Extreme Temperature Diary-March 26, 2018/ Topic: Communicate But Don’t Equivocate

 Monday March 26th… Dear Diary. The main purpose of this ongoing post will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials)😊. Here is today’s main climate change related topic: 

Communicate But Don’t Equivocate

This topic is near and dear to my heart having witnessed the slow, grinding evolution of climate change communication at my former place of business, The Weather Channel, from  the 1980s to the 2010s. I was never an on camera meteorologist but did work and cajole for relating climate change information on air to the public particularly after the turn of the century. Many people with science degrees in meteorology who got on camera didn’t accept climate science, or at least thought that there were two sides to the argument even until this day. I found it fascinating that there was much reluctance to relate the “taboo” subject of climate change during weather segments not only at TWC but in just about every local TV market across the United States long after the science was accepted by the Americam Meteorological Society, while simultaneously major newspaper outlets, such as the New York Times, freely printed global warming related material. For example, climate change has been addressed for a very long time in Time:

Anyone reporting news on TV considers themselves to be a good journalist relating the best and most honest apparent facts, or at least this is a goal. Skirting around the big news elephant in the room because the very presentation of it might offend a group of people is never a good practice. Nevertheless, as one former vice president would put it, the truth can be inconvenient, particular in regards to an existential civilization threat like climate change requiring whole scale lifestyle changes for mitigation. Rather than point too many fingers and lay blame for the disconnect between printed and visual communication, the best positive course of action would be to advise others what to do going forward knowing there is precious little time to correct the climate problem as of 2018.

The first thing for my colleagues in the field of meteorology need to do is recognize that the climate change issue is settled. There are no more sides to the issue, and those wanting a debate are usually asking for false equivalency. Last week I applauded what John Morales, an OCM broadcasting in Florida, said in a letter:

False equivalency does NOT support science. Disservices us, our purpose as scientists, the listeners, viewers, students & future generation.
Hats off (again) to

I’m going to post John’s letter here from Dan Satterfield’s Wildwildscience piece:

Here’s the response from John Morales:

Mr. Mora,

I’m going to respond the only way I know how to: speaking frankly.

I have serious misgivings about this. The Heartland Institute is actively working to keep Americans confused on the state of the science of climate change. Just last year they sent a mass mailing to K-12 teachers across the U.S. looking to instill doubt in the teaching of the science. Their position goes against the overwhelming scientific consensus that the globe is unequivocally warming and that it is extremely likely that humans are causing it. And while it’s important for scientists to be skeptics, Mr. Taylor is *not* a scientist. He is an attorney, with *one* course (the only one Dartmouth offers) in meteorology. Natalia Lever, on the other hand, is a biologist with additional training in sustainability.

Having FIU give equal footing in a “debate” to a Heartland Institute Juris Doctor is, in my opinion, a *disservice* to the journalists and editors in the audience. It only perpetuates what has been a huge problem with the press: False Balance. Also known as False Equivalency, it occurs when reporters, in their zeal to file a “balanced” news story, provide equal footing to fringe views that are overwhelmingly negated by the weight of the evidence.

So, I respectfully decline your invitation to serve as moderator. And I hope you’ll reconsider the entire premise of having this non-scientist with a clear political agenda “debate” the science of climate change as it relates to extreme weather events. Perhaps you can find a slot for him to present, as opposed to debate, which would still give him an opportunity to speak.

I would be happy to participate in your workshop in other ways. Since it’s designed for journalists, I would be happy to provide a short training on the scientific method, and how to properly cover science in media. I also have several talks prepared on climate, including my visit to the Arctic in 2016.

I’m sure this wasn’t the response you were expecting, and for that I’m sorry. But I feel strongly that we must find ways to improve scientific literacy in the Americas, and especially in the United States. The Keynote Conversation you propose would not serve that purpose well at all.

With respect,

John Morales, CBM, CCM

AMS Fellow Chief Meteorologist
WTVJ NBC 6, Miami


To put false equivalency another way I’ll also post Dan’s cartoon, which is spot on:

Courtesy of Danny Satterfield’s friend John Cook’s Skeptical Science website. Danny Satterfield will be posting about some new research John Cook has published soon.

Second, more training for those who are willing to present climate science on air should be a top priority. This goes for TV producers as well. Actually, since 2010 Climate Central in an effort headed by Bernadette Woods Placky has done a marvelous job training OCMs. She left me this note last evening:

“Honestly, Guy, we’ve come a long way in the broadcast met community. That’s what I focus my attention on and the growth of numbers and use of met actually talking about climate change and making appropriate connections in their on air and online feeds has been great. We have come a long way, but still have more work to do! Climate Matters s now expanding to newsrooms and we are engaging with media orgs such as RTDNA, NABJ, NAHJ, and SEJ to do workshops, presentations, and offer them our content.”

Jim O’Donnell has written a great article about this new breed of climate change science educated OCM:

Here is an excerpt from Jim’s fine article that I ask all to read in its entirety on education: 

Responsibility to Educate:

For years, TV meteorologists were hesitant to talk about climate change. Climatological views — the long-term trends and patterns that influence weather — were not part of their education. Their time on air is limited. Some stations may discourage climate change talk. Many meteorologists simply feel it isn’t their responsibility. And some are concerned about how it might affect their ratings and job security.

