Airdate: 
Sunday, July 18, 2010 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS One

What should we do to tackle climate change? An unexpected group of people say 'nothing', because the whole thing is a scam.

They're a vocal group of TV weather presenters in the United States, where a survey reveals only 54% of the forecasters actually believe global warming is real.

It's making for a stormy debate between the presenters and climate scientists, with the millions who rely on TV weather forecasts stuck in the middle.

So who's winning the argument?

WATCH - Click here to see Dateline's report from video journalist Ginny Stein.

EXTRA - Read more about the survey undertaken by the George Mason University in Virginia.

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Photo (lightning): Getty

Extra

The research featured in Ginny Stein's report, was carried out by the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

It highlights the major role that climate change issues already take in the lives of TV weather forecasters in the United States... 87% of the 571 people surveyed said they'd already been actively involved in discussing climate change.

But as Ginny's report showed, 46% of them aren't convinced that global warming is real and 27% went as far as agreeing that 'global warming is a scam'. 

79% of the survey participants liked the idea of being seen as 'station scientists', with most of them, 94%, saying their stations had no one else specifically covering science and environmental issues.

The research team says 96% of climate scientists believe global warming is real, and it's concerned about the very different view from the weathercasters surveyed.

It's now planning to produce TV segments for forecasters to use to help explain its take on global warming.

Click here to read the full survey results.

You can also hear more of the opposing view from forecaster Joe Bastardi on his AccuWeather video blog.

Resources

Transcript

As if you didn't know, the Great Global Warming Debate has created predictable adversaries - believers versus sceptics, environmentalists against big business and rich countries versus poor. But in the US, climate scientists have adversaries they might have expected would actually support them - your local TV weathermen! Here's Ginny Stein.

REPORTER: Ginny Stein

Joe Bastardi has a reputation for speaking his mind. He's a former wrestler and a champion body builder.

JOE BASTARDI, METEOROLOGIST: There's a desperation in wrestling that if you could keep it in other things and you understand that all this preparation, all these hours, all come down to one or two minutes. It's like the forecast. All that preparation comes down to one forecast, except you do it every single day.

As a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, one of the world's largest online forecasters, Joe Bastardi's weather predictions are seen by millions.

JOE BASTARDI: Well, AccuWeather has 2.7 million forecast sites that we actually forecast for. So we reach people all over the world, alright. The people who see me on TV, or they see me on the videos - that is just the tip of the iceberg as far as what I do.

This massive audience gets a daily dose of Bastardi's outspoken view - that there's no such thing as man-made global warming.

JOE BASTARDI: Now we know the earth is supposed to be burning up, OK (SINGS) # How can we dance if the earth is burning? # Remember that song? I guess there was a band that did that years ago. Don't ask me why that just came into my mind. When things come into my mind they come out of my mouth. Sometimes I can't help it.

Among his meteorologist colleagues this climate change sceptic is not alone.

KATE BILO: I'm AccuWeather.com's Kate Bilo here with your latest European forecast and let's take a look at what's happening across the continent.

According to the largest survey of US weather forecasters, only half of the men and women paid to predict the weather believe global warming is happening. At George Mason University in Virginia, Ed Maibach is the director of the Climate Centre which conducted the survey.

ED MAIBACH, CLIMATE CENTRE, DIRECTOR: 55% of our respondents believe in climate change, about 25% don't and about 20% haven't yet made up their mind.

What's more, 25% of those surveyed went so far as to describe global warming as a scam.

ED MAIBACH: The fact that the quarter who don't believe are almost entirely people with a conservative political ideology tells me that this has something to do with the fact that we have allowed this to become a political issue as opposed to a scientific issue.

Maibach says forecasters play an important role in influencing opinion about climate change.

ED MAIBACH: The second most-trusted group of professionals with regard to information about global warming is television weathercasters. And 75% of Americans watch the local television news at least a few times a week and their number one motivation, their number one reason for doing so, is to learn about the weather.

JOE BASTARDI: Here's where the temperatures gone. Now, this coincides with what I've been yelling and screaming about, the reversal that is taking place. Well, you say, "Joe, it is going up again". Here you go! Well, guess what? As soon as this PDL changes completely and it is beginning its change, you are going to see it flatten and back off again. And you all know by now where my projections are over the next 20 or 30 years.

REPORTER: You're not just giving forecasts, you are giving commentary, you're talking to people about the weather, though, aren't you?

