October 7, 2021

How TV Weathercasters Went From Climate Skeptics to Champions

by How to Save a Planet

Background show artwork for How to Save a Planet

Nearly every night on local news stations across the country, Americans hear scientists talking about the weather…the local broadcast meteorologist, giving the weather report. But for years, those weather reports omitted one crucial element: the impact of climate change. In fact, many broadcast meteorologists were openly skeptical of climate change -- and spread that skepticism to their viewers. In today’s episode, we look at the decade-long campaign to convince weathercasters that climate change is real and turn the local TV news into a source for climate education.

Guests: John Morales, Greg Fishel and Ed Maibach

Calls to action:

  • Show some love to broadcast meteorologists — tweet at them when you see they are talking about climate change and ask them to do more of it! And if they AREN’T talking about climate change, encourage them to join their colleagues. 
  • Check out the free climate reporting masterclass taught by meteorologist Dr. James Shepherd. He’s former president of the American Meteorological Society, and host of the TV show and podcast, Weather Geeks. In the class, you’ll learn to understand the difference between weather and climate and how current science attributes extreme weather events to climate change.


Check out our Calls to Action archive for all of the actions we've recommended on the show. Send us your ideas or feedback with our Listener Mail Form. Sign up for our newsletter here. And follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

This episode of How to Save a Planet was produced by Lauren Silverman. The rest of our reporting and producing team includes Rachel Walzholz, Kendra Pierre-Louis, and Anna Ladd. Our supervising producer is Lauren Silverman. Our editor is Caitlin Kenney. Sound design and mixing by Peter Leonard with original music from Peter Leonard and Emma Munger. Our fact checker for this episode was Claudia Geib.

Where to Listen

Transcript

Alex Blumberg: Welcome to How to Save a Planet. I'm Alex Blumberg, and this is the show where we talk about what we need to do to address the climate crisis, and how we make those things happen.


Alex: So here's a conundrum: climate change has massive impacts on the weather. The vast majority of scientists believe in human-caused climate change. And every night on local news stations across the country, Americans hear scientists talking about the weather—the local broadcast meteorologist, giving the local weather report. But here's the problem: a lot of these meteorologists—historically at least—doubted climate change.


Alex: Throughout the late '90s and 2000s, it was possible to tune into TV stations all over the country and hear broadcast meteorologists casting doubt on the scientific consensus that human-caused climate change was real and serious. Claiming, for example, that climate change isn't a big deal because the Earth's climate has always changed.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, James Spann: Well, Glen, the Earth's climate has changed since the day God put it here. We have had these cyclical changes, and I believe that most of this is purely natural.]


Alex: Or presenting alternate explanations to climate change that fly in the face of all scientific consensus.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Dave Dahl: What really causes the Earth's climate to change? Well, there's a growing number of scientists who feel the Sun is the main driving force behind Earth's constantly changing climate.]


Alex: Or pointing out that CO2? It's a natural gas. How bad could it really be?


[ARCHIVE CLIP, John Coleman: Over and over again, we've been told how the polar bears are going to die, how the coast will be flooded as the oceans rise, some islands totally wiped out. How millions will die as heat waves sweep the planet, carrying disease that will kill millions more. And our crops will fail. And how could that be? Isn't CO2 a natural gas that we breathe out? Isn't CO2 a gas that plants need to grow? Hasn't CO2 always been in the atmosphere?]


Alex: That, by the way, is John Coleman, the co-founder of The Weather Channel, in the late aughts on KUSI TV in San Diego.


Alex: And this misinformation was a problem, because people trust the local weather reporter. In fact, in studies, TV meteorologists are among the most trusted voices when it comes to science communication. And so when weather forecasters signal that climate change is a hoax or isn't that big a deal, people might believe them.


Alex: Today on the program, we're going to tell the story of why so many weather forecasters doubted climate change, and what it took to change their minds. It turns out there was a decade-long battle for the hearts and minds of the people behind America's weather on the ones. A battle that has important lessons for convincing other doubters among us. That's all coming up after the break.


[00:03:13.21]***


Alex: I want to start sort of way, way back. Let's time travel back a few decades to when you first became a meteorologist. This was in 1981?


