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Xiaoquan Zhao, Edward Maibach, Jim Gandy, Joe Witte, Heidi Cullen, Barry A. Klinger, Katherine E. Rowan, James Witte, and Andrew Pyle

TV weathercasters are well positioned to educate Americans about the relationships among weather, climate, and climate change. Through a collaboration involving TV meteorologists, climatologists, and social scientists, we produced a series of educational segments to assess the impact of such an education. The educational segments were branded “Climate Matters” and aired over one year during the nightly weather segment on WLTX TV (Columbia, South Carolina). Prior to airing, we conducted a telephone survey of adult TV news viewers in the Columbia media market using random digit dialing (n = 1,068) to establish baseline measures; respondent screening was used to sample approximately equal numbers of WLTX viewers and viewers of competing stations. Approximately one year later, we resurveyed all available members of the baseline cohort (n = 502) and an independent sample of randomly selected residents (n = 910). The longitudinal data showed that—after controlling for baseline measures, demographics, and political orientation—viewers of Climate Matters were more likely to hold a range of science-based beliefs about climate change. A similar pattern of associations was observed in the independent sample. In short, Climate Matters improved the understanding of climate change among local TV viewers in a manner consistent with the educational content. The results of this field experiment suggest that when TV weathercasters educate their viewers about climate change, viewers gain a more science-based understanding of the issue.

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Ashley A. Anderson, Teresa A. Myers, Edward W. Maibach, Heidi Cullen, Jim Gandy, Joe Witte, Neil Stenhouse, and Anthony Leiserowitz

Abstract

Local television (TV) weathercasters are a potentially promising source of climate education, in that weather is the primary reason viewers watch local TV news, large segments of the public trust TV weathercasters as a source of information about global warming, and extreme weather events are increasingly common (Leiserowitz et al.; U.S. Global Change Research Program). In an online experiment conducted in two South Carolina cities (Greenville, n = 394; Columbia, n = 352) during and immediately after a summer heat wave, the effects on global warming risk perceptions were examined following exposure to a TV weathercast in which a weathercaster explained the heat wave as a local manifestation of global warming versus exposure to a 72-h forecast of extreme heat. No main effect of the global warming video on learning was found. However, a significant interaction effect was found: subjects who evaluated the TV weathercaster more positively were positively influenced by the global warming video, and viewers who evaluated the weathercaster less positively were negatively influenced by the video. This effect was strongest among politically conservative viewers. These results suggest that weathercaster-delivered climate change education can have positive, albeit nuanced, effects on TV-viewing audiences.

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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.

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