At the outset of an otherwise mediocre article on AGW, Leslie Kaufman provides some useful background information for people who came in late:
The debate over global warming has created predictable adversaries, pitting environmentalists against industry and coal-state Democrats against coastal liberals.To put it another way, a scientific question was reduced to a matter of identity politics, so that it could be debated ad infinitum in the media, according to unreasonable rules that journalists enforce while pretending to be objective bystanders.
But now, "the debate over global warming" is also creating friction between groups that "might be expected to agree on the issue: climate scientists and meteorologists, especially those who serve as television weather forecasters."
Climatologists, who study weather patterns over time, almost universally endorse the view that the earth is warming and that humans have contributed to climate change. There is less of a consensus among meteorologists, who predict short-term weather patterns.Which is really just a roundabout way of saying that people who understand climate science tend to have a better grasp of climate science than people who don't. The fact that climatologists and weather forecasters both talk about rainfall doesn't make them peers, any more than my ability to play "Chopsticks" makes me Charles-Valentin Alkan's peer. The only surprise here is that anyone imagined otherwise.
Kaufman notes that only about half of America's weather forecasters have a degree in meteorology. It's probably coincidental that a recent study found that "only about half of the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring." But either way, who cares? What makes the opinion of these non-experts more compelling than that of any other non-expert?
The split between climate scientists and meteorologists is gaining attention in political and academic circles because polls show that public skepticism about global warming is increasing, and weather forecasters — especially those on television — dominate communications channels to the public. A study released this year by researchers at Yale and George Mason found that 56 percent of Americans trusted weathercasters to tell them about global warming far more than they trusted other news media or public figures like former Vice President Al Gore or Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate.Some Americans may doubt AGW because they trust weathercasters. Others may trust weathercasters because they doubt AGW. Whatever the case, Kaufman predictably ignores the role of the media: the fact that dissenting TV weather forecasters tend to work for the very same businesses that routinely provide a megaphone to other non-expert denialists is somehow not germane to the issue of "public skepticism."
So some people who are frequently on TV say one thing, and other people who are rarely on TV say something else, an isn't it interesting how people disagree about stuff?
“In a sense the question is who owns the atmosphere: the people who predict it every day or the people who predict it for the next 50 years?” said Bob Henson, a science writer for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, who trained as a meteorologist and has followed the divide between the two groups.In another, more accurate sense, the question is: who has enough expertise to assess the data and draw conclusions that are likely to be trustworthy?
That's no fun, though. Isn't it better to reduce everything to a pissing contest, even if it means grotesquely misrepresenting the terms of the debate? Granted, you can't say that weather forecasters attempt to "predict the atmosphere" in the sense that climatologists do. And you shouldn't imply that forecasting three days of rain in Portland, OR requires the same knowledge and skills as climate modeling. And you can't pretend that the media are simply watching this Clash of the Titans from the sidelines; allowing one's weather forecasters to strut around in borrowed plumes is a management decision, after all.
But when all's said and done, views differ! And isn't that what matters most in a democracy like ours?
“There is a little bit of elitist-versus-populist tensions,” Mr. Henson said. “There are meteorologists who feel, ‘Just because I have a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on.’ ”Damn straight. I don't know the meaning of half those long words, and I don't believe climatologists do either.
The fact that meteorologists are vying with climatologists to be accepted as experts on climate data doesn't really strike me as an outbreak of populism. But it's nice to be reminded that although we praise individual effort as the solution to all life's problems, we tend to detest people who are actually rewarded for it. In a scrupulously fair meritocracy like ours, assuming that the people above you are phonies and cheats is almost as important as sneering at the poor.
Since we must maintain the polite fiction that the AGW debate takes place on a level playing-field, it's better to complain about the ignorance of meteorologists than the professional rewards they can earn by putting it on display.
“What we’ve recognized is that the everyday person doesn’t come across climatologists, but they do come across meteorologists,” said Melanie Fitzpatrick, a climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Meteorologists do need to understand more about climate because the public confuses this so much.”Sure. Because if meteorologists understood more about the climate, they'd stop resenting all those goddamn climatological elitists and admit that AGW probably isn't a hoax. And then, the executives who pay their salaries would reward their honesty by giving them more money and more airtime. And then, any doubters in the audience would conclude that these previously skeptical meteorologists had been swayed by the evidence, rather than indoctrinated into some sort of anti-human death cult. And then, at long last, we'd reach a public consensus as well as a scientific one. Which could conceivably lead to an eventual consensus on some sort of prospective solution, long after we're all mercifully dead and buried.
It's worth a shot, I guess.