Jim Gandy Leads on Climate Change

Jim Gandy - South Carolina's Weatherman

Jim has been a professional meteorologist for 44 years and has collected numerous awards on his way to becoming known as “South Carolina’s Weatherman”.

His journey with climate change started in 2005 at a retirement party when several professors asked Jim if climate change was real. He was unsure at the time, but as a trusted weathercaster, he was determined to find out. After countless hours of reading scientific peer-reviewed papers, a fellow meteorologist’s eye-opening observation that the atmosphere was thickening, and an investigation of his own local data, Jim became certain. The climate was changing and humans were causing it.

Shortly after Jim reached his conclusion, a partnership between George Mason University and Climate Central (an independent organization of respected scientists) led to the creation of a pilot program called Climate Matters. They wanted to see if TV weathercasters could be effective climate educators since they are a local, trusted source of information that millions of people watch regularly.

Despite the conventional wisdom that talking about climate change hurts ratings, Jim jumped at the opportunity to be the weathercaster for the Climate Matters pilot. He convinced them that he was the man for the job, saying, “I live in a dark red state. If you can talk about climate change here, you can talk about it anywhere.”

He didn’t know it then in 2010, but Jim was about to pioneer an incredibly important movement.

The results of the pilot were shocking and destroyed the myth that you turned people off by talking about climate change. Jim’s news station, WLTX saw viewership go up by 52% during the pilot and surveys showed that people watching WLTX had a better understanding of climate change and the scientific consensus on it.

More CO2 means bigger, more potent poison ivyAccording to Jim, the keys are to make sure it isn’t political, to present simple visuals, and to explain the fact-based science as a compelling, often localized, story. Two segments that were particularly popular were on poison ivy and pollen (big issues in South Carolina according to Jim).

Poison ivy is growing faster, has more than twice as much oil as it did 50 years ago, and it’s more toxic. Jim made connections with local data from Duke University, a national park, and hospitals’ emergency room visits to show that the additional CO2 in the atmosphere was making poison ivy way worse.

Similarly, longer growing seasons have increased pollen levels. They are expected to increase by another 30% by 2030. These two segments were tangible, local, and really got people talking.

On the back of all this success, Jim started another climate-related segment in response to California’s extended drought. He expected food prices to rise because California produces 66% of the produce in the US. To help people be more self-sufficient, the popular Gandy’s Garden segment was born. He also started a blog with climate news and often Tweets (@JimGandyWLTX) the latest developments.

When I asked Jim what motivates him to do all of this he went on a tear. I loved every second of it. Here are a few of the highlights:

”This is a man made problem. We caused it. We can solve it. But we can’t solve it until we educate people because then they’re more likely to take action. That’s my job – to inform people…

…You have to understand that in the not too distant future, these climate effects we’re seeing now are going to have economic impacts. It will impact your insurance, real estate, your retirement because things will cost more – from food, water, medical care, it doesn’t matter. This is all going to be impacted by climate change. Our civilization has benefited from a stable climate and now that climate has become unstable. The instability has consequences that go beyond the change itself…

…Sea level rise – it’s happening, it’s accelerating. The impact of that sea level rise is going to be felt along the coast and I have yet to see a projection that tells me all of the great cities are not in trouble…

…Forget the wall on the southern border, we need a wall on the eastern border!

…this is why i’m trying to alert people, if you want to solve the problem down the road you have to do it now. You can’t wait ‘til the problem exists because then it’s too late. You have to engage in long term thinking rather than short term thinking because if you just live in today you’ll never solve the problem of tomorrow.”

When Climate Matters started, only half of the weathercasters in the US believed in climate change and less than a third thought it was caused by humans. As of 2017, 80% of weathercasters believe in human-caused climate change.

Today, more than 600 TV weathercasters are involved in the program that Jim spearheaded, including 100 around the world. The program is 25% funded by the National Science Foundation* and the partnership has grown to include the American Meteorological Society, NASA, NOAA, and Yale. They describe the program like this:

“Climate Matters is a climate reporting resource program that helps meteorologists and journalists report on climate impacts and solutions in ways that are local, immediate, and personal — grounded in the latest science. Our team of scientists, data analysts and visual artists identifies and interprets data and produces easy-to-understand text and visual materials — including graphics, interactives and videos — to help journalists build stories that will engage and enlighten their audience.”

*Side note: the NSF funding is currently being attacked by 4 climate denying senators, on claims that it’s not science, but “propaganda”.

The work of Climate Matters is especially important since the corporate news networks have been failing to explain the role of climate change in the extreme weather we’re seeing today. ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX’s nightly and Sunday morning news shows combined for just 260 minutes of climate-related coverage in 2017 (205 of which were focused on Trump’s actions).

This blatant silence comes in a year where extreme weather caused:

  • Over $300 billion in damages.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people to be displaced.
  • Thousands of deaths.

Removing Trump-related news, these four main networks discussed climate change and how it is affecting us for less than one hour combined in 2017.

Climate silence on the news. These major media stations talked about climate change for less than an hour in 2017

In other words, these corporate stations are ignoring the story of the century.

All the more reason to celebrate Jim’s work and Climate Matters!


Take Sustainable Action

Tell your local weathercaster to get with the program! Getting these influencers to talk about climate change is one of the best ways to get millions of people more informed and involved. Here’s an example of what you could say if you’re looking for ideas.

Read other content from the “Highlighting Someone Awesome” section or see all sections of the What on EARTH?! sustainability newsletter.

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“Strikes the perfect balance between smart, understandable, funny, and compelling.” – Jackie

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