Here’s a stat that should scare you: only one in three Americans say they have occasionally talked to family and friends about climate change in the last year. That’s down 8% since 2008, according to a Yale study released in September.
While ice caps are melting, species are pushed to the brink and coastal communities drown beneath violent storms, the public has essentially tuned out the issue. We have Miley Cyrus to fret over and Kardashians on Instagram. We’re busy.
But there’s one area that makes climate change personal, urgent and local: the weather. And everybody talks about the weather. The same Yale study found that “Americans who experienced an extreme weather event in the past year were most likely to talk to others about it.”
The weather sure has gone extreme: Hurricane Sandy smashed into New York, killing nearly 300; the decade from 2000 to 2010 was the hottest on record; devastating droughts hit large parts of the United States; and in 2013 a powerful typhoon killed over 5,000 people and turned parts of the Philippines into a pile of wooden sticks.
Of course, none of those events can directly be contributed to climate change. But they don’t surprise scientists who have been studying the models, and the forecast for major disasters driven by rising sea levels and climbing temperatures is scary.
That’s why The Weather Company feels we have a role to play. The company was founded 30 years ago with the mission of keeping people safe from severe weather, and that is still central to everything we do. Increasingly that means having honest conversations with our viewers on the real-world effects of climate change. Because buried in the big picture are the stories of millions of real people you can’t see on weather maps or satellite graphics.
Last year, our editors reported on a tribe of Native Americans whose homes are all but pushed into the sea by industrial development, hurricanes and climate change. Hurricane expert Bryan Norcross, who sounded the alarms during Hurricane Sandy, is currently in the Philippines trying to make sense of what he calls a “nuclear wasteland.” And we premiered Tipping Points, a six-hour series that takes viewers from the Amazon to the Himalayas to the Namibian Desert, showing them the places where climate change is scary because it’s real.
We’ve found that viewers are willing to engage in the climate conversation with us after we’ve earned their trust reporting on severe weather events, showing them glimpses of a changing but still achingly beautiful Earth and breaking down the science behind the hyperbole.
None of it is without controversy. Comments on our websites are evenly split between people deeply worried about climate change and people worried about the sanity of those who believe in it. There’s clearly a lot of work to do.
But there’s also a road map to getting there. We feel storytelling backed by science is the strongest way to move the conversation from crazy to common sense to creative solutions. And lots of publishers and broadcasters, including us, are getting in on the act.
“Hacking the Planet,” a big idea series we ran last year, looked at the very “out there” science of using volcanos to cool the Earth. The Guardian recently profiled Dutch efforts to turn Rotterdam into a climate change-proof sponge. And Motor Trend named an all-electric vehicle the car of the year.
The great irony is that science partially got us into this mess. But we believe science and a whole lot of human ingenuity can get us out of it. And that’s a story worth telling.
Author: David Kenny is chairman and chief executive officer of the Weather Company and is participating in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos 2014.
Image: A home that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, is seen in Union Beach. REUTERS/Eric Thaye