Friday, January 11, 2013

Climate Matters Wins

The 93rd annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) has been going on this week in Austin, Texas.  An awards banquet was held Wednesday evening where I received the Award for Excellence in Science Reporting by a Broadcast Meteorologist.  The award was for the pioneering program Climate Matters which began in July, 2010.  I am the seventh recipient of the award.

Climate Matters Page on the WLTX website.  Image Credit: WLTX.

Climate Matters is a program that attempts to educate viewers about climate change and how it is already affecting their lives.  Many of the segments are localized to the effects on South Carolina, but may also apply to other regions.  The reports use only peer-reviewed published work of scientists involved in climate change research.

However, let me tell you how this came about.  It started with my own interest in climate change.  I was at a retirement party for Dr. John Carpenter who was in the Geology Department and longtime director of the Center for Science Education at the University of South Carolina.  During that party a couple of professors came up to me and ask if I thought climate change was real.  I told them that I thought it was, but had not really given it much thought.

So I thought it would be best for me to find out myself.  About 2005 I began reading about climate change.  There were already a number of books on the subject, but there were some technical details that needed clarity.  I started to read the actual research papers in the scientific journals and tackling the questions raised by climate deniers.  It was soon obvious from the overwhelming research that the deniers were on thin ice.  Their arguments did not hold water and they were not publishing any research.

In 2008 the economy tanked and a number of stations and news organizations began firing their science journalists.  This left a void in the media as to who had the expertise to report on science issues.  I was aware of the station scientist effort being promoted by the AMS, so I got involved by asking Paul Gross, the committee chairman, to let me on the committee.

I joined the Station Scientist committee, a subcommittee of the AMS Broadcast Board, in 2009 along with my friend Dan Satterfield.  We had talked about the situation in science reporting and both wanted on the board.  This began my efforts to educate viewers about science and entered the realm of science journalism.  It was a new area for me since I had spent my entire career as a broadcast meteorologist intent on providing viewers the best weather reports I could.

Paul received an email from Joe Witte, a broadcast meteorologist in Washington, D.C., shortly after I got on the committee.  Joe was looking for someone from the committee to act as an advisor for a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to use weathercasters as climate educators.  He had come up with the idea and was working with the Center for Climate Change Communication (4C) at George Mason University (GMU).

The idea appealed to me and so I replied as fast as I could.  What I did not realized was that the speed of light was slower from South Carolina than it was from Alabama.  Dan had beaten me to the punch.  Later Joe emailed me and asked if I would like to be a test case.  Of course I said yes.

This began a collaborative effort between the Center for Climate Change Communication, Climate Central in Princeton, New Jersey, and WLTX Television.  The grant from the proposal was awarded in the fall of 2009.  I met with Heidi Cullen from Climate Central along with a group working with 4C at GMU in late November.  We mapped out a year-long effort to educate the viewers in central South Carolina.

There was a pre-survey of the market before Climate Matters began.  Then the segments started in late July, 2010.  The final segment in the effort aired in mid-June, 2011.  This was followed by a post-survey of the market to see if we had achieved the aims of the project.  I am happy to report that learning among WLTX viewers did occur and furthermore the survey showed that WLTX viewers were more acceptant of the idea of human-caused climate change than viewers of other television stations.

Climate Matters was never intended to end with the end of the NSF-funded program.  I have continued the effort to educate viewers about climate change and how it is already affecting them.  This has been accomplished with the generous help of Climate Central.  They have helped supply many of the graphics I use on-air and on this blog.  We often collaborate on ideas.

I have learned a great deal since beginning this effort.  All aspects of Climate Matters have improved and I am looking forward to continuing the effort in 2013.  Were there challenges along the way?  Absolutely, more than you can imagine.

There are currently two papers concerning the effort in peer-review and it is hoped that they will be accepted and published later this year.  One of the papers outlines many of the challenges that I had to overcome and will be of interest to others who wish to do what I did.  I will keep you updated.

A huge thanks goes out to Paul Gross of WDIV in Detroit for giving me the chance to serve on the Station Scientist Committee.  Also, a thanks to my partner in crime, Dan Satterfield, now at in Salisbury, MD, as he listened to many of my complaints.  My three years on the committee prevented me from applying for the award, but good things come to those who wait.  I am most appreciative that they judged my entry worthy of the award.  The winning entry was Climate Change and Poison Ivy.  I will update this story with some new information in early spring 2013.

Also the effort with George Mason University was led by Ed Maibach, who has taught me a great deal about communicating climate change.  There was a significant group at GMU that contributed to this work and many are co-authors to the papers.  I especially appreciate Barry Klinger, a physical oceanographer, who took the time to question everything we did.  It was a real pleasure to work with Heidi Cullen and everyone at Climate Central.  This effort could not continue easily without them.

While I won the award, the real winners here are the viewers who watch me every night.  They can rest assured that they are getting the best forecasts and science information that I can deliver.

You can see the interview I did with the AMS here.