Greg Fishel: Yup.


Alex: Correct?


Greg Fishel: Just after the dinosaurs became extinct. [laughs]


Alex: This is Greg Fishel, who worked for almost four decades as the broadcast meteorologist at WRAL, a TV station in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.


Alex: What were you like back then?


Greg Fishel: I listened to Rush for many years.


Alex: Rush, as in Limbaugh, the famously combative, nationally-syndicated conservative radio host who frequently told his millions of listeners that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by liberal scientists. Which made sense to Greg.


Greg Fishel: I thought, well, most academicians are liberal and there—it probably isn't pure science, but they have an agenda, and all this type of stuff.


Alex: Right.


Greg Fishel: And so it became a very easy stance for me to take, that it wasn't a big deal, it was being overblown. There was enough scientific evidence in my mind to at least question it. And so there I was.


Alex: And Greg had his go-to arguments for why the science was wrong.


Greg Fishel: I think the satellite record would have been the first thing I would have brought up.


Alex: The satellite record—a favorite climate denier talking point that gained traction in the '90s. And it had to do with these early satellite temperature readings: they differed from land-based readings. The satellite records showed cooling, the land-based records showed heating. Researchers later figured out that satellite data hadn't accurately accounted for time of day, and once the data was adjusted to make it more accurate, the satellite data and the land data aligned. But Greg had other arguments as well.


Greg Fishel: I would also cite the fact that the overall temperature record was short compared to the existence of climate. That there had been other weird events. Like, if you went back and read diaries, that there was snow in Pennsylvania in June, which is something that had never been observed in the 20th century. So just little tidbits like that were enough at that time, in my mind, to justify skepticism.


Alex: How vocal about this were you?


Greg Fishel: Well, on television—and I didn't talk about this daily by any stretch, but when there was a story coming into weather about climate change, then that would give me an excuse to go off on my rant.


Alex: Describe one of those rants. What was a rant?


Greg Fishel: [laughs] Well, I mean, it didn't—it couldn't go on too long because, you know, we had to get to the sports.


Alex: Right. You only got, like, a couple minutes. [laughs]


Greg Fishel: No, I would just, you know, constantly bring up the fact that there were counter-arguments to all of this, and that we shouldn't just accept what comes down the wire as face value, but take a look at all angles of this.


Alex: Now, if you are a policy maker, say, and are trying to do something about climate change, and you've got some of the most trusted professionals in the country going on TV night after night and downplaying the threat of climate change, that's a problem. And as it happens, there was just such a policymaker in office around this time—a man named Al Gore, vice president to Bill Clinton. Al Gore was, of course, one of the first major US political figures to make climate change his signature issue. He did this most famously after he left office with his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. But even while in office, he was involved in efforts to craft policy to address climate change.


Alex: And if any action were to happen on climate, American citizens needed to understand how serious an issue it was. And in theory, there were no scientists more primed to convince the American people about the seriousness of climate change than broadcast meteorologists. They talked to millions and millions of people on a daily basis about the weather. And the people trust them. So who better than to inform the public about this threat. But, of course, the opposite was happening. People like Greg Fishel, scientists with a direct line to the American people, were going on TV and saying climate change wasn't a problem.


Alex: And so in October of 1997, as the Clinton administration was preparing for discussions of a global climate agreement in Kyoto, Japan, the President and Vice President invited a group of about a hundred broadcast meteorologists from around the country to the White House to talk about climate change. Among them? Greg Fischel.


Greg Fishel: And, you know, when I got that invitation at first, I said, "Forget it. I'm not going up there and—you know?


Alex: Just to dwell on that moment for a little bit. So this is like—so this invitation to the White House comes in 1997. At that point you're still listening to Rush Limbaugh, pretty conservative, like, denying, you know, sort of like, don't think climate change is a big deal, and think that the liberals are all bent out of shape about it. Right, more or less?


Greg Fishel: Yeah, that's very fair.


Alex: Yeah. Yeah. And here is an invitation from Bill Clinton who is, like, pretty much enemy number one of Rush Limbaugh, right? Like, is there somebody—there wasn't a person who caught his ire more than Bill Clinton, I don't think, was there? Except for maybe Hillary.


