The most shocking thing I learned at NASA's Earth Ambassador training at Goddard Space Flight Center last month was that only about half of TV weather reporters have degrees in meteorology, many of them have almost no science background, and that around a quarter of them think that global warming is a scam.
Joe Witte, the meteorologist who spoke to our group, is a PhD candidate at George Mason University in their Climate Change Communication program. The school's study of almost 600 weather forecasters in 2010 highlighted the huge division between climatologists (scientists who study long-term climate change) and TV meteorologists, who report on weather changes over relatively short periods.
Meteorologists are not currently required to receive education on climate science, although the American Meteorological Society affirms that warming is happening and that it is probably mostly due to human activity. Climate change is a hot topic among weather forecasters. Many who believe in it are afraid to speak up on air for fear of losing valuable advertising dollars.
According to Joe Witte, only around 10% of all TV stations have a science reporter on their payroll. The public perceives weather reporters as the scientists on their news programs, regardless of their science background.
If we can support the education of meteorologists about climate change and give them access to media-friendly resources available to them from trusted sources like NASA, we'll be taking a huge step in public education about climate change. You don't have to be a scientist to understand climate change, but you do need access to reliable information about it.
When a politician, or an environmental institution speaks, everyone already knows what they're going to say, but when a weather reporter steps in front of a camera, people listen.