Monday, 21 March 2011

Has 'Climate-gate' changed the AGW forecast amongst TV weather-casters?

A new study from Washington's George Mason University has thrown a revealing light onto just how damaging the storm around 'Climate-gate', which hit at the tail-end of 2009, may have been - particularly in affecting opinion-formers' views on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). At the time, much negative commentary in the media surrounded the leaking of stolen private emails, which were sent between climate scientists in the UK and the US. Many sought to claim that these emails proved a measure of deception from the scientists involved - and even put into doubt the validity of AGW.

Subsequent independent investigations have exonerated the scientists involved, with nothing more threatening than a certain over-defensiveness by them – not surprising, in the face of relentless pressure from the climate-change skeptic community. The basic science of AGW still stands. But how did the story play out within the wider community?

Answering that question was the aim of this new research, a combined study conducted between the Climate Change Communication and Social Science Research Centers. It surveyed a broad sample of television weather-casters, across the US, when the media furore was at its height. Questions were asked about their knowledge of, and opinions on, the issues surrounding Climate-gate. Published results in the Bulletin of the American Meteorology Society showed that, of those aware of the story, 42% felt more skeptical that global warming was in fact happening – presumably because of the issues raised by the controversy.

One of the researchers, Ed Maibach, sees this as worrying, given the importance of TV weather forecasters in leading public opinion on climate change issues. He said “most members of the public consider television weather reporters to be a trusted source of information about global warming”. Other surveys of American public opinion have seen global warming slip down the list of peoples major concerns.

This all goes to reinforce how quickly rational scientific debate be overwhelmed by an emotionally powerful competing story – which Climate-gate certainly was. Further research is now being conducted by the same unit, into how TV weather-casters can help educate their audiences, on the links between weather events and broader climate change issues. Maibach is hopeful that weather-casters can have an important positive role to play in this area. This all goes to show – the need to focus on a proper telling of the AGW story has probably never been more important.