Greg Fishel: I think you're right.


Alex: Yeah. So how did you reconcile those two things?


Greg Fishel: Well, I'm just gonna divert here for a second.


Alex: Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Greg Fishel: But my mother was not a Richard Nixon fan at all. And in 1970, I was 13 years old. She came to me and said, "Do you want to go up to the airport with me?" And I said, "Why?" And she said, "President Nixon's flying in to give a speech." And I looked at her and I said, "But you don't even like him." And she looked at me plain as day and said, "He's our president, and he deserves our support." And I don't think she necessarily meant that that meant she had to agree with them on everything, but he was the leader of our country. We owe it to him as members of a democracy to go hear what he has to say. But I never forgot that. And I think that played into my decision is that I still had enough respect for the office, you know, that to be invited to meet the leader of the free world is a pretty, pretty big thing.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Al Gore: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the President and the First Lady, it's my honor to welcome you to the White House.]


Greg Fishel: And so I felt like once I got there, I owed it to him and to Vice President Gore and to all the other presenters, I owed it to them to listen.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bill Clinton: Welcome to the White House on a cool, overcast day, about 60 degrees. How am I doing? I'm auditioning. [laughs] You know, I have to leave this job after three years, and I don't know what I'm gonna do. I'm too young to retire, and I'm used to delivering bad news.]


Alex: After winding down his open mic set, President Clinton got to the point of why they were all assembled there. They have a lot of power, he told them, over how people think about this important issue.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bill Clinton: I thank you for coming and for devoting this much of your time to the briefings, and to giving us a chance to meet with you on what is a profoundly important issue, and one, frankly, that you, just in the way you comment on the events that you cover, may have a real effect on the American people.]


Alex: Beyond hearing from the President, Greg and his fellow weathercasters heard from a series of experts who presented the evidence that human-caused climate change was happening—and it was serious.


Greg Fishel: One of the presenters may have been talking about the decrease in Arctic sea ice. There may have been another presentation about how we've never seen an increase in temperature this rapid, that yes, there have been times when the Earth has been hotter than it is now, but the concerning thing is the rate of increase, and the fact that it's doing it so rapidly. Those were probably at least a couple of the things that were talked about that day, and a lot of us were congregating at the end of the day saying, "You know what? Maybe there's something to this."


Alex: The day ended when President Clinton and Vice President Gore came on with some closing remarks. Al Gore got pretty personal with his.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Al Gore: I think this is an ethical issue. And I think that if our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, living through the expected and predicted consequences of this, could reach back in time and say to us, "Did you know you were doing this? Did you know it was gonna have this effect on us?" And we said, "Well, we knew basically the facts, but we thought it was perfectly all right. We didn't think we had to worry about it." I don't think that's an ethical answer.]


Alex: And finally, President Clinton came on to close the sale. "We need you," he told the assembled weather broadcasters, "Because we want to address this issue of climate change, but ...


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Bill Clinton: We can't do it until we build the awareness of the American people. So I hope you will think about how your work has been affected by what we believe is going on in the climate. And again, I don't ask for you to advocate or do anything outside of whatever your own convictions are, parameters of permissible speech are, but I do think it's very important since you have more influence than anybody does on how the American people think about this, that at least you know what you believe and how you think we should proceed.]


Alex: So coming back home, what's your state of mind? Still think it's a hoax? Starting to crack? Fully convinced that you were wrong? Where are you?


Greg Fishel: I think I just sort of felt like maybe I shouldn't be quite as hard-nosed about this. It's not that I changed my mind that day, but I at least was more open to being wrong than I had been up until that point.


Alex: But even if you found yourself slightly more open to the science like Greg Fishel did, there were still lots of reasons you might not go back to your station and immediately start talking about shrinking Arctic sea ice. There were powerful forces amassing, sowing doubt on the very science that had started to convince Greg. Throughout the late '90s and early 2000s, powerful industry groups funded influence campaigns that cast doubt on the science and overstate the costs of addressing climate change. These campaigns worked, and by the mid-2000s, the general public was becoming more skeptical about global warming, and climate change was becoming a more politically divisive issue, with red and blue America moving in very different directions. The last thing a broadcast meteorologist wants to do is alienate their viewers. After all, their jobs are tied to their ability to earn ratings. And driving viewers away? That could be a fireable sin.


