Television meteorologists are fighting for the truth: Because they explain the connections between weather and the climate crisis, they are increasingly exposed to attacks from science deniers.
In the summer of 2023, reports of new weather extremes increased: forest fires in Italy, continuous rainfall in the Alps, floods in Greece. In addition, globally speaking, the hottest July since records began. The climate crisis is now increasingly playing a role in weather news – ignoring it is no longer possible.
“Climate and weather are different things, but the climate system that changes affects the weather, and therefore there are changes in the weather systems. And this connection is simply important to highlight,” says Özden Terli, who works at the ZDF moderated the weather broadcasts. He sees it as his job to educate people about climate change.
This particularly displeases science deniers, who vent their displeasure on social networks, among other places. “Why are you making yourself a puppet of the climate hysterics?”, “Another hired mouth that you no longer need to listen to,” “He’s a system chatterbox, nothing else” – Terli and his colleague Karsten Schwanke, weather presenter in the , experience hostility like this ARDnow almost daily.
Attacks are personal
While a few years ago the focus was on critical questions about scientific findings, Schwanke reports that there is now an increasing number of defamations and attempts at intimidation against him as a person.
This is a typical strategy of science deniers, says psychologist Philipp Schmid from the Institute for Planetary Health Behavior at the University of Erfurt. “The so-called ‘argumentum ad hominem’: You try to distract from the actual argument when there are very few or no counterarguments and instead try to attack the characteristics of the people.” Scientific positions were repeatedly attacked in this way during the corona pandemic.
Not only in Germany, but also in other countries such as Spain or the USA, it can be observed that the attacks by science deniers are now specifically directed against meteorologists – especially those who appear on television. The attacks range from insults and the insinuation of lies to threats and racist hostility.
In the case of Schwanke and Terli, opponents of public broadcasting are also among the commentators. But meteorologists at German private broadcasters are also increasingly affected by defamation. “Unfortunately, our editorial team is only too familiar with the topic. We also sometimes receive such messages through our customer service,” confirms a spokeswoman for Wetter.com, where all of the ProSieben-Sat.1 Group’s weather shows are produced.
Özden Terli moderates the weather programs on ZDF. He experiences hostility almost every day.
Alban Burster, who moderates the weather events on ProSieben and Sat.1, knows the allegations from his everyday life. “It is increasingly being said that we are spreading paid propaganda, over-dramatizing the climate crisis and should get away from our left-green ideology.” The tone has become significantly worse in recent months, especially on social networks.
Just like Terli, he also experiences racist hostility. “It goes so far that I formulate it with particular sensitivity so as not to risk a shitstorm.” There are also negative reactions on the RTL weather presenters’ social media channels, but only sporadically, explains a spokeswoman. The moderators are accused of hysteria, exaggeration and ideologically motivated scaremongering.
Psychologist Schmid explains where the defensive attitude towards climate facts comes from: “Many people don’t see them as scientific facts, but rather as representations of a political ideology that is colored green. They see themselves as being attacked in their own political convictions and then react emotionally with hate messages. “
Political framing as part of the problem
The meteorologists believe that the science deniers also receive support from political and media sources. Global warming is repeatedly trivialized in public discourse and the threat is downplayed.
Schmid confirms that right-wing populist parties in particular have made it their mission to attack scientifically established positions: “The idea behind it is to create a kind of ‘anything goes’ character. That means when you can no longer believe anything, not even anymore the scientific data, then I can feed people anything.” The aim is to ensure that scientific facts are not disseminated.
“Battle for the Truth”
Meteorologist Terli also sees the attacks as a targeted attempt to suppress reporting on the topic of climate “by permanently discrediting those who present these things.” He therefore recently decided to limit the comment function on his account on X, formerly Twitter. He does not rule out completely withdrawing from the network in the future if attacks continue to increase.
Schwanke also says that he sometimes feels like he is part of a fight, a “battle for the truth.” However, neither of them want to be intimidated.
“I think that scientists, meteorologists and journalists should also defend themselves more and not put up with everything,” says Terli. “If facts are no longer taken seriously and are softened, then we have a huge problem in our society that goes far beyond the issue of science denial.”
You can see the entire Panorama report on Thursday evening at 9:45 p.m. on Erste or in the ARD media library.