Is climate change a serious threat to humanity or a scam trumped up by agenda-minded activists?
Even the nation's TV weathercasters can't agree on that scientific dilemma, according to the largest survey of the profession to date released Monday by George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication.
The majority — 63 percent — say global warming is caused "mostly by natural changes in the environment" compared with 31 percent who blamed the phenomenon on "human activities." More than a quarter said they agreed that the phenomenon is "a scam."
Another 48 percent said global warming should be a "low" priority for President Obama and Congress; one out of three felt is should be given "medium" priority; 23 percent felt is was of "high" importance.
The group is well aware of dissent in the research community as well: Sixty-one percent said there is "a lot of disagreement among scientists" about the issue.
But should climate change and global warming be a subject for their own broadcast coverage? Two-thirds said yes — though three-fourths also felt the subject was better suited for online discussions, "as many report concern about audience 'backlash,'" the survey said.
Some prominent weathermen, however, are not buying into the theory.
John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel and a forecaster on KUSI in San Diego, has called global warming a "hoax" and "bad science" — a case that garnered public attention after some scientists were caught manipulating data to suit and environmental agenda.
"We are already suffering from this CO2 silliness in many ways," Mr. Coleman said. "Our energy policy has been strictly hobbled by no drilling and no new refineries for decades. We pay for the shortage this has created every time we buy gas.
"On top of that, the whole thing about corn-based ethanol costs us millions of tax dollars in subsidies. That also has driven up food prices. And, all of this is a long way from over."
AccuWeather senior forecaster Joe Bastardi is another high-profile skeptic. "Common sense dictates that a trace gas needed for life on the planet would not be the cause for destroying life on the planet. Common sense dictates that what has happened before without man can happen again with man," Mr. Bastardi said. "Common sense would dictate that you not believe me, or any one else, but go look for yourself."
AccuWeather — which provides local forecasts for the entire nation and more than 2 million locations worldwide — stands behind a lively, reasonable discourse.
"We urge all scientists and members of the public to engage in the global warming discussion, including AccuWeather.com's experts. We encourage our scientists to express their personal views without the constraint of a corporate position they must follow," the company says in a position statement.
The audience appears to be waiting.
"Our surveys of the public have shown that many Americans are looking to their local TV weathercaster for information about global warming," says Edward Maibach, director of the climate center at George Mason and lead investigator for the new survey.
"The findings of this latest survey show that TV weathercasters play — or can play — an important role as informal climate change educators."
The survey found that 87 percent discussed climate change at community speaking events or in on-air banter with news anchors; only 37 percent addressed the topic during their forecast — mostly due to time constraints. The TV weathercasters also want to be fair: Seventy-nine percent said global warming broadcast segments must reflect "a balance of viewpoints."
Personal opinions are still a work in progress.
The survey also found that 54 percent of the forecasters agreed that "global warming is happening," though 25 percent disagreed with the idea and 21 percent were unsure. Almost half said they needed a lot more information before forming "a firm opinion."
The survey of 1,373 TV weathercasters was conducted throughout January and February; the study was funded by the National Science Foundation. The findings can be seen at www.climatechangecommunications.org.
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