Many Television Weather Forecasters Doubt Global Warming

Survey finds one of four weathermen agree that "global warming is a scam."

April 22, 2010, 11:25 AM

April 22, 2010— -- When it comes to the weather forecast, climate change may be the biggest of them all -- and the stakes are much higher than whether to bring an umbrella.

While most climatologists agree that humans are driving global warming -- literally, in some respects, because of our reliance on fossil fuels -- some of the most trusted names in the weather business don't buy it.

John Coleman, the founder of "The Weather Channel" and the original weatherman on "Good Morning America," has spoken out with his belief that climate change is a myth.

"I love the Earth and I want to come up with alternative energy sources. I want to protect the water and air," Coleman said in a presentation posted on YouTube. "But I know that the Earth is going to be just fine with burning fossil fuels for as long as they last."

"There isn't any climate crisis," he said. "It's totally manufactured."

Other television weathermen tend to doubt that man has anything to do with it. "To think that we could affect weather all that much is pretty arrogant," said CNN weather anchor Chad Myers on a broadcast. "Mother Nature is so big. I think we're going to die from a lack of fresh water or ocean acidification before we die of global warming."

The view is surprisingly common among television meteorologists -- the folks trusted every day to bring you the five-day forecast.

One of three weather forecasters believe climate change is "caused mostly by human activities," according to a recent study from George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin. Out of those surveyed, one in four agreed with the statement, "Global warming is a scam."

All told, barely half the forecasters surveyed actually believe in the science of climate change.

To find out why, "Nightline" turned to one of the most prominent doubters, AccuWeather's Joe Bastardi, who has been a frequent guest on "The O'Reilly Factor," weighing in on the highly-politicized climate change debate.

"Here's what I'm telling people," he said. "Let's see what happens over the next 20 to 30 years. To me, it's a big forecast and the forecast is based on the idea that there are things turning around now, we have the way now to actually measure it. The Earth is going to cool back to where it was in the late '70s by 2030. That's my forecast ..."

Climate Change as a 'Big Forecast'?

Many climatologists, who study weather conditions averaged over time, take issue with Bastardi's analogy of climate change as a "big forecast."

"I think you've got to be careful separating weather with climate," said Heidi Cullen, a research scientist and climatologist at Climate Central, a non-profit in Princeton, N.J., that tries to explain the science of climate change to the public.

Cullen concedes Bastardi is correct that today's instruments are more accurate for measuring nuances in temperature data, but she says the data merely confirm what scientists have long been predicting.

"If you ask a climate scientist, they would say, we can't afford to wait 30 years to do anything," Cullen said.

Also, she notes, there's a fundamental difference between predicting the weather and understanding climate change.

"This is a forecast that we can ultimately change. Your standard five-day forecast is take an umbrella," she said. "With climate change, it's literally to say, if we continue to do the things we're doing this is the forecast we will inherit."

Still, a large section of the public remains skeptical. According to a March Gallup poll, 48 percent of Americans believe global warming is "exaggerated" -- up from 41 percent in 2009.

And a recent study by Yale and George Mason Universities found that 56 percent of Americans trust their weather forecaster to tell them about climate change more than public figures like Al Gore and Sarah Palin on the issue.

Climatologists Fall Short as Public Educators

As for climate change scientists, they freely admit they haven't always been effective spokespeople for their cause.

"I plead guilty. I don't think we've done as good a job as we could have done," said Michael Mann, a climatologist and professor at Penn State University.

Mann is one of the scientists whose private e-mails were hacked and quoted worldwide by climate change skeptics as proof that they were cooking the books and exaggerating the effects of climate change.

The November 2009 scandal, nicknamed "Climategate," threatened to derail the global summit in Copenhagen.

"I think the idea was to clog the works, to sort of engage in a last-minute smear campaign to distract policy makers," Mann said. "It's a smear campaign. Every inquiry that has been done that's looked at it said that these statements are being taken out of context and being used to misrepresent what scientists are actually saying."

A report by the British Parliament's Science and Technology Committee ultimately determined that the science was sound. "There's no serious debate in the scientific community about the reality of human caused climate change," Mann said.

The panel called on climate scientists to be more open in their work. Mann says it's not part of his job to convince Americans that climate change exists.

"I don't see my job as convincing anyone of anything," Mann said. "My job as a scientist is making sure that the public discourse is informed by an accurate understanding of the science."

That may be one reason doubting meteorologists have had such a huge opening to convince the public otherwise.

"When you offer a forecast day in and day out and you're right 95 percent of the time people are going to trust you and that is a beautiful thing," Cullen said.

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