The Baxter Bulletin

August 19, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS - The Weather Channel is getting off the fence and into the middle of the global warming debate with a new program that will explore how climate change affects people in this country and elsewhere.

"We're finally saying the weather isn't apolitical and it isn't an act of God -- it's more complicated than that," Heidi Cullen, a climate expert with the 24-hour weather network, said Wednesday during a breakfast meeting at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.

Cullen, who earned a Ph.D. in climatology and ocean-atmosphere dynamics at Columbia University, will host the "The Climate Code," which premieres Oct. 1 on The Weather Channel.

Weather, or at least what to do about it, has been a festering political issue in this country ever since the Republican-dominated Senate refused to ratify the Kyoto Treaty. The pact requires the world's most developed nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases believed to be a major cause of a worldwide temperature increase.

While President Bush acknowledges that climate change is a problem, he believes developing new technologies, not mandating emissions standards, is a better solution because it won't wreak havoc with this country's economy.

For the most part, the debate over global warming has taken place among politicians, scientists and activists. But it has not been a high priority for most Americans. Cullen hopes to change this. She wants people to understand that global warming is not an exotic issue and that it directly affects them.

"The climate is connected to energy, which is connected to population, which is connected to the economy," Cullen told me. "So I want each show to start with the science and then eventually lead you to your backyard."

That approach makes a lot of sense to me.

These days there's a lot less disagreement about the existence of global warming than there is about what to do about it. It's on this latter point that the Bush administration and the 114 countries that signed the Kyoto Treaty disagree.

But while the scientific issues surrounding global warming are becoming clearer to many Americans, the way it affects us is not as clear.

For example, the high rate of asthma among black children can be linked to global warming, said Janet Johnson, a vice president with The Weather Channel who is overseeing development of Cullen's show.

"We can directly link that to air pollution," she said. "I'm really hopeful that that won't be too much of a leap for parents to see."

For me, that's the real promise of Cullen's show. If it works, it will help people understand the link between manmade weather changes melting distant polar ice caps and changes in their everyday lives.

Lower-income people living in trailer homes, for example, will be more at risk from hurricanes and tornadoes -- and related flooding -- caused by global warming.

And those who can't afford homes with air conditioning will face increased threats from heat waves, another consequence of climate change.

"Weather was seen as an act of God that you just