JOE BASTARDI: Well, I am because I am trying to explain why I put out the forecasts I do. And I always encourage people that listen to me to go look for themselves. I even challenge them don't believe me, simply go look at all sides of the issue especially with the climate debate.

MELANIE, MORNING REPORT: Well, we have some pretty great weather coming up. It's coinciding with the holiday weekend. What more can you ask?

JOE WITTE: That's right. So we are going to have a little thunderstorm activity but it all ends before the holiday weekend. And Melanie, you are right, what else could we ask for, but a beautiful weekend to start the unofficial summer season.

Joe Witte is a weather forecasting veteran with more than 30 years experience. Unlike many of his colleagues, he's no sceptic about climate change - he believes the science is solid.

JOE WITTE: But you also have to remember that people's beliefs in religion or politics or whatever often times shade their thinking and this is a very complicated problem and it is not easy to find answers to. And you have to take time to do that.

He's concerned about the impact that weather forecasters are having on the debate.

JOE WITTE: Oh, absolutely, there is a flow-through effect. Because we are in the communication business and people are looking for answers to a variety of different things and viewers are looking for answers about science. So we do have an effect on the population and probably on some of the decision makers making policy decisions and those policy decisions are very hard decisions.

Whilst there is division amongst weather forecasters, there is an even greater divide between forecasters and climate scientists.

PROFESSOR KERRY EMANUEL, CLIMATE SCIENTIST: Why would anybody ask weather forecasters about their opinion on climate? I think it is because there is a hope that I don't think is justified that ordinary people will confuse weather forecasters with climate scientists.

Professor Kerry Emanuel is disparaging about what he perceives to be a lack of knowledge amongst many meteorologists.

PROFESSOR KERRY EMANUEL: Weather forecasters are in a unique position. I mean if they actually did study the problem, if they actually took the time to really understand it rather than just go to the blogosphere to get their favourite views and rebroadcast them, then I think they could do a lot of good in the world and I think there are some who are doing that to be fair.

With the world seemingly experiencing more extreme weather there's a view that presenting two sides of this debate actually distorts the argument.

ED MAIBACH: Ultimately treating this issue in a balanced manner gives the implicit impression that the scientists disagree and that there are as many scientists who don't believe in climate change as real, as do. In reality, it is more like 97 to 3 in terms of the way the split falls out.

JOE BASTARDI: Here are climatologists who have researched all this stuff in the past and they may research one thing and another thing and they are allowed to make a forecast about this event, yet the guys who forecast constantly, "No, stay out of it!" It's amazing! It sort of defies common sense.

The split between climate scientists and meteorologists comes at a time when polls show that public scepticism about global warming is on the rise.

ED MAIBACH: We do those surveys of the public and yes, we see the results that we've seen with weathercasters mirror almost perfectly the results we see with the broader general American public, with a couple of exceptions, for example weathercasters feel more knowledgeable about the issue than does the average member of the public. Yet despite the fact that they feel more knowledgeable they are not reaching different conclusions.

MISH MICHAELS, BROADCAST METEOROLOGIST: So there is a lot of uncertainty with the computer model

Mish Michaels is an Emmy award winning broadcast meteorologist. She represents yet another strand in the raging climate debate.

MISH MICHAELS: There is a lot of apathy as well because it does seem, if in fact, our globe is warming, that it is a larger problem that any of us can really tackle.

She describes herself as a centrist and preaches the need for humans to adapt to the warming planet.

MISH MICHAELS: If we are, in fact, manipulating Earth's climate in some way, this is part of Earth's history. People landed here and here we are and it is part of Earth's evolution. And I think that adaptation is our strongest suit.

If that sounds like doing nothing about an 'inconvenient truth' then some climatologists say adapting technology may provide a solution.

PROFESSOR KERRY EMANUEL: I really think that if we are going to be saved from this eventuality it will probably be by technological advance. We'll figure out how to take carbon out of fossil fuel or we'll figure out something. People, I think people are rational and, of course, you don't spend the whole gross domestic product trying to combat anything, global warming or anything else. It is a question of risk assessment, isn't it?

But for Joe Bastardi, the answer is simple - just wait.

JOE BASTARDI: Nothing to panic about, nothing to get upset about it's just the weather and you should enjoy the weather because it's the only weather you've got.

Reporter/Camera

GINNY STEIN

Producer

VICTORIA STROBL

Editors

ROWAN TUCKER-EVANS

Original Music composed by

VICKI HANSEN

18th July 2010