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Kristin M. F. Timm, David Perkins, Teresa Myers, Bernadette Woods Placky, and Edward W. Maibach

Abstract

Television weathercasters are uniquely situated to inform their audiences about the local impacts of global climate change and a growing number of them are adopting the role of climate change educator. We surveyed all American broadcast meteorology professionals in 2015 (N = 2,059; response rate = 22.6%), 2016 (N = 2017; response rate = 31.2%), and 2017 (N = 2,177; response rate = 22.1%) to assess weathercasters’ interest in reporting about climate change; if, where, and how they report about climate change; and the reactions they get from their audiences when they do. Many participating weathercasters indicated that they were moderately or very interested in reporting about climate change, especially using local historical climate information (56%). Just over half of the weathercasters (57.9%) had used one or more communication mode to inform their viewers, or other people in their community, about the local impacts of climate change in the prior year. The most commonly used modes were social media (42.7%), school visits (36.3%), community events (33.1%), and on-air broadcasts (31.3%). Most weathercasters who had reported about climate change on air indicated they received either positive viewer feedback or little feedback (61.9%); conversely, weathercasters who had not reported about climate change expected to receive mostly negative feedback (44.2%). In sum, this analysis suggests that large numbers of weathercasters have adopted the role of climate change educator in their communities; they use a range of communication modes to share climate change information with their audiences and receive mostly positive feedback from their audiences when they do.

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Irina Feygina, Teresa Myers, Bernadette Placky, Sean Sublette, Tammie Souza, John Toohey-Morales, and Edward Maibach

Abstract

A rapidly growing number of TV weathercasters are reporting on the local implications of climate change, although little is known about the effectiveness of such communication. To test the impact of localized climate reporting, we conducted an internet-based randomized controlled experiment in which local TV news viewers (n = 1,200) from two American cities (Chicago and Miami) watched either three localized climate reports or three standard weather reports featuring a prominent TV weathercaster from their city; each of the videos was between 1 and 2 min in duration. Participants’ understanding of climate change as real, human-caused, and locally relevant was assessed with a battery of questions after watching the set of three videos. Compared to participants who watched weather reports, participants who watched climate reports became significantly more likely to 1) understand that climate change is happening, is human-caused, and is causing harm in their community; 2) feel that climate change is personally relevant and express greater concern about it; and 3) feel that they understand how climate change works and express greater interest in learning more about it. In short, our findings demonstrate that watching even a brief amount of localized climate reporting (less than 6 min) delivered by TV weathercasters helps viewers develop a more accurate understanding of global climate change as a locally and personally relevant problem, and offer strong support for this promising approach to promoting enhanced public understanding of climate change through public media.

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Teresa A. Myers, Edward W. Maibach, Bernadette Woods Placky, Kimberly L. Henry, Michael D. Slater, and Keith L. Seitter

Abstract

Climate Matters is a localized climate change reporting resources program developed to support television (TV) weathercasters across the United States. Developed as a pilot test in one media market in 2010, it launched nationwide in 2013; in the autumn of 2019 more than 797 weathercasters were participating in the program. In this paper we present evidence of the impact of the Climate Matters program on Americans’ science-based understanding of climate change. We analyzed three sets of data in a multilevel model: 20 nationally representative surveys of American adults conducted biannually since 2010 (n = 23 635), data on when and how frequently Climate Matters stories were aired in each U.S. media market, and data describing the demographic, economic, and climatic conditions in each media market. We hypothesized that 1) reporting about climate change by TV weathercasters will increase science-based public understanding of climate change and 2) this effect will be stronger for people who pay more attention to local weather forecasts. Our results partially support the first hypothesis: controlling for market-level factors (population size, temperature, political ideology, and economic prosperity) and individual-level factors (age, education, income, gender, and political ideology), there is a significant positive association between the amount of Climate Matters reporting and some key indicators of science-based understanding (including that climate change is occurring, is primarily human caused, and causes harm). However, there was no evidence for the second hypothesis. These findings suggest that climate reporting by TV weathercasters, as enabled by the Climate Matters program, may be increasing the climate literacy of the American people.

Open access
David Perkins, Ed Maibach, Ned Gardiner, Joe Witte, Bud Ward, Bernadette Woods Placky, Keith Seitter, and Heidi Cullen

Abstract

As American Meteorological Society (AMS) members who study Americans’ understanding of climate change and who are engaged in programs to educate Americans about climate change, we want our AMS colleagues to realize their key role in public education. In this article we make the case that 1) AMS members are well positioned to play important leadership roles in educational outreach on climate change, 2) the public wants to learn more about climate change, 3) there is a need for more effective public engagement efforts, and 4) we have successful outreach and educational models that we can start using today.

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Bernadette Woods Placky, Edward Maibach, Joe Witte, Bud Ward, Keith Seitter, Ned Gardiner, David Herring, and Heidi Cullen

Abstract

Local TV meteorologists are optimally positioned to educate the public about the local implications of global climate change: They have high public trust as a source of climate science information, local TV is the #1 source of weather information in America, and most weathercasters have relevant scientific training and excellent communication skills. Surveys show that most TV meteorologists would like to report on climate change, but lack of time, lack of broadcast-quality graphics, and lack of access to appropriate experts are barriers that inhibit such coverage.

With funding from the National Science Foundation and philanthropic foundations, we developed Climate Matters as an educational resources program to help interested local TV meteorologists educate their viewers about the local impacts of global climate change. Currently, the program provides more than 160 participating weathercasters nationwide with weekly localized broadcast-ready graphics and script ideas, short videos, and opportunities for brief (hour-long webinars) and more intensive (day-long seminars) professional development sessions—at no cost to participating weathercasters. We aim to more than double participation in the program over the next several years.

This article will chronicle the development of Climate Matters over the past five years—beginning with a pilot test at a single news station in Columbia, South Carolina, that was shown to be effective at helping viewers better understand climate change and culminating in a comprehensive national educational resource program that is available to all interested weathercasters.

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Edward Maibach, Raphael Mazzone, Robert Drost, Teresa Myers, Keith Seitter, Katharine Hayhoe, Bob Ryan, Joe Witte, Ned Gardiner, Susan Hassol, Jeffrey K. Lazo, Bernadette Placky, Sean Sublette, and Heidi Cullen

Abstract

Findings from the most recent surveys of TV weathercasters—which are methodologically superior to prior surveys in a number of important ways—suggest that weathercasters’ views of climate change may be rapidly evolving. In contrast to prior surveys, which found many weathercasters who were unconvinced of climate change, newer results show that approximately 80% of weathercasters are convinced of human-caused climate change. A majority of weathercasters now indicate that climate change has altered the weather in their media markets over the past 50 years, and many feel there have also been harmful impacts to water resources, agriculture, transportation resources, and human health. Nearly all weathercasters—89%—believe their viewers are at least slightly interested in learning about local impacts. The majority of weathercasters are interested in reporting on local impacts, including extreme precipitation and flooding, drought and water shortages, extreme heat events, air quality, and harm to local wildlife, crops and livestock, and human health; and nearly half had reported on the local impacts in at least one channel over the past 12 months. Thus, it appears that a strong majority of weathercasters are now convinced that human-caused climate change is happening, many feel they are already witnessing harmful impacts in their communities, and many are beginning to explore ways of educating their viewers about these local impacts of global climate change. We believe that the role of local climate educator will soon become a normative practice for broadcast meteorologists—adding a significant and important new role to their job descriptions.

Open access