Fully 25% of TV weathercasters believe global warming is
not happening, according to a new
study from George Mason University
and the University
of Texas on climate
change and local news. Fifty four percent of weathercasters believe global
warming is happening, and 21% are unsure.
Those numbers vary dramatically from the beliefs of climate
scientists, who focus on longer-term weather patterns and see the global
warming issue as much more serious.
The study's authors say local weather personnel are playing
an increasingly significant role in informing the public about climate change
and global warming. Dubbed "A National Survey of Television Meteorologists
About Climate Change: Preliminary Findings," the study surveyed all broadcast
TV members of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association.
The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, got 571 responses. The vast majority were local weather personnel, with a much smaller number of network meteorologists responding too.
"Our surveys of the public have shown that many Americans
are looking to their local TV weathercaster for information about global
warming," says Edward Maibach, director of George Mason's Center for Climate
Change Communication. "The findings of this latest survey show that TV
weathercasters play-or can play-an important role as informal climate change
The study ended up on the front page of the New York
Times today (March 30), the paper suggesting a substantial difference of
opinion between the extensively educated climatologists and the TV
meteorologists who focus more on short-term patterns and forecasts.
"A recent survey showed that more than 96% of leading
climate scientists are convinced that global warming is real and that human
activity is a significant cause of the warming," says Maibach. "Climate
scientists may need to make their case directly to America's weathercasters, because
these two groups appear to have a very different understanding about the
scientific consensus on climate change."
The study showed that 87% of respondents had discussed
climate change as part of their duties, but most of those discussions took
place in community speaking events, not on air. Only 37% of weathercasters
discussed the topic in their on-air segments, though 49% did so during anchor
Two-thirds of the respondents (66%) said they are interested
in reporting on climate change. Just over 31% of those who believe global
warming is happening said it was caused primarily by human activity, while
almost 63% said it was caused mostly by natural changes in the environment.
Nearly 40% are "not very worried" about global warming, 34.5% "somewhat
worried," and almost 19% are "not at all worried" about the topic.
With station newsrooms much smaller than in years past, TV
meteorologists are increasingly tackling environmental issues as part of their
job duties. Just over 94% of respondents said their station did not have a
full-time science reporter. "By default, and in many cases by choice, science
stories become the domain of the only scientifically trained person in the
newsroom-weathercasters," said University
of Texas journalism
professor Kristopher Wilson.
On a side note, 81.5% of the study's respondents were male.
As the survey drew from a virtual cross-section of weather personnel
nationwide, the percentage suggests that females remain poorly represented in
the TV weather ranks.