“Audiences trust their local meteorologists,” says Mike Nelson, chief meteorologist at Denver7, an ABC affiliate in Colorado. “Our jobs depend on that trust. Meteorologists understand this, and some tend to stay away from controversial subjects.”

But that won’t do anymore, says Nelson. “We are as close to a scientist as most Americans will ever get. People invite us into their living rooms. We have a responsibility to educate them on the facts.”

In 2010 several meteorologists joined Climate Central, George Mason and Yale universities, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the American Meteorological Society in a pilot project to explore how broadcast meteorologists could better communicate climate change. Two years later, Climate Central launched Climate Matters as a full-time, national program to help meteorologists talk about climate change in and with their communities.“

We need more people connecting the dots about how climate change is already affecting people and will continue to do so in the future,” says Bernadette Woods Placky, Climate Central chief meteorologist and director of Climate Matters. By linking local impacts to larger changes, Climate Matters aims to empower people to prepare for impacts like heat waves, flooding, elevated food prices and health situations. “We are a resource to help meteorologists tell their local story,” says Woods Placky.


Local tv meteorologists can and should be talking about this as these are not isolated incidents! Inevitably every meteorologist will have to address the connection btwn climate change and extreme weather, and the sooner the better. 

One thing to avoid in the fight to change hearts and minds is coercion, which is a grey area psychologically leading to mixed results. In this case a good climate scientist, Dr. Heidi Cullen, in 2007 suggested that standards be set for all on air mets: https://cei.org/blog/heidi-cullens-modest-proposal

The blowback was intense from her suggesting that AMS Seal of Approvals be linked to education on AGW. From the article:

“[In a blog post a few weeks ago, Ms. Cullen scolded a fellow meteorologist, who declined to lecture viewers about global warming, noting how the issue had been “politicized” and that, given the cyclical nature of weather patterns, he was unsure what “generalizations” could be inferred from the warming trend of recent times.

I admire her colleague for his lack of political and intellectual pretension. But Cullen found it unacceptable, and proposed a remedy: “If a meteorologist has an AMS Seal of Approval, which is used to confer legitimacy to TV meteorologists, then meteorologists have a responsibility to truly educate themselves on the science of global warming.” She elaborated: “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.”

Many bloggers instantly denounced Cullen for proposing to decertify meteorologists who don’t espouse global warming alarmism. She denied doing any such thing, and if we consider only the letter of her remarks, that is correct. However, she did propose that the AMS establish what amounts to a global warming litmus test for meteorologists seeking AMS certification. And given the importance professional societies put on continuing education, it is hard to see how in practice Cullen’s proposal would not threaten the credentials of meteorologists who are skeptical about the alleged perils of global warming.]”

Dr. Cullen left TWC to found Climate Central and the rest is history for this decade. If Dr. Cullen had waited to make this same proposal during a warmer 2018 would many meteorologists now balk? Perhaps. This writer does want standards and was saddened to see so many colleagues stubbornly holding to their climate change doubt views in the name of freedom of speech a decade ago. At some point the view of the public in the not too distant future will be when someone suggests that nothing be done about AGW, it will be like shouting fire in a crowded theater, which of course is illegal if there is no conflagration.

Lastly, let me get into the sticky subject of addressing those like Joe Bastardi, who continue to deny that climate change is occurring due to carbon pollution or is a major problem. In Ferdinand Magellan’s time and for about the next century there were many “willfully ignorant ,” even laughable people who were flat Earthers. I propose that while exposing these characters via science they be ignored in media. Remember, unfortunately, in time the planet will grow hotter and sea level will continue to rise. No one will be taking AGW denialists seriously by 2030 at the latest looking at current trends. There numbers will dwindle. 

Remember that in World War II Americans shortened the conflict by targeting strategic areas while “island hopping,” not fighting Japanese troops on every single atole? At some point to win this climate war concrete measures are going to, by necessity, be accepted by all of humanity. This means that those arguing the other side will need to be ignored just like those unengaged, isolated Japanese garrisons of so long ago. Mr. Morales realizes this. Keep the eye on the prize of preventing  average planetary temperatures to rise above +2.0C of preindustrial conditions and not waste energy on tit for tat, useless false equivalent debates.

Dear Diary. I have an addendum to this post. Dan Satterfield has added some related comments on social media, which I will share:

“There really was a revolution around 2010. I noticed it and others did as well. The science just finally reached the point that all the skeptical claims were gone.”
“At the last few broadcast conferences, I have talked to very few who have doubts. Those that still do frequently have no degree. Bud Ward ran several weekend mini conferences that I was involved in and they allowed mets to ask good questions. Many changed minds after those.”
“Then climate central stepped in. Now, no broadcast met will go on air claiming the sun is responsible or that the warming is natural or we are just coming out the ice age. If they do, they would get slaughtered by a mountain of science showing they are wrong.”
“The problem now is that too many mets in red states are just quiet about it. Some may be skeptics but unconsciously they know pushing something seen on a blog like WUWT will end badly. As it should. Sadly, if they put the real science on air, it would help them, not hurt.”
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The Climate Guy

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