as how the average NFL kickoff temperature has risen in recent decades.
Our source also noticed how Climate Central focused on key urban areas; specifically, Houston and Phoenix. They pointed out that there are ground level factors that contribute to urban areas being hotter: more concrete surface and more people than sparsely populated areas.” They also pointed out that temperatures in large urban areas are often several degrees warmer than those reported in surrounding suburbs. Our source does not discount the theory that greenhouse gases are a cause of the warming but said: “my opinion on this is evolving too. We have so much more to learn.” Our source believes both sides in the global warming debate are guilty of manipulating data and facts to their advantage.