Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


Changing the Media Discussion on Climate and Extreme Weather

Posted: April 19, 2011

Along with co-author Christine Shearer, AOSS Professor Ricky Rood discusses the impact of the current situation surrounding the news media and the scientific community when it comes to reporting on climate change and extreme weather events, and the importance of reframing the discussion on climate and weather.


There is a visible, evolving struggle in U.S. media stories over how to discuss climate change and weather, particularly extreme weather events. Many news stories have long separated climate change and weather as separate entities, often bringing them together only during an “extreme” event to ask if there is definitive causation between them — i.e. did climate change cause a particular extreme weather event? This question is then usually posed to scientists with the expectation of a definitive yes-or-no answer. Such questions do not readily accommodate the complexity of Earth’s climate or the nature of scientific research. Further, such questions in essence force scientists to pretend there are two realities, one with the “natural,” pre-industrial greenhouse gas levels, and one with the anthropogenically changed levels, and determine whether the latter or the former “caused” the event. It is a misleading question that often traps scientists and confuses the public.


Latest Headlines