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Edward Maibach, James Witte, and Kristopher Wilson

Abstract

Television (TV) meteorologists are a potentially important source of informal climate change education in that most American adults watch local TV news and consider TV weather reporters to be a trusted source of global warming information. In January 2010, we used a Web-based survey of TV meteorologists nationwide to assess the impact of “Climategate”—the unauthorized release of, and news stories about, e-mails between climate scientists in the United States and the United Kingdom—on their beliefs about climate change; the response rate was 52%. Most respondents (77%) had followed the story; 42% of those who did indicated it made them more certain that global warming is not happening. Conservatives (57%) were more likely than moderates (43%) and liberals (15%) to endorse this view (χ2 = 49.89, p < 0.001), and those who believed global warming is not happening (74%), or who did not know (46%), were more likely to endorse the view than those who believed it is happening (25%; χ2 = 108.59, p < 0.001). Multivariate analysis showed that political ideology, belief in global warming, and gender each predicted a negative impact of the story, but certifications from professional associations did not. Furthermore, respondents who followed the story reported less trust in climate scientists (2.8 versus 3.2; p < 0.01), and in the IPCC (2.2 versus 2.7; p < 0.01), than those who had not. We conclude that, at least temporarily, Climategate has likely impeded efforts to encourage some weathercasters to embrace the role of climate change educator. These results also suggest that many TV weathercasters responded to Climategate more through the lens of political ideology than through the lens of meteorology.

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David R. Perkins IV, Kristin Timm, Teresa Myers, and Edward Maibach

Abstract

Broadcast meteorologists—highly skilled professionals who work at the intersection between climate scientists and the public—have considerable opportunity to educate their viewers about the local impacts of global climate change. Prior research has shown that, within the broadcast meteorology community, views of climate change have evolved rapidly over the past decade. Here, using data from three census surveys of U.S. broadcast meteorologists conducted annually between 2015 and 2017, is a comprehensive analysis of broadcast meteorologists’ views about climate change. Specifically, this research describes weathercasters’ beliefs about climate change and certainty in those beliefs, perceived causes of climate change, perceived scientific consensus and interest in learning more about climate change, belief that climate change is occurring (and the certainty of that belief), belief that climate change is human caused, perceptions of any local impacts of climate change, and perceptions of the solvability of climate change. Today’s weathercaster community appears to be sharing the same viewpoints and outlooks as most climate scientists—in particular, that climate change is already affecting the United States and that present-day trends are largely a result of human activity.

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Jagadish Thaker, Edward Maibach, Anthony Leiserowitz, Xiaoquan Zhao, and Peter Howe

Abstract

Research on adaptive capacity often focuses on economics and technology, despite evidence from the social sciences finding that socially shared beliefs, norms, and networks are critical in increasing individuals’ and communities’ adaptive capacity. Drawing upon social cognitive theory, this paper builds on the first author’s Ph.D. dissertation and examines the role of collective efficacy—people’s shared beliefs about their group’s capabilities to accomplish collective tasks—in influencing Indians’ capacity to adapt to drinking water scarcity, a condition likely to be exacerbated by future climate change. Using data from a national survey (N = 4031), individuals with robust collective efficacy beliefs were found to be more likely to participate in community activities intended to ensure the adequacy of water supplies, and this relationship was found to be stronger in communities with high levels of community collective efficacy compared to communities with low levels of community collective efficacy. In addition, community collective efficacy was positively associated with self-reported community adaptation responses. Public education campaigns aimed at increasing collective efficacy beliefs are likely to increase adaptive capacity.

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Kristin M. F. Timm, Edward W. Maibach, Maxwell Boykoff, Teresa A. Myers, and Melissa A. Broeckelman-Post

Abstract

The journalistic norm of balance has been described as the practice of giving equal weight to different sides of a story; false balance is balanced reporting when the weight of evidence strongly favors one side over others—for example, the reality of human-caused climate change. False balance is problematic because it skews public perception of expert agreement. Through formative interviews and a survey of American weathercasters about climate change reporting, we found that objectivity and balance—topics that have frequently been studied with environmental journalists—are also relevant to understanding climate change reporting among weathercasters. Questions about the practice of and reasons for presenting an opposing viewpoint when reporting on climate change were included in a 2017 census survey of weathercasters working in the United States (N = 480; response rate = 22%). When reporting on climate change, 35% of weathercasters present an opposing viewpoint “always” or “most of the time.” Their rationale for reporting opposing viewpoints included the journalistic norms of objectivity and balanced reporting (53%), their perceived uncertainty of climate science (21%), to acknowledge differences of opinion (17%), to maintain credibility (14%), and to strengthen the story (7%). These findings show that climate change reporting from weathercasters sometimes includes opposing viewpoints, and possibly a false balance, but further research is necessary. Moreover, prior research has shown that the climate reporting practices among weathercasters are evolving rapidly and so the problem of false-balance reporting may already be self-correcting.

