2013-03-18

Co.Exist

The Weather Channel Is Changing The Climate Change Conversation

Everyone’s source for weather news is starting to make sure it is clear with its viewers about what effect changes to the planet’s environment are having on weather patterns.

Climate change will be a political conversation for a long time to come. So how does an organization that reports on the weather insert itself into the debate without getting political? Just take a look at the Weather Company, the parent company of the Weather Channel and Weather Underground.

"We insert climate into every weather story," says David Kenny, CEO of the Weather Company. "We’re scientific journalists. We start with science and try to tell scientifically based stories. It’s not a political point of view."

That means a story about Superstorm Sandy doesn’t just discuss the facts of the storm. It also delves into the science behind it—and how that might relate to climate change. A blog from meteorologist Stu Ostro on Weather Underground, for example, goes into detail on the storm’s path, and then explains how climate change plays a part.

In an on-camera segment on the Weather Channel, he stated the issue plainly: "In the wake of Sandy, there have been two opposite, extreme reactions: either, 'Of course global warming caused it,' or, 'That’s balderdash!' What we need to do take a step back, take a deep breath, and objectively assess what role if any global warming may have played. When we do that, given the storm’s track and meteorological nature, its context amongst other extreme events and patterns in recent years, and what one would expect to see in a warmed climate system and the physical processes involved, a reasonable initial conclusion is that global warming—the changing climate—did contribute to the outcome."

Plenty of people get their weather reports from the Weather Company’s TV shows, apps, and websites. But what about everyone else? TV meterologists have become infamous in recent years for their reticence to discuss climate change—and in some cases, for their lack of belief in climate change at all. One TV storm tracker in San Diego (who also happens to be a co-founder of the Weather Channel) went so far recently as to say that global warming is a "fictional, manufactured crisis."

In fact, the Weather Company provides weather data to many TV meteorologists. These days, the company is also trying to provide climate change facts. "Most meteorologists, if you actually give them the science, they come around," says Kenny. "Most now believe it, but are afraid to talk about it."

The Weather Company does get its share of unpleasant letters from readers and viewers who don’t believe in climate change. So far, it hasn’t cost the company any advertisers. Kenny realizes that doubters will always exist. But presenting the facts to the kind of broad audience that a station like the Weather Channel has can make an impact.

"If you dig in, [climate change] is kind of irrefutable," he says.

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