The New Language of Climate Change

Scientists and meteorologists on the front lines of the climate wars are testing a new strategy to get through to the skeptics and outright deniers.

PHOENIX—Leading climate scientists and meteorologists are banking on a new strategy for talking about climate change: Take the politics out of it.

That means avoiding the phrase “climate change,” so loaded with partisan connotations as it is. Stop talking about who or what is most responsible. And focus instead on what is happening and how unusual it is—and what it is costing communities.

The strategy is being increasingly employed in more conservative regions of the country, where climate doubt still runs deep—even if there are signs of cracks in the resistance thanks to the pummeling pattern of highly unusual and costly weather events.

“They see it firsthand,” Robert Mark Simpson, a professor of geography at the University of Tennessee at Martin, told me. “There is a sort of acknowledgment that the climate is changing. They just don’t think humans are that impactful. [They think blaming humans is] a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. economy.”

Simpson attended the conference at the Phoenix Convention Center to outline his three-year effort to educate farmers about climate change in western Tennessee and eastern Kentucky, where at some dinner tables the term remains a political curse word. Tennessee just elected a leading climate change doubter, Marsha Blackburn, to the U.S. Senate.

It’s a tall order. So, he is also trying another tack to reach the political and religious conservatives for which farming has been in the family for generations: warning that the family business might be in jeopardy—sooner than they might think.

Will they be able to farm here 30 to 40 years from now?

Another line of argument he has found to appeal to conservatives’ personal connection to nature.

“Many are hunters and fishermen. They are really tied to the environment,” Simpson said. He finds he can reach them by trying to tap into their belief that “we’ve been given stewardship” of the Earth.

But the political headwinds that he and others are up against—especially in red states where political leaders are unwilling to accept the scientific consensus that human activity is playing an outsize role in the changing climate—were on display last weekend.

As winter storms bore down on large swaths of the country, Trump took to Twitter to warn Americans to “be careful and try staying in your house. Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold.”

Nowhere is the challenge of convincing the doubters without being labeled a partisan or environmental zealot greater than in the ranks of broadcast meteorologists. Local TV weather experts were among the last holdouts in the scientific community to accept the consensus that humans are responsible for climate change—so much so that in 2014 then-President Barack Obama met with some of them as part of his effort to sell his environmental policy agenda.

“I think a lot of the broadcasters were concerned that there was such a political divide within the population and if they were very vocal of any aspect of climate change some subset of their audience would not view them with a level of trust,” Keith Seitter, a meteorologist and the American Meteorological Society’s executive director, told me.

Now, some 600 broadcast meteorologists, out of an estimated 2,200 in the United States, are working with Climate Matters to craft new ways to tell their viewers about climate change.

“I have changed my presentation a bit,” Jim Gandy, chief meteorologist for the CBS affiliate in Columbia, S.C., told me. “I used to start with the science. Now I try to show them how it is changing and then I go into why it is changing. That may be a more effective approach. I share the raw data with them that has not been ‘manipulated’ and it throws them for a loop.”

Even in viewing areas considered Democratic strongholds, talking about climate change can be risky.

“You have to be careful,” Bob Ryan, a longtime television meteorologist in Washington who was the first network meteorologist, told me. “If you get into policy you are getting into political quicksand. People don’t want to be lectured to. That doesn’t accomplish anything.”

So he too is in the habit of explaining related weather events in the context of how much more often they are occurring than in the past. “Ellicott City has had a number of 500-year flood events in recent years,” he cites as one example, referring to the Baltimore suburb.

Exclusive — Discussion About GOP Replacement to Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House Intensifies in White House, Congress

Republican officials in Congress and the White House are now openly discussing finding a GOP replacement to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Speaker of the House, after Ryan failed to pass the American Health Care Act out of the House and misled the public and President Donald Trump when he promised repeatedly the bill would pass.

Ryan was caught on an audio file from October—obtained by Breitbart News and published a couple weeks ago—saying he is “not going to defend Donald Trump—not now, not in the future.” While the audio file does not make the comments clear, Ryan’s staff later claimed that it was specifically about the Access Hollywood tape scandal from the election. The audio tape of Ryan, recorded from a House GOP members’ conference call, does not make that context clear.

 .. the president is concerned that Ryan may not have his—or his agenda’s—best interests at heart. Ryan’s failure to deliver the votes on healthcare cement Trump’s skepticism of Ryan, they say.
.. After the election in November, it was widely reported that there were enough Republican votes to remove Ryan as Speaker—and the only reason conservatives kept him is that Trump won the election and embraced Ryan. But now Trump may perceive Ryan as a burden rather than someone who can help enact his agenda
.. It has gotten so far along in the process that alternative names are being thrown around—anyone from House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), to former Freedom Caucus chair Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)—to Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Peter Roskam (R-IL), according to one senior House GOP aide.
.. The fact that Frelinghuysen—a committee chairman of the powerful House panel that oversees the disbursement of government cash–came out publicly against the legislation is proof that Ryan has problems inside the House GOP conference that go much deeper than the House Freedom Caucus. It is worth noting that Frelinghuysen is a direct descendant of America’s founding fathers, and his family has served in Congress in every generation since the 1700s.
.. There are ongoing discussions in House offices conference-wide whether Republicans should use the same tactic that conservatives used in 2015 to remove now-former Speaker John Boehner from the House. Back then, Meadows—then just a member of the House Freedom Caucus—introduced what is called a resolution with a motion to vacate the chair.
.. Asked explicitly whether President Trump has confidence in Ryan remaining as Speaker, White House press secretary Sean Spicer would not answer Breitbart News, yes or no.
.. quoted a senior administration official to note that “The president’s aides are planning to blame Ryan if there is an embarrassing defeat on a bill that has been a Republican goal for more than seven years.”
.. Bloomberg’s piece also questions the future of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, a Ryan ally who previously was Republican National Committee chairman and was also a central part of pushing this bill, alongside his longtime friend from Wisconsin.“A Trump associate who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s views on the matter said that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus may also be imperiled,

.. The Wisconsin Republican unmasked himself as the man most capable of demolishing his own party and the Trump presidency,” the Washington Times‘ Ralph Hallow wrote late Thursday, calling Ryan’s bill “a piece of moderate GOP trash.”

.. But as Ryan lost significant numbers of Republicans conference-wide ahead the vote, something Ryan finally admitted to Trump at the White House earlier on Friday after misleading for weeks on the level of GOP support

.. Ryan–through a variety of political action committees affiliated with his leadership PAC–has been targeting Republicans with advertisements on television and radio in their districts. The attack ads notably only hit Republicans, and not Democrats, and are something Ryan explicitly promised he would not do when he ran for Speaker in the wake of Boehner’s resignation. Boehner’s downfall was in large part due to advertisements he ran against his own members.

.. “Meadows is the acting Speaker of the House,”