In a recent survey, it was reported that 67 percent of members of the American Meteorological Society believe that humans are a primary cause of climate change, a number that matches largely with popular belief. However, when asked whether they believed that climate change was “largely or solely caused by human activity,” only 27 percent agreed. Though to some the disparity in these results may seem surprising, it’s not wholly unjustifiable.
An article published recently in Slate offers potential reasons for this low number. One reason draws on the fact that, in many cases, meteorologists may actually have no formal schooling in meteorology; rather, they are merely trained to speak in front of a camera. As such, some meteorologists may be more ignorant on the topic of climate change as a whole. In fact, only 32 percent of respondents to the original survey held a bachelor’s degree or greater in meteorology and only 37 percent considered themselves experts in climate science.
Another given reason is a sort of self-censorship derived from the unwillingness of meteorologists to isolate viewers who are politically divided – the topic of climate change, though a scientific issue at its core, has developed into a politically charged one. Conversely, the meteorologists themselves might showcase a bias towards their own ideological inclinations; conservative meteorologists like James Spann and Roy Spencer regularly express their doubt about climate change.
The situation can cause detrimental influence, and meteorologists who are skeptical of climate change, unfortunately, have many proponents. Spann has more than 250,000 Twitter followers and Spencer occasionally testifies in front of Congress.
Various groups are springing to action in order to rectify the situation. For instance, Climate Central designed the Climate Matters program and WxShift website to educate television meteorologists on the link between weather and climate science. The former reaches 300 of the 2,200 television meteorologist nationwide, and that reach is growing. The outcome of such programs, audience members listening to educated meteorologists, certainly seems positive and will, hopefully, work towards presenting a more accurate conception of the reality.
The situation, however, is not as simple as it appears. The lack of acceptance of the reality of climate change among meteorologists does not spring only from ignorance. Thus, it cannot be removed only through education.
Take, for example, the political ideologies that can influence someone’s views on climate change. The politically charged nature of the issue makes people reluctant to discuss it and can lead to the refusal to adopt new ideas, which hinders the effect of education. Apart from meteorologists who are apparently skeptical of the climate change due to their political views, those that choose a middle ground in order to appeal to viewers are hard to blame. An argument for these neutral meteorologists would be that, when there is already a good deal of misinformation presented by the media, there is nothing morally wrong with presenting more ambiguous information on the climate change.
Above all, the most significant problem in the issue is the matter of freedom of speech. That idea that climate change is caused mainly by humans is the opinion of the majority and more than 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists share this point of view. In the case that the education of meteorologists on climate science does not change their opinion, we are hardly justified in censoring meteorologists who have different perspectives, biased as they may be. As for neutral meteorologists, unless they voluntarily consent to spread their opinion, currently there is no legitimate force demanding them to sacrifice their viewership for nature.
While I believe that the bias as well as the indifference of meteorologists is harmful and that such meteorologists should be more responsible for their opinions, I accept that the situation is troublesome due to the freedom of expression.
Although it is illegitimate for the Federal Government to create a consensus among the meteorologists, some of these meteorologists continue to spread their ignorance to their viewers. As such, it is paramount that meteorologists become educated on climate science so that they can foster and maintain an educated public.
My Khe Nguyen ’19 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Her major is undeclared.