The polar ice caps may be melting and the seas slowly swallowing western Alaska, but let us breathe a collective sigh of relief now that one of the longstanding holdouts in Deniersville has decided that those climate-studying scientists were right after all: the earth is heating up, and humans are indeed responsible. In a belated move of intellectual integrity and moral urgency, CNN meteorologist Chad-come-lately Myers, serving as weather correspondent for the network since 1999, has packed up his collection of old canards and put them to pasture.
It couldn’t have anything to do with Bill Nye calling him out on his own network earlier this week, could it? Surely it does—because when The Science Guy needles you on national television, you churn out an op-ed at lightning speed clarifying your views. Coincidence of timing or no, I’d like to see the two on the same side in future climate segments, matching bow ties optional. If nothing else, perhaps our howls will be slightly less exaggerated when “The Most Trusted Name in News” slides across the ticker. (Barf)
And let’s not call this a miracle. Call it what happens after a sober assessment of available evidence and a principled muzzling of self-pride. Call it an example of a hardline denier who frequently used his role as a news personality to misinform the public and question the anthropogenic connection to climate change setting things right. His plainspoken op-ed comes up more than a few marbles short of courageous, but it was necessary, if only so those who leaned on him for their climate doubts can no longer do so.
For a time it seemed as though nothing could penetrate Myers’ Venus-thick sulfuric cloud of denial, impervious as he was to ubiquitous climate data. In a 2008 segment he insisted, “to think that we could affect weather all that much is pretty arrogant.” Two years later he carted out the tinfoil by implicating climate scientists in a mass conspiracy of corruption. On other occasions he seemed to concede the planet is warming but downplayed our role in the matter by pointing up a smorgasbord of debunked mechanisms, including sunspot activity, negative cloud feedback, and urban heat island effects. All chewed cud, unbeknownst to noone.
As someone who eroded public understanding on climate for the better part of two decades, one might expect a more penitent posture or deliberate recall of his earlier comments. But instead he briefly recounts his intellectual journey from initial skepticism to acceptance. According to Myers, the evidence wasn’t in yet. Whatever keeps you from tossing and turning in the night, I suppose. He says that in the 1980s the human release of greenhouse gases had not yet emerged as a clear driver of climate change, with several other causal factors still on the table. Well, maybe the memo hadn’t yet reached undergrad meteorology programs, but that’s largely false.
The gravity of climate change was known at least as far back as 1965, when the first scientific report was made to President Lyndon Johnson. What’s more, the specific atmospheric agent was named in his special address to Congress that same year: “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.” And the scientific understanding of the link between CO2 and climate was of course established long before that: since the mid-19th century thanks to Tyndall and Arrhenius.
And while it’s true that there has always been a sizeable discrepancy between meteorologists and climatologists around human-induced climate change, all of the major professional societies in his own field had published official statements affirming the human origins of recent global warming and its future consequences by the early 2000s, including the World Meteorological Organization, the American Meteorological Society, and the American Geophysical Union (1999). We had the basic picture locked down decades ago, partisan politics notwithstanding; your doubts and skepticism were no more rational in 2005 than they were last year.
If Myers cared about this issue as much as his forthright denunciations over the course of his career suggest, why shirk due diligence and ignore those published statements by the top experts in his field? Where was this op-ed ten years ago? On the backburner while he catered to people for whom a general distrust in science comes as natural as breathing, is the correct answer.
Weather is not climate, and weathercasters are not climate scientists. But for most Americans, Myers and his on-air colleagues are probably the most visible scientists, for better or worse. Because of that, they bear profound responsibility for staying current with developments in the broader scientific community, especially those relating to climate change, and disseminating that information accurately to the public. I imagine Bill Nye would have said the same.
External link: Changing opinions on climate change, from a CNN meteorologist