Alex: Also, there was one powerful organization targeting a message of skepticism and doubt, directly at broadcast meteorologists like Greg Fishel. That organization was a free-market, conservative think tank funded by fossil fuel and tobacco money called the Heartland Institute, best known, perhaps, for ads comparing climate scientists to the Unabomber. The Heartland Institute was on a campaign to get weathercasters to its skeptics conferences. In 2010, it even tried to put on a special session for weather forecasters. The featured speakers included three broadcast meteorologists skeptical of climate change.


Alex: By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it appeared that these doubt-sowing campaigns were working. In a 2010 survey of broadcast meteorologists, nearly two-thirds of the respondents—63 percent—said that climate change was caused by mostly natural changes in the environment. A vast majority of the respondents—61 percent—thought that there was lots of disagreement among climate scientists about the causes of global warming despite the fact that there was near unanimous consensus that climate change was happening and it was human caused.


Alex: In the cold war brewing for the hearts and minds of America's weather forecasters, in other words, the science of climate change was losing. But after the break, the science fights back. That's coming up.


[00:15:59.06]***


Alex: Welcome back to How to Save a Planet. When we left off our story, it was 2010. And even though almost all climate scientists agreed that climate change was happening and human caused, there was a massive fossil fuel funded PR campaign underway to cast doubt on that science that seemed to be working. A big climate bill in the Senate had crashed and burned. Climate change was increasingly politicized, and surveys showed that almost two-thirds of broadcast meteorologists didn't believe that climate change was human caused.


Alex: One of the people trying to reverse this trend of climate skepticism among broadcast meteorologists was a professor named Ed Maibach. In 2010, Ed co-founded a non profit called Climate Matters. It conducts research and education to help connect climate change to actual people's actual lives—with a particular focus on supporting broadcast meteorologists.


Ed Maibach: When we started this project in 2010, most Americans understood that our climate is changing, but they saw it as a distant problem, distant in time. Meaning they saw it maybe as a year 2100 problem, not a year 2010 problem. Distant in space. You know, maybe a problem in Bangladesh or sub-Saharan Africa, but not a problem in Boston or Cincinnati. And distant in species. So absolutely a problem for polar bears, but not necessarily a problem for people. And all three of those are really profound, important misunderstandings of the realities of climate change. So what we wanted the weathercasters to do was report on climate change as a local, to demonstrate that it's happening here now in our community and for the most part it's not good for us.


Alex: And to do that, Ed's organization wanted to make it easier for weathercasters to understand the science and to explain the science on air. They did that a couple of ways: they introduced a program that paired local broadcasters with climate scientists to help answer any questions the local broadcasters had, and they created a program to supply local data and on-air graphics for use in local markets. Broadcast meteorologists are often one-person outfits. Even if they wanted to prepare a segment about the local impacts of climate change, they might not have time or resources to run down the data and make it look nice on TV. Ed's group did that work for them.


Alex: And as Ed Maibach was doing his thing, other people were also stepping in to try to rally the broadcast meteorologists to the side of climate science acceptance.


John Morales: I'm John Morales, I'm the chief meteorologist for WTVJ. It's the NBC-owned station in Miami. It's also Florida's oldest television station.


Alex: John Morales was part of the minority of broadcast meteorologists who believed the scientific consensus that climate change was happening, and that it was human-caused. He'd been fascinated by meteorology since he was a kid growing up in Puerto Rico, witnessing first-hand the impact that weather—specifically tropical storms—had on his home.


Alex: After working for several years at NOAA and the National Weather Service, John moved into broadcast meteorology at Univision, Telemundo, and eventually WTVJ in Miami. He'd always followed the science of global warming closely, starting with James Hansen's pivotal testimony to congress, way back in 1988, in which Hansen stated that human-caused climate change was real and was already here. But John wasn't really talking about climate change on TV to his viewers.


