Climate change’s weather vane
The key difference between weather and climate is one of time, with weather covering short periods and climate covering long ones. The close relationship between the two means that meteorologists are well placed to forward the debate on climate change – and that is exactly what is happening.
Weather presenters across Europe have been using their high public profiles and credibility to raise awareness of one of the greatest challenges facing our world today. One example is Jill Peeters, a weather presenter at VTM, a commercial television channel in Flanders in Belgium. As well as keeping viewers posted on when they can expect a break in the clouds and some sunny spells in notoriously wet Belgium, she has also made a name for herself as a climate change campaigner.
Peeters has also published a popular book, Ons planet wordt heet (Our planet is getting hot), writes regular articles on global warming for the Flemish press and has produced climate-related documentaries.
Peeters’ book enjoyed a warm reception. “When my book was released, it was among the top 10 bestsellers in Flanders. That’s not bad at all for a book about such a complicated scientific subject. And the reactions are still very positive,” she explains.
The Flemish weather presenter has also drawn attention to the lesser-known consequences of climate change. She produced a documentary about the El Molo people who fish Lake Turkana in Kenya. As the lake’s waters recede, due to global warming and damming, their survival is under threat.
“It was amazing how many people were touched by this story. The documentary brought global warming into their living rooms,” she recalls. “I’m convinced that only this kind of personal story can change people’s minds.”
Engaging the public
In the Czech Republic, Taťána Míková, who works for Czech public television, is also using her weather slot to spread the word about climate change. During the week, she presents a daily World Weather Review, a ten-minute programme that explains the changes in the frequency of extreme weather events and looks at the changes in the climate over the past century, especially in the past two decades. She also prepares reports on climate change for an educational programme and gives public lectures on the subject.
Míková’s work has been welcomed by viewers and the people who attend her lectures. “When I compare the e-mails and letters from viewers now with those I used to receive five years ago, there is a huge difference,” she says. And she has noticed how the debate has begun to affect people’s behaviour. “Some people write to me or tell me in discussions about how they are recycling their waste and changing their energy consumption – statistics also show that people have changed their behaviour.”
However, much still remains to be done, she adds, since the climate change debate has yet to penetrate deeply into Czech public consciousness. “At my lectures, I meet very well educated people who know quite a lot about the problem. But there are also many people in my country who probably have never heard about it – or do not want to hear,” she points out.
Míková herself is no newcomer to climate change. For a decade now, she has been active with the country’s National Climate Programme and, between 2003 and 2006, worked in a team producing a climate atlas of the Czech Republic.
The energy of youth
In Ireland, Gerald Fleming – who works for the National Meteorological Service and is in charge of the weather team at RTÉ, the Irish public broadcaster – is dedicating much of his attention to reaching young people. “I have worked quite a lot with schoolchildren. I tell them that my generation has created this mess, but their generation will have to find a way out of it,” he explains. He hopes that his influence on younger people will help “carry forward the challenge”.
In addition, global warming has become an integral part of his weather team’s broadcasts. “We provide end-of-month and end-of-season statistics (wettest, windiest, warmest, etc.) to the public through our regular weather bulletins; we feel that this helps to keep the focus on climate,” he says.
Fleming is also working to translate general awareness into a rallying call for action. “Awareness is very high in Ireland, but I think that this awareness is confined to a general knowledge of the problem. I don’t think the average Irish person has any real idea of the societal changes that are needed if we are to seriously tackle this problem,” he notes.
Harnessing the wind of change
Míková, Peeters and Fleming are all members of the Climate Broadcasters Network – Europe (CBN-E; www.cbn-e.eu), which was set up by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment in 2007 to help like-minded weather presenters meet up and exchange know-how on communicating climate change. The main objective is to enable weather presenters and meteorologists to explain the effects of climate change to citizens and the science behind it, as well as the actions we can take to help mitigate and adapt to global warming.
“Our challenge is to use the credibility we have with the viewers to help them believe in, understand and act upon climate change,” emphasises Fleming. “The work of other colleagues throughout Europe has inspired me to try harder to raise awareness in Ireland, and it has given me many practical examples of ways and means that I can use in spreading the message at home.”
Peeters says: “CBN-E has given me a network with which I can share my experiences in communicating global warming with colleagues.” Míková adds that CBN-E has helped her learn more about climate change, communicate with colleagues and share experiences with them. And this is crucial in the rapidly changing world of climate change. “Each year brings new facts. We have to be up to date and able to speak about it in a way in which people understand,” says Míková.