Convincing media opinion leaders that climate matters

No one will ever convince the US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Scott Pruitt, of the reality of climate change. Well at least while he stays in the pocket of the Koch brothers and the administration as a whole continues to be staffed by former lobbyists who have gone from spreading climate change denial propaganda to being put in charge of decisions on the problem.

However, despite these setbacks there are significant signs of progress on helping Americans see why climate matters. The blog has written before of the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication program which helps television meteorologists to become key sources for climate change information in their community. The Centre also produces regular attitudinal research which demonstrates that the Trump administration climate change denial policies are inconsistent with majority US opinion.

The Center says: “The weathercaster community’s response to Climate Matters thus far has been remarkable. The program started as one-year pilot-test in 2010 with a single weathercaster-Jim Gandy, Chief Meteorologist at WLTX (Columbia, SC)-and has grown into a national program with over 430 participating weathercasters. In the four-year period from 2013 to 2016, on-air reporting about climate change by weathercasters increased over 1,200%, and continues to increase.” For more details on the program see an article by Dr Edward Maibach in Scientia.

The success illustrates three points. First, a significant number of US TV weathercasters still have at last some scientific background; second, not all of them – despite some common misconceptions – are like Nicole Kidman in To Die For or the Brazilian weather presenters who spend as much time as possible either with their back to the camera or side on; and, third, despite the efforts of the climate denialists the truth is out there.

The Center now plans to build on this foundation by extending the program to newsrooms – probably not that of Fox News of course – through focus on local reporting. For Australians it is easy to forget that some US State and local media markets are bigger than those in our capital cities so the program has the capacity to be very influential. And if you doubt the viability of much local US media just remember that Warren Buffet has been busily buying them up which the blog takes as a strong indication that such outlets have a profitable future.

“Our aim is to increase the quality and quantity of local reporting on climate change science, impacts and solutions,” it says. “With our long-time partners (Climate Central, American Meteorological Society, NOAA, and NASA), our new partners (Climate Communication, Radio Television Digital News Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Society of Environmental Journalists, and The Carole Kneeland Project), and with grant support from the National Science Foundation, over the next three years we will conduct research to better understand how to support journalists reporting on climate change, and will provide journalists with Climate Matters reporting resourcing to facilitate their reporting.”

As one of the partners, Keith Seitter, American Meteorological Society Executive Director said: “We’ve long championed effective science reporting by weathercasters. The Climate Matters program has helped hundreds of our members report more effectively on climate change and on its impacts in their media markets. We’re delighted that these reporting resources will now be offered to other journalists.”

In a more concentrated market such as Australia it would be difficult to replicate the program particularly given the Murdoch domination of capital city print media and, perhaps after forthcoming media law changes, much of electronic media as well. These outlets will continue to be platforms for not only climate denialists but also wild-eyed proponents of the existence of global Marxist conspiracies such as Maurice Newman.

How effective the Murdoch media is however, other than in preaching to the converted, is cast into doubt given the 2016 Federal election result outcome in Sydney’s western suburbs and the recent British general election. Moreover, how toxic they have become in some markets, is illustrated by the recent UK Tory Government decision to refer the proposed Murdoch takeover of Sky News to the Competition and Markets Authority. Significantly the reference will look not only at competition issues but also the group’s commitment to broadcasting and editorial standards in the UK and the US. It would never have happened in Thatcher’s day and certainly not in Australia under the Turnbull Government.

The CMA has six months to come to a decision but it might be able to save some time on the broadcasting standards issue by cutting and pasting from Leveson and, at the same time, avoiding the faulty memories and managerial obfuscation and jargon the male Murdoch family members served up to that enquiry.

Meanwhile, on the other hand the ABC and others mean that Australia already has a significant number of media outlets which ensure that climate change does get significant coverage whether it be in terms of energy policy or the fate of the Great Barrier Reef – much to the chagrin of much of our current government.