Climate Change Cowardice from Chicago Weather Anchors

I generally enjoy the WTTW PBS program Chicago Tonight, but their guests on Friday made me wonder if I had accidentally turned to Fox News. The program promised “three local weather experts discuss Chicago’s 2012 weather trends: a mild winter, a spring heat wave, and a hot, dry summer.”

The host, Joel Weisman, raised the question of weather patterns gently at first. When none of the guests took the bait, he pushed them more directly by bringing up climate change. The meteorologists reacted as though someone had dropped a turd in the middle of the room. Turning away, throwing up their hands and groaning, it was obviously the last thing they wanted to talk about.

Phil Schwarz of ABC-7 first brought up the “natural cycles” argument that climate change deniers have retreated to since the global trend is now undeniable. He claimed that whether man-made pollutants are causing the problem is the topic of debate.

Next someone suggested that climate trends are regional and that harsh winters in some areas somehow disprove the fact that we’re experiencing a global phenomenon.

I believe it was Jim Allsopp of the National Weather Service who inserted a little knowledge into the discussion by pointing out that climate change causes more extreme weather in all seasons, including winter blizzards and unpredictable spring flooding. At least one person displayed a basic understanding of the issue, even if he didn’t forcefully refute all the nonsense coming from others on the program.

There was no acknowledgement that climate change is a catastrophic problem, much less that there are specific industries most responsible for making it worse.

Well, that kind of pissed me off. I left this message on their blog and Facebook page.

I was very disappointed to hear the meteorologists’ irresponsible and misleading dodge on the climate change issue. It was false to claim that there’s still a debate among scientists about whether the problem is man-made. The scientific community has reached a consensus. It’s only the political world that distorts the issue. Claiming that the question is still unsettled adds to that distortion.

Additionally, suggesting that harsh winters in some areas somehow disprove climate change showed astonishing ignorance.

I understand that anyone who admits the scientific consensus of climate change will be attacked by angry conservatives who whine about liberal bias. But, someone in a public role has an obligation to inform, rather than pander to ignorance. Six Cook County residents have died in the latest heat wave, so far. Illinois crops are suffering drought. Flooding is destroying river communities. This issue has real life and death consequences. Meteorologists with a platform on television become part of the problem when they display the kind of ignorance and cowardice I saw on the program tonight. Honest discussions of climate change should be part of the weather report.

You can see what happens at any online news comment section. Any mention of climate change brings out the horde of conservative Fox/talk-radio listeners, repeating the latest talking points, ranting about Al Gore’s socialist UN conspiracy, and whining about liberal bias. I’m sure they get similar phone calls and emails. Meteorologists are being bullied into silence in the same way that the right has bullied much of the press into self-censoring liberal viewpoints. The right has effectively silenced those who prefer to avoid controversy.

So, I can understand why a television weather anchor would rather keep people happy by not taking sides. The trouble is that, by pretending this is still an open question, they did take sides.

The strategy of the oil and coal industry is not to deny climate change. That’s no longer a defensible position. Instead, their goal is that the science behind it be treated as an unsettled question. They simply want to cast doubt about whether a scientific consensus exists. So, when meteorologists describe the issue of humans contributing to climate change as an uncertainty, they’re parroting the talking points of fossil fuel industry propagandists.

As another online commenter pointed out, the remarks on Chicago Tonight are even out of sync with the consensus of their own profession. The American Meteorological Society, along with 17 other scientific organizations, signed a letter addressed to the U.S. Senate which states:

Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.

This is an issue every television meteorologist must confront. As we face unprecedented heat waves, undeniable trends over the past two decades, more catastrophic storms, hurricanes and flooding, will they choose to ignore the 800 pound elephant in the room?

They must accept that, for people in their position, there’s no safe middle ground. Refusing to speak up about climate change makes them allies of the oil industry campaign to cast doubt on scientific realities and lulls the public into a complacency that delays action. And the costs of delay on this issue are deadly.

© 2012 Willinois. This article is reproduced by permission of the author. All rights reserved.