John Morales: I hadn't necessarily thought about trying to find ways to communicate that to my audience, because—maybe because I considered it too scientific? You know, I just didn't put one and one together.


Alex: What helped John put one and one together was that very same event at the Clinton White House in 1997 that Greg Fishel had gone to. If Greg had left that event slightly more open to other points of view, John Morales had come back fully fired up.


John Morales: I can tell you that I left that event very much charged and inspired to try to find ways to communicate on climate. You know, we're considered the station scientists, because at whatever newsroom we're in, generally we're the people that know the most about sciences and geosciences. So we're often tasked with trying to communicate about these different phenomena to our audiences. You know, meteor showers and planet conjunctions. So if we're already talking about, you know, a lunar eclipse, then why not talk about the changing climate?


Alex: And so John started to do just that.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sheli Muñiz-WTVJ: This flash flooding we have seen over the past couple of days has been becoming increasingly common in South Florida, and concerning as well. So I want to chat with chief meteorologist John Morales. John? Okay, break it down for us because what is causing such dramatic flooding?]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, John Morales-WTVJ: Well, many factors, Sheli. I mean, we have a propensity to see stronger downpours. There's been a 27 percent increase in the Southeast US, of course, including Florida, in those days in which we get excessive rainfall. And that's because of climate change. A warmer atmosphere can sustain more water vapor in the air. And therefore when it rains ...]


Alex: Now around the same time that John Morales was starting to talk more and more about climate change on the local broadcast, he was also getting more involved with the leadership of the American Meteorological Society, AMS. And he was aware of how unusual he was as a broadcast meteorologist. Most of his colleagues weren't talking about climate change on the air, or worse, were actively casting doubt about it.


John Morales: So to have members of the American—such a large number of members of the American Meteorological Society, kind of being so skeptical and sometimes even communicating this—communicating their skepticism on air while they're representing the American Meteorological Society with their AMS seals of approval that happened to appear right next to their names on TV, this was a problem.


Alex: And it always struck me as interesting how the broadcast meteorologists community was so, so far away from sort of the climate science community. What do you make of that?


John Morales: I think it has to do with a lack of understanding of how climate modeling works. You know, climate models, these are mathematical models simulating physical processes, but the way the models are built are very different from weather forecasting models.


Alex: Right.


John Morales: And in the end, you come up with a solution which I think was not being trusted by the broadcast meteorologists, who felt that, "Hey, if the weather models that are I'm using can barely forecast the weather three days out, and I, with my expertise, I'm a better forecaster than the weather models that, you know, NOAA is putting out, then how can I possibly trust a climate model that is forecasting 50 years, a hundred years down the road?"


Alex: Right.


John Morales: So the AMS, partly under my leadership, tried to find ways then to train, to provide workshops for the broadcast meteorology community so that we could better understand climate science. And that launched what the AMS calls the Station Scientists Committee. The Station Scientists Committee within the Board of Broadcast Meteorology. And they put together some workshops where we brought in climate scientists, and little bit you saw in the surveys, how things started to change.


Alex: Yeah.


Greg Fishel: I remember they put out some sort of a policy statement at some point that, you know, they fully accepted the science of climate change.


Alex: This again is Greg Fishel, the Rush Limbaugh-listening weather forecaster from North Carolina. At this point, despite all the food for thought he had been given at that meeting at the White House with President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, he was still a climate change skeptic. But he was finding more and more reasons to be skeptical of his skepticism. There were these training materials that John was sending from the AMS, of course. He also had a good friend and mentor, a biologist at North Carolina State, who believed in human-caused climate change. This friend and Greg would have ongoing debates about it, and the more he talked with his friend and heard from the AMS and heard from other scientists, the more something started to eat at Greg.


Greg Fishel: When I go on TV every night, I am representing in some small way the science of meteorology. And I owe it to the people watching to make sure that I'm not misstating anything. And I wish I could give you a date on this—I don't exactly know when it was. I think it was in, like, maybe 2004, 2005, somewhere in there, that I literally woke up one morning, and there was this question in my mind that, was I doing the same thing that the people I was criticizing were doing, and that I was only looking for evidence to support what I already believe.


