The Weather Channel goes McCarthy
By Greg Strange
Who do you suppose said the following on his/her Internet blog:
"If a meteorologist has an AMS [American Meteorological Society] Seal of Approval which is used to confer legitimacy to TV meteorologists, then meteorologists have a responsibility to truly educate themselves on the science of global warming . . . . If a meteorologist can't speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn't give them a Seal of Approval. Clearly, the AMS doesn't agree that global warming can be blamed on cyclical weather patterns. It's like allowing a meteorologist to go on-air and say that hurricanes rotate clockwise . . . It's not a political statement . . . it's just an incorrect statement."
Okay, so that was too easy. It had to be Al Gore, everybody's favorite fire-and-brimstone-breathing, global warming fundamentalist, right? Wrong! Al was the most logical guess, of course. But in actuality, it was -- are you ready? -- drum roll, please . . . here we go . . . the answer is . . . Heidi Cullen, The Weather Channel's resident "climate expert."
Heidi Cullen? Who the heck is that, you ask? Well, like I said, she's The Weather Channel's resident "climate expert." (By the way, in case you're wondering why "The" is capitalized in The Weather Channel, that's just the way they do it. In fact, at one time, if you looked it up in the phone book, it was listed under "t" rather than "w," which wasn't exactly helpful to finding the listing.)
But wait a minute, back up for a second. Let's examine part of Heidi's blog: "Clearly, the AMS doesn't agree that global warming can be blamed on cyclical weather patterns. It's like allowing a meteorologist to go on-air and say that hurricanes rotate clockwise."
Uh, no it's not. That is an utterly illogical analogy. Determining which way a hurricane rotates requires no analysis, just simple observation, and for all of two seconds at that. Determining the cause of climate change, on the other hand-- Well, does it really even have to be pointed out what a complex challenge that is?
But the main problem with Dr. Cullen's blog entry was not the wildly illogical analogy, but rather the wildly inappropriate suggestion that the AMS withhold its Seal of Approval from meteorologists who don't march lemming-like in lockstep with what has become apocalyptic, Al Gore-style, global warming orthodoxy. What the good doctor of climatology is basically recommending is a kind of blacklisting against television meteorologists who "can't speak to the fundamental science of climate change," or at least who won't speak to it in the way in which the good doctor would prefer.
So, let's say, for instance, that Wendy Storm is your typical yackety and adorable on-air meteorologist at a station in -- I don't know -- Kalamazoo. She's cheerful, she's bubbly, she's easy on the eyes and she can speak in complete sentences. She doesn't always nail tomorrow's forecast, but the viewers like her and everybody knows this forecasting business is pretty dicey anyway, so they allow for the usual mistakes.
But there's a dark side to pretty Wendy in that she's not enthusiastically preaching global warming dogma to the viewing masses. In fact, one time, when one of the news anchorpersons asked her on the air about global warming, she expressed a bit of uncertainty about its cause and failed to blame it all on mankind. According to Heidi Cullen, Wendy is a climatological apostate, her AMS Seal needs to get yanked and the rest of her career might be better spent reporting live from the scene of apartment fires and traffic pile-ups.
Here‘s what it comes down to. You say you're an average citizen who'd like to hear what the many global warming skeptics have to say? Sorry about that, but the debate's over, it's already been settled. Heidi Cullen, Al Gore and the rest of the gang down at Doom-mongers & Co. had the last word and they're not interested in hearing any more. Everybody else, particularly professional meteorologists, needs to pipe down -- or else. Or else what? Or else they might never work in this business again.
Doesn't seem particularly open-minded, does it? Not when you consider there's plenty of good reason to maintain at least a modicum of healthy skepticism. Just for starters, if we hark back to the 1970s, it had pretty much become climatological gospel that sometime in the not-too-distant future the earth would be entering a new ice age. In fact, many scientists were so certain that one of them made this now laughable statement: "We simply cannot afford to gamble. We cannot risk inaction. The scientists who disagree are acting irresponsibly. The indications that our climate can soon change for the worse are too strong to be reasonably ignored."
Sound familiar? Funny thing is, the predictions in the '70s of a new ice age went out almost as fast as disco and leisure suits. Now the current outlandish doomsday forecast is for exactly the opposite result. Do you believe the science of climate change prediction has come so far in 30 years that we should unhesitatingly believe whatever they say? If you do, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.
It's not difficult to understand why The Weather Channel would like to cash in on the global warming hysteria. It's called "ratings," and let's face it, the only time The Channel has particularly good ratings is when meteorological disaster is either happening or threatening to happen. That's why hurricanes are to The Weather Channel what Christmas is to retailers.
Just think about the potential of global warming in terms of ratings. It's the biggest doomsday scenario going in the world today and it happens to be weather related. What more could The Weather Channel ask for? It's like meteorological manna from heaven. True, it lacks the immediacy of fast-moving synoptic weather events, but the potential for catastrophic damage to the planet and humanity is off the chart and that's something that can be hyped endlessly -- unless, of course, the whole thing is eventually proven to be a crock. But in the meantime, it can be milked for all it‘s worth.
There is a danger, however, when the resident climate expert gets a wee bit overly intoxicated with her own self-perceived knowledge and power, turns into a loose cannon and starts throwing around reckless talk about withholding professional approval from those who aren't fully onboard with her version of the "fundamental science of climate change," which is to say, we're all doomed unless we take civilization back to the Bronze Age.
Like it or not, global warming has become a powerfully polarizing political issue that divides people generally along party and ideological lines. Democrats/liberals are drinking the global warming Kool-aid like there's no tomorrow (which in their minds there may not be) and Republicans/conservatives remain skeptical, especially about the worst case scenarios that get presented. The problem for The Weather Channel is, if they come on too strong, they risk alienating roughly half their audience.
This is the age of the Internet and people can get all the weather information they want without having to listen to smarmy, overweening television presenters, particularly ones who have gone off the deep end and recommended what amounts to blacklisting. It would be a real shocker if the higher-ups down at The Channel didn't rein in Ms. Cullen before she kills the goose that lays the golden eggs.
© 2007, Greg Strange