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Paul Douglas' Top 10 Suggestions for Communicating Climate Science


Paul Douglas
  • Paul Douglas

1). Stick to the science; peer-reviewed climate science. Avoid policy discussions with anchors.

2). Keep it current. Viewers have become conditioned to expect breaking news. If there isn't a major storm bearing down, consider a 15- to 30-second update on climate headlines. Sign up for (free) Google Alerts for climate change and global warming will keep a steady stream of timely articles coming to you every day. Which ones strike a nerve and might be interesting/relevant for your viewers?

3). Bring it home. Changes in the Arctic may not resonate with viewers. What does it mean for me and my family? Show how polar amplification may be slowing weather patterns, making droughts drier and storms even wetter. How will this impact rising sea levels and possible water shortages? There are always effective ways to personalize and localize the science.

4). Communicate with your news director. Local stations are licensed by the FCC to serve the public interest. That means holding up a mirror to your community and showing the changes taking place, and how climate change may impact your market in the years to come. Remind your managers that you have an obligation, as meteorologists, to communicate the science.

5). Your local climate office is a gold mine of data. All TV meteorologists want to go beyond the seven-day (forecast) to provide analysis, context and perspective. Tap data (and graphics) from your local climate office to show how extreme rainfall events are increasing, winter nights are trending warmer, with longer growing seasons for farmers.

6). Tease on-air, drill into details on-line. We know you don't have enough time to explain all the science during your regular TV weathercast. But you can share a couple of headlines and then point viewers to your website for more details. Jim Gandy, Dan Satterfield and Mike Nelson have done a good job of explaining the science on-line and helping to build an audience in the process. On my Star Tribune blog I mix meteorology with climate science and articles that catch my eye, addressing questions, comments and criticisms. On our new national weather channel, WeatherNation TV, we include brief climate science headlines with longer three-minute segments focused on the trends. This is a chance to show your scientific credentials and push back against misinformation.

7). Look for local hooks. How are farmers, fishermen, hunters, gardeners, insurance agents and other people who spend extended time outdoors personally experiencing climate change. A 20-second sound bite and one simple graphic can tell the story; again — directing viewers to your station's website for more detail.

8). Weather is not climate. It's tempting to look out the window and make global assumptions. Using NOAA, NCDC and NASA tools, you can help viewers keep a global perspective, using temperature anomaly maps to explain the trends.

9). Dig into the science. The debate is over. This is more than a "natural cycle." What we're seeing, worldwide, was predicted 30 years ago, and changes are accelerating even faster than predicted. Remind viewers not to rely on dubious blog links or talk radio to get their science. It should come from you, and the only way to make it accurate and timely is to spend the time and get up to speed on peer-reviewed climate science yourself. Become the local climate expert. It will only add to your credibility and the trust and equity you've built up in your market.

10). Take advantage of resources. NOAA and NASA have comprehensive resources. Consider the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and the Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S., United States Global Change Research Program to get started. There is no ambiguity or confusion on the part of the AMS about the state of climate science. We have an obligation to accurately communicate (all) science, including longer term climate trends.

Read what local meteorologists have to say about climate change here.

See our coverage of supersized weather here.

Check out our interview with the AMS executive director here.


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