Alex: Right.


Greg Fishel: And the more I questioned myself on that, the more I had to admit that that's exactly what I was doing. And so I didn't change my mind that day about climate change, but I decided to think differently. And that I was going to talk to the scientists who were doing the research, and that I was going to read peer-reviewed literature, And I was even gonna go back to my old textbooks and see if there was anything there.


Greg Fishel: And the more I did that, it wasn't like there was an "aha" moment where now I believe now I don't, but it was this slow evolution that reached a point where it's like I said, "I can't. I can't say that we're not having any effect. Maybe we can argue how much, but for me to have my head in the sand and say, 'We're not doing anything?' Can't do that anymore."


Alex: Hmm. What do you think made you wake up that day with that realization?


Greg Fishel: Well, you know, maybe—I guess for the religious part of me, maybe God put that thought there, you know? Or maybe it was just—you know, maybe it was just the fact that I have a scientifically-oriented mind, then it finally sort of slapped me in the face and said, you know, "You gonna follow the Hippocratic oath of scientists or not? You know? I probably can't give you a definitive answer on that. I just know that it happened.


Alex: And once it had happened, after spending decades casting doubt on air about climate science, Greg Fishel decided to go on TV and do the opposite. He joined John Morales and a growing number of broadcast meteorologists around the country to talk about the reality of human-caused climate change. In 2015, Greg produced a documentary for WRAL laying out the overwhelming scientific evidence that human-caused climate change was real and was happening. Greg said he wanted to make this documentary to reflect his change in thinking on the subject, but also, he'd always really wanted to go to Alaska.


Greg Fishel: Most people, their bucket list involves some tropical island somewhere. I wanted to go to Barrow, Alaska.


Alex: And why is that?


Greg Fishel: Because it was the farthest north point in the US. And I love snow and cold, and so what better place to go, you know? But there was never a logical reason to go there. And then when I found out that they had one of the six or seven, I guess, global observing stations for greenhouse gases, I thought to myself, "Hmm, I can use this to my advantage here." And so I went to management and said, "I'd love to do a documentary about climate change, and Barrow is one of the places where they collect data for that." And they said, "Let's do it." So I got to go to a place I always wanted to go, and I got to do a documentary about something that I was becoming increasingly passionate about.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, WRAL documentary: We came here to the top of the world, Barrow, Alaska, more than 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. 71° North latitude.]


Alex: This is a documentary. What was the goal of the documentary in your mind? Who was the audience, the intended audience?


Greg Fishel: Oh, I mean, I don't think I had to do it to convince people that had already accepted the science. I think I was hoping that in some way it would at least make people on the other side of the argument think. And we went to great pains to make this as objective as we could. And then my concluding remarks in the documentary, I said that I had come to the conclusion that we were impacting the climate, and that nothing I had seen on that trip had done anything to change that.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, WRAL documentary: I had a chance to talk to some of the top scientists in the world over the past month. Their answers were complete and they were honest. Is there still uncertainty? Of course. But just because we don't know everything doesn't mean we don't know anything. All we need to do is stop the name calling and decide to work together for the common good. And my final thought tonight, for people of faith, science is a gift. Embrace it. And to people of science, I would say you don't have to believe in God, but if you respected those who do they might be more interested in what you have to say.]


Alex: What is the biggest takeaway for you about this journey that you've been on? Like, what is your main lesson from, like, this evolution in yourself?


Greg Fishel: Well, you know, it's actually something that applies to everyday life. In fact, I used to go out and give talks, and the title of my talk was "The Scientific Method is Not Just For Scientists." That it's okay to have a hypothesis—they're free, they're legal, you can have as many as you want. But then step two is testing the hypothesis. And the best way to test is to try to prove but wrong—not right, but wrong. And only upon failing to do that do you accept it as your conclusion. And I think we live in a society now where, in large part, we're jumping from hypothesis to conclusion without doing any testing.


Alex: Yeah.


