Climate

Climate Skepticism Has Lost Major Ground Among Weather Experts

CREDIT: Kevin Wolf/AP Images for the Weather Channel

Jim Cantore, The Weather Channel on-camera meteorologist and storm tracker, reports on Winter Storm Jonas in Washington, D.C.

Among climate scientists, there’s a consensus that climate change is real and driven by human activity. Among meteorologists and weathercasters, however, that acceptance of climate science has historically been harder to find. That may have finally changed.

Some 99 percent of U.S. weathercasters — those who communicate weather forecasts on TV or radio, but who aren’t always trained meteorologists — accept the fact that climate change is happening, according to preliminary findings from a George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication study released Thursday. The study, which has yet to go through the peer review process, comes days after George Mason University released a similar survey that shows that some 96 percent of American Meteorological Society members think climate change is real.

Edward Maibach, the lead author of both studies, said the findings are not surprising because the evidence of climate change has been mounting.

“That just directly follows from the fact that the science is getting clearer,” he told ThinkProgress.

Indeed, confidence levels for sea level rise associated with climate change have reached unprecedented levels. On top of that, studies describing the various effects of climate change surface on almost a daily basis. Just this week James Hansen and 18 leading climate experts published a study noting that warming of 2°C (3.6°F) “could be dangerous” to humanity. And earlier this year, a study by the international Anthropocene Working Group argued that the environment has changed so much that the world recently moved into a new geological epoch.

The science is changing attitudes, said Maibach, who has surveyed weathercasters and AMS members in the past. Consequently, the belief system is “moving in the right direction, and it seems to be moving relatively quickly,” said Maibach, adding he’s observed a drop in climate skeptics in both groups.

However, skepticism persists even among AMS members, a group that tends to have more trained weather scientists. In fact, about 18 percent of AMS members attribute climate change mostly — or entirely — to natural events. For weathercasters, that figure is slightly higher — 24 percent, according to the survey. Maibach said that’s natural.

“Once people have an opinion on the way the world works or the way the world is, they tend to relinquish that view only once they have been shown more than ample evidence more than one time,” he said. “So the kind of evolution that we are seeing in meteorologists is the kind of evolution we would expect.”

Maibach said the surveys are good news, especially for public education on climate change. “[Weathercasters] have incredible access to the public, unlike climate scientists,” he said. And weathercasters are increasingly interested in telling their communities about climate change, Maibach added. A program hosted by George Mason University, NASA, and other organizations provides broadcast-ready materials to weathercasters and now has 300 participants, when just a couple of years ago it had only one.

This means more people are getting their weather news from forecasters who want to explain the realities of human-caused climate change. What’s more, “our public survey data shows that the public thinks of TV weathercasters as a trusted source of information about global warming,” Maibach said. And that may be one of the many reasons why a Gallup poll last week reported that 64 percent of adults say they are worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming, up from 55 percent at this time last year.