Having lived in Baltimore for two decades, I've noticed an increased intensity of the storms we've had in just the last few years. From Hurricane Sandy to last summer's derecho, extreme weather is causing huge power outages and putting peoples' lives and property in danger.
It is now well-established that overheated air and water, caused by the burning of fossil fuels and other pollution, is having influencing our weather patterns. When I turn on the local television news, I expect to hear accurate reporting on these trends. That's why I was disturbed to read in The Baltimore Sun that WBAL (Channel 11) meteorologist Tony Pann regularly denies human-induced climate change is even happening, let alone that it is impacting our weather. I'm joining other Baltimore-area residents to call on WBAL to publicly correct Mr. Pann's misinformation and ensure that their entire news team begins reporting the facts about climate change and its impact on our weather.
For years, Mr. Pann has been using his status as a WBAL meteorologist and holder of the American Meteorological Society's Seal of Approval to perpetuate falsehoods about climate change. In 2009, Mr. Pann wrote, "There has [sic] been many stories to support that ice is actually increasing at the poles." That same year, the American Geophysical Union confirmed dramatic ice loss in both the Arctic and the Antarctic — a trend that has continued. Also in 2009, Mr. Pann said, "The planet stopped warming in 1998 and has shown distinct cooling this decade." Temperature records from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the UK Meteorology Office all confirm that 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record. Mr. Pann has alleged that scientists "cooked the books" to show warming, a conspiracy theory stemming from the so-called "Climategate" controversy that has been thoroughly debunked by the National Science Foundation and all other organizations that have investigated the matter.
WBAL has a long history of journalistic excellence and even received the coveted Peabody Award in 2005 — the first time in 50 years that Baltimore broadcasters had received that prestigious honor. This reputation has led members of the public to rely on WBAL for accurate reporting. Allowing one of its reporters to deny well-established science is not just a disservice to viewers, it's a stain on WBAL's reputation.
Earlier this month, I met with WBAL News Director Michelle Butt, along with University of Maryland scientist Eugenia Kalnay, an expert on meteorology and climate science, as part of the group Forecast the Facts, an organization dedicated to ensuring that the public hears the truth about climate change. During the meeting, we discussed Mr. Pann's climate change denial and asked Ms. Butt to take concrete steps to set the record straight. But while Ms. Butt seemed to understand the seriousness of climate change, she refused to take steps to make sure her viewers get the accurate reporting they deserve.
Following up on our meeting. Ms. Butt explained her unwillingness to correct Mr. Pann, writing, "Let me reiterate as well that on-air, we present all sides of a story/debate/issue. It's then up to the viewer to decide with what and whom he/she may agree. Again, on-air we do not take positions in these matters."
While I believe that Ms. Butt means well, from a journalistic point of view, her statement makes no sense. Human-induced climate change is not an issue to take a "position" on. It's a well-documented scientific finding backed by the National Academy of Sciences and every major scientific association in the country. Even Exxon Mobil and the U.S. military agree that human activity is causing the globe to warm. Ms. Butt would never say that WBAL refuses to "take sides" on whether smoking causes lung cancer, or whether eating fatty foods leads to heart attacks. The same should go for climate change.
Unfortunately, Ms. Butt's position is an example of the type of false balance that pervades our media's climate change reporting. The conclusions of the entire scientific community are often given equal weight alongside a handful of climate change deniers, whose views have been repeatedly debunked and never survive the peer-reviewed scientific process.
Climate change is very real, very serious, and already impacting the Baltimore area. It is the job of trusted media institutions like WBAL to help the public understand these facts. Instead, WBAL is allowing Mr. Pann to mislead his viewers. Many of these viewers in Baltimore are now calling on WBAL to clear the air. Every day that they refuse is another day for WBAL viewers to realize that if they want the facts about climate change, they'll have to change the channel to one that is willing to tell the truth.
Noel Levy is a community activist and Forecast the Facts member who lives in Pikesville. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun