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Advocacy campaign takes aim at on-air climate skeptics

NEW ORLEANS – A new campaign aimed at exposing television weathercasters who present discredited climate science information to viewers has sparked a growing storm within the meteorological community. Supporters of the initiative, known as “Forecast the Facts,” say it’s time to confront TV weathercasters who misinform their audiences about the link between climate change and human activities.

Working with the public, Forecast the Facts is compiling a list of names - up to 52 as of January 25 - of “climate deniers” among the ranks of TV weathercasters, as well as the controversial climate science statements they have made on the air or on their station’s websites.

The campaign, which is sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters, 350.org, and the Citizen Engagement Lab, has been the subject of much discussion here during this week’s annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). The AMS is the largest scientific organization representing thousands of meteorologists -- including many TV weathercasters -- and Forecast the Facts called on the AMS to issue an updated, more strongly worded statement on global warming.

The society’s current statement, approved in 2007, states that human activities are helping to cause the planet to warm. The AMS is in the process of drafting a statement that incorporates more recent scientific findings, but the new draft was not ready to be approved during the annual meeting. AMS executive director Keith Seitter told Climate Central that the final language is being ironed out, but that the drafting committee has not delayed approval due to political pressure, as Forecast the Facts claimed.

On its website, Forecast the Facts cites the findings of a 2010 survey by George Mason University, which found 63 percent of TV weathercasters believe global warming is due mainly to natural causes. This differs from the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists. Approximately 98 percent of climate scientists agree that human activities are contributing to global warming.

Forecast the Facts’ website lays out the group’s goals, stating: “Viewers tuning in to their weather report deserve to be told the truth about climate change, and the Forecast the Facts campaign aims to make sure that happens. Our goal is nothing short of changing how the entire profession of meteorology tackles the issue of climate change.”

Daniel Souweine, chief of staff for Forecast the Facts, said his group is trying to give voice to thousands of people who want to receive truthful information about climate science, and balance the fact that some TV weathercasters are frequently using their access to the airwaves to spread error-riddled information. He said he sees his role as “amplifying the voice of those who really want the [climate] science talked about.”

He rejected the criticism leveled against the campaign, saying that constructive engagement with climate skeptics should continue, and that he was open to new approaches. “I believe in dialogue and democracy . . . but there are times when those things fail and you also have to bring accountability into the mix.” Souweine said they are relying on meteorologist’s public statements, and aren’t “digging very deep” into their lives. “We’re actually just publishing what we think is pretty incredible that people say on air, and we’re letting the American public know that this happens on air.”

But the group’s confrontational tactics are not earning them many fans within the meteorology community, even among those who recognize the reality of manmade global warming. Seitter called the campaign’s approach “counterproductive,” and said there is a need for dialogue and engagement – not confrontation – between meteorologists and climate scientists who have differing viewpoints.

“How do we have discussions that don’t become contentious? I think that’s the real key,” Seitter said. “Trying to cast this as a very polarized situation is in fact polarizing it, rather than bringing people together and really working through where there are disagreements.”

NOTE: Andrew Freedman is a member of the American Meteorological Society.