Open access
Allison Engblom, Kristin Timm, Raphael Mazzone, David Perkins, Teresa Myers, and Edward Maibach

Abstract

Most Americans misperceive climate change as distant risk; TV weathercasters can help correct this misperception by reporting on the current local impacts of climate change. Some weathercasters, however, are concerned that such reporting may alienate skeptical viewers. The goal of this study was to develop a better understanding of how viewers respond to climate change information delivered by weathercasters. Interviews were conducted with 30 local TV news viewers in Virginia with divergent views about climate change, categorized as engaged, disengaged, and unconvinced. During the interview, participants were shown two graphics and two videos about the local impacts of climate change. Most participants in all groups [21/30 (70%)] expressed interest in learning about climate change from weathercasters, particularly local and national impacts. Most participants in all three groups understood the key points and responded positively to both the graphics and the videos. Several unconvinced participants (6/10) were disinterested in seeing climate change information in the weather segment, but they were not opposed to it; they felt the weather segment was too short to adequately explain the information. These preliminary findings suggest that most of the local TV news viewers interviewed in this study—even those unconvinced that human-caused climate change is happening—respond positively to TV weathercasters as local climate educators. These findings are consistent with the reports of TV weathercasters who say that when they report on climate change, they receive far more positive than negative feedback from viewers.

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David R. Perkins IV, Teresa Myers, Zephi Francis, Raphael Mazzone, and Edward Maibach

Abstract

This research explores the role of weathercasters as local climate change educators and identifies attributes of those who present climate science to their viewers. In 2015, the authors attempted to survey all television weathercasters currently working in the United States (n = 2128); 478 participated, yielding a 22.5% participation rate. Using logistic regression to identify attributes of weathercasters who report on climate change on-air, it was found that the strongest predictors were participation in Climate Matters (a climate change reporting resource program) (β = 1.01, p < 0.001), personal interest in reporting on climate change (β = 0.93, p < 0.001), age (higher rates of reporting among older weathercasters) (β = 0.301, p < 0.05), and number of climate reporting interests (β = 1.37, p < 0.05). Linear regression was used to identify attributes of weathercasters who showed the most interest in climate change reporting. Weathercasters most interested in reporting about climate change on-air were more certain that climate change is happening (β = 0.344, p < 0.001), were convinced climate change is human caused (β = 0.226, p < 0.001), were older (β = 0.157, p < 0.001), and found the Third National Climate Assessment to be useful (β = 0.134, p < 0.05). Weathercasters who are personally motivated to seek and share broad scientific information, acting as “station scientists,” appear to be those who are also proactive in sharing climate change information. Assisting motivated weathercasters with programs that reduce barriers to climate change education outreach complements their abilities to educate the public regarding climate change science.

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Neil Stenhouse, Allison Harper, Xiaomei Cai, Sara Cobb, Anne Nicotera, and Edward Maibach

Abstract

This article analyzes open-ended survey responses to understand how members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) perceive conflict within the AMS over global warming. Of all survey respondents, 53% agreed that there was conflict within the AMS; of these individuals who perceived conflict, 62% saw it as having at least some productive aspects, and 53% saw at least some unproductive aspects. Among members who saw a productive side to the conflict, most agreed as to why it was productive: debate and diverse perspectives enhance science. However, among members who saw an unproductive side, there was considerable disagreement as to why. Members who are convinced of largely human-caused climate change expressed that debate over global warming sends an unclear message to the public. Conversely, members who are unconvinced of human-caused climate change often felt that their peers were closed-minded and suppressing unpopular views. These two groups converged, however, on one point: politics was seen as an overwhelmingly negative influence on the debate. This suggests that scientific organizations faced with similar conflict should understand that there may be a contradiction between legitimizing all members’ views and sending a clear message to the public about the weight of the evidence. The findings also reinforce the conclusion that attempts by scientific societies to directly address differences in political views may be met with strong resistance by many scientists.

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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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Neil Stenhouse, Edward Maibach, Sara Cobb, Ray Ban, Andrea Bleistein, Paul Croft, Eugene Bierly, Keith Seitter, Gary Rasmussen, and Anthony Leiserowitz

Meteorologists and other atmospheric science experts are playing important roles in helping society respond to climate change. However, members of this professional community are not unanimous in their views of climate change, and there has been tension among members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) who hold different views on the topic. In response, AMS created the Committee to Improve Climate Change Communication to explore and, to the extent possible, resolve these tensions. To support this committee, in January 2012 we surveyed all AMS members with known e-mail addresses, achieving a 26.3% response rate (n = 1,854). In this paper we tested four hypotheses—1) perceived conflict about global warming will be negatively associated, and 2) climate expertise, 3) liberal political ideology, and 4) perceived scientific consensus will be positively associated—with 1) higher personal certainty that global warming is happening, 2) viewing the global warming observed over the past 150 years as mostly human caused, and 3) perception of global warming as harmful. All four hypotheses were confirmed. Expertise, ideology, perceived consensus, and perceived conflict were all independently related to respondents' views on climate, with perceived consensus and political ideology being most strongly related. We suggest that AMS should attempt to convey the widespread scientific agreement about climate change; acknowledge and explore the uncomfortable fact that political ideology influences the climate change views of meteorology professionals; refute the idea that those who do hold nonmajority views just need to be “educated” about climate change; and continue to deal with the conflict among members of the meteorology community.

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