Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Who do people trust to give them accurate information about climate change? Often, it’s their TV weathercaster. In fact, a 2008 survey showed that Americans generally place more faith in the local on-air talent than they do in Al Gore, other politicians, religious leaders, corporations, or the media as a whole, reports Columbia Journalism Review.
“Scientists commanded greater credibility” on climate change issues, the magazine notes, “but only 18 percent of Americans actually know one personally; 99 percent, by contrast, own a television.”
The problem with this state of affairs is twofold: For one thing, most weathercasters aren’t really scientists, and few are experts on climate change. For another, many of them—far more than you might suspect—are skeptics on the issue. CJR reports that in a 2008 survey of 121 meteorologists, a stunning 29 percent of them agreed that global warming was “a scam.” Only 24 percent believed that humans were responsible for most of the climate change over the past 50 years. Half of them were sure this wasn’t true, while another quarter were “neutral” on the issue. As the magazine notes:
This was the most important scientific question of the twenty-first century thus far, and a matter on which more than eight out of ten climate researchers were thoroughly convinced. And three quarters of the TV meteorologists … surveyed believe the climatologists were wrong.
Wow. The article has a tough time putting a finger on why weathercasters are such a doubting lot, but notes that several institutions have launched projects to teach them about basic climatology, a project supported by the field’s professional group, the American Meteorological Society. CJR sums up the spirit of the project: “If viewers are going to assume weathercasters are experts anyway, we might as well try to make them experts.”
Source: Columbia Journalism Review