Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor for New York University and author of an upcoming "international history of sex education," has some very serious words for television weathermen: straighten up and fly right, you bozos.
Zimmerman's piece for the Baltimore Sun opens with little doubt as to what he thinks of your friendly neighborhood meteorologist:
In the United States, weathercasters serve as our goofy national soothsayers — screwballs who don ridiculous hats and deliver wacky one-liners. But they're also trusted oracles who employ the latest scientific wizardry to divine the mysteries of the skies.
So why won't they discuss the science of climate change? According to the American Meteorological Society, we have "unequivocal evidence" that "human activities"— especially the burning of fossil fuels — have changed the earth's climate since the 1950s. But you rarely hear a weathercaster acknowledge it on the air.
After noting that the White House tapped several meteorologists for exclusive interviews with the president after the administration's release of their dire climate report at the beginning of the month, Zimmerman gets to the point.
I hope they do. But that will also require them to shed their jolly, happy-go-lucky style of journalism. Put simply, the weather has gotten serious. And weather reporters should follow suit.
The whole thing is patently absurd. Television meteorologists have a rapport with the audience not only for their forecasting and warnings, but because they have a personality. They're fun! Some of them, anyway. Look at Dave Schwartz at The Weather Channel, for instance. He doesn't know how to have a boring report.
Then there's Mickey Ferguson in Birmingham, Alabama, who...well, the video explains it.
But when the weather gets serious, so do the meteorologists. Television meteorologists know how to balance reporting with keeping the audience entertained, and they usually do a pretty good job of it. It takes someone who has never watched a news report in their life to know that meteorologists don't dance around and engage in witty banter when there's a tornado on the ground or a serious story being discussed. Zimmerman is either willfully or ignorantly confusing how newscasts work.
To suggest that meteorologists have to turn into Very Serious People just because climate reporting is a Very Serious Topic is silly. Why should they destroy something that works and that the audience is able to relate to because you've got an academic stick up your backdoor cold front? They're perfectly capable of relaying information about climate change to their audiences without resorting to that boring, professorial monotone that I assume you're familiar with.
Zimmerman ends his piece with another jab:
But there's more. The relaxed, cheery atmosphere of modern weather reporting prevents informed weathercasters from addressing climate change with the gravity it deserves. To be fair, some of them do mention global warming when discussing hurricanes and other emergencies. But it's hard to find room for that when half of their air time is taken up with humorous chit-chat. And it's hard to take them seriously when their job is to make you laugh.
Nobody is better positioned to teach the public about human-made climate change than our nightly weather reporters. But we'll have to change the climate of their reporting first.
I've made no secret that I am firmly on the side of overwhelming evidence that climate change is a growing and present issue. But giving a stern, second grade teacher-esque lecture to meteorologists on how to do their jobs is the best way for them to laugh at you rather than take you seriously. Try again next time.
[Prince Charles doing the weather via ABC Australia]