Greg Fishel: And, you know, the other thing too, is that it's nothing to be ashamed of. I think people are worried that they're gonna be perceived as a flip-flopper or something like that. But if you change your mind because you learn something, that means you now possess a greater level of knowledge, you're more educated than you were before, you have more to offer the world than you did before. Those are all good things, you know? So don't worry about the embarrassment of it. There shouldn't be any of that. It should be actually, I'm proud of this. I'm proud that I looked into this and discovered something different.


Alex: I flip-flopped and I'm proud! [laughs]


Alex: Today, the landscape is littered with proud flip-floppers. It is now the minority of broadcast meteorologists who don't talk about climate change, and an even smaller percentage who deny it. In 2008, only a quarter of weather broadcasters agreed that warming was caused by humans. In 2017, a full 80 percent believe that it was. The cold war has mostly ended, and science has won.


Alex: And Ed Maibach? He sees that. When he helped launch Climate Matters in 2010, they had exactly one news outlet who was taking their localized climate data and graphics. Now they provide those materials to more than 1,000 weathercasters nationwide. And the number keeps growing. The materials are used in more than 90 percent of all American media markets, and on-air reporting about climate change by TV weathercasters has increased more than 50-fold since 2012.


Alex: And all of this, says Ed Maibach, is having the intended effect on the audience.


Ed Maibach: When weathercasters report on climate change as a local problem, demonstrating to their viewers that climate change is happening here now to us, their viewers learn. It changes their understanding of climate change. It's no longer an abstract, psychologically-distant threat, it becomes a more concrete, reality-based everyday kind of worry. And, you know, if our populace, if our people don't understand the reality of the threats they face, they're probably not gonna make really good decisions about how to respond to them.


Alex: Ed Maibach told us that helping mobilize TV weathercasters across America is his proudest accomplishment in 40 years of work in public interest communication. And he says there were two main factors that made the campaign so successful.


Alex: First, they made it a real conversation. When they gathered broadcast meteorologists to talk to them, they didn't just lecture them. They listened to their concerns and they responded to them, while at the same time presenting the science about the realities and dangers of climate change. Second, Ed says, the program succeeded because his team engaged not with individual weather broadcasters as individuals, but with them all as what he calls "a community of practice." Ed and his team recognized that, while all broadcast meteorologists aren't identical, they do have the same job, often with the same motivations and barriers to doing that job differently. Identifying those common motivations and barriers allowed Ed's team to build resources that helped a large number of weathercasters redefine their jobs to better serve their communities.


Alex: And now, Ed hopes to use some of these same tools: identifying communities of practice, holding listening sessions, with other groups in similar situations. For example, science teachers, fire chiefs, national park rangers. All highly-trusted, powerful messengers who could make a real difference in talking to people about climate change.


Alex: That brings us to our calls to action. We've got two today. First, show some love to broadcast meteorologists. If you happen to see a broadcast meteorologist on air talking about climate change, tell them you're into it! Tell them, "Thank you." Tweet at them or contact them over social media. And if they aren't talking about climate change, encourage them— politely—to join their colleagues. Get on board. Start the conversation.


Alex: And second, check out the free climate reporting class taught by meteorologist Dr. James Shepherd. He's a former president of the American Meteorological Society, and host of the TV show and podcast, Weather Geeks. In his class, you will learn to understand the differences between weather and climate, and how current science attributes extreme weather events to climate change. That's at Climatereportingmasterclass.com.


Alex: We'll have links to that master class, as well as to other resources in our show notes, as always, and also in our newsletter. If you're not signed up, head over to Howtosaveaplanet.show. And if you take an action we recommend, we would love to hear from you about it. Write us at Howtosaveaplanet.show/contact. We're also on Instagram and Twitter @how2saveaplanet with the number 2.


Alex: How to Save a Planet is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. It's hosted by me, Alex Blumberg. This episode was produced by Lauren Silverman. Our reporters and producers are Kendra Pierre-Louis, Anna Ladd and Rachel Waldholz. Our supervising producer is Lauren Silverman. Our editor is Caitlin Kenney. Sound design and mixing by Peter Leonard, with original music by Peter Leonard and Emma Munger. Our fact-checker this episode is Claudia Geib. Thanks to all of you for listening. We'll see you next week!