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NASA image of Superstorm Sandy

Climate out of control

TV meteorologists talk about climate change: An interview with Paul Douglas, plus four local TV meteorologists

JP: How so?
PD: It was no longer my grandfather's weather. The rain was falling with greater ferocity. We were seeing more extremes with greater frequency and greater intensity than I had ever witnessed in my career.

So I started digging into the peer-reviewed science and basically came to the conclusion that climate scientists were probably right, that there's just too much evidence.

We are a part of nature. I don't see anywhere in the Bible where it says that we're supposed to dominate nature. The book of Luke says, "We are stewards and we will be accountable for our stewardship." I take that seriously.

When I talk to my friends on both sides of the aisle politically I say, "We're accountable. You should care about this. If you care about your kids and your grandkids, as our parents cared for us, this is not only a scientific issue, it's a moral issue and an ethical issue."

There is something fundamentally immoral about kicking the can down the road and saying, "Well, not enough data and maybe it's real but our kids and our grandkids can clean up our mess."

JP: When did you begin to actually talk about climate change as part of your job as a broadcast meteorologist?

PD: In the late '90s I began including it in my weather statements.

JP: Was anybody else doing it at that time?

PD: No, no. The pervasive feeling at the time was that … if you even mention the term global warming or climate change you will instantly alienate 30 percent of your audience and they will tune out. So, you know, it's kryptonite.

Every day I would get scores of emails like, "Flaming liberal. You crazy crackpot. Why are you buying into this Al Gore conspiracy? You're going to cripple our economy."

It is the equivalent of sticking your finger in the electrical socket. Most of us are conditioned to avoid pain, to avoid controversy. Everybody on television wants to be loved and your contract – whether you're renewed – really depends on your ability to attract an audience. Just by reporting on this you know that you're alienating people with a certain ideology.

This science, as strong as it is, is toxic to a lot of these people who just can't or won't accept peer-reviewed science because it does not fit in with their world view. My entire life I've voted Republican and I'm a moderate Republican, which is kind of an oxymoron these days, but I've been very moderate in my beliefs. I'm fiscally conservative, socially liberal.

JP: Yet you persisted.

PD: I persisted and I continue to persist because the subject is too important. I thought it was ludicrous that this was somehow a litmus test for conservatism.

I remind my Republican friends that Teddy Roosevelt, staunch Republican, founded the National Parks Service. Richard Nixon, say what you will about Dick Nixon, and I'm not a huge Nixon fan, but he started the EPA. There is a history of environmental respect, respect for the environment.