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Weather forecasters may help change minds about climate change

April 4, 2016   /   by Michele McDonald

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The vast majority of the nation’s meteorologists now believe that human-caused climate change is a reality, possibly marking a turning point for how the rest of the public will view climate change in the future, according to a new study by George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

More than 99 percent of the country’s weathercasters think climate change is happening and 68 percent say it’s largely caused by human activity, said Edward Maibach, center director.

As recently as five years ago, many meteorologists had their doubts. Since then, more than one in five weathercasters, or 21 percent of the more than 4,000 surveyed, say they have modified their opinion about climate change. Of those, 82 percent say they now feel more convinced that climate change is happening. The same trend could be seen in public perception in the future, Maibach said.

“Public understanding of climate change has increased only modestly over the past five years,” Maibach said. “I suspect that the larger increase in understanding among meteorologists over the past five years is likely to be what economists call ‘a leading indicator.’ If that proves to be true, we can expect further increases in public understanding over the next few years.”

The survey was conducted through the George Mason-based center’s Climate Matters Program, which was developed in partnership with Climate Central, the American Meteorological Society, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Yale University.

Meteorologists could be key players in helping the general public understand climate change, Maibach said. Few Americans know that 97 percent of climate scientists are convinced that human-caused climate change is happening, he said, adding that only about 12 percent of the public estimates the consensus at 90 percent or greater.

“Not all meteorologists are experts on climate change—indeed, only 37 percent told us they were—but nearly all meteorologists are also convinced that human-caused climate change is underway. It is important for the public to know that there is a scientific consensus about climate change.”

Increasing scientific evidence and personally seeing evidence of climate change is driving the change of opinion by the nation’s weathercasters, the study said.

Weathercasters also don’t see global warming turning around, Maibach said.

“Most of our survey respondents told us that—even with global efforts to limit climate change—the climate will continue to warm over the next 50 years, and there will be harmful impacts,” he said. “This is an important reminder that local, state and federal governments should be taking actions to prevent harm from climate change in the coming decades—to our health, our agriculture, our water supplies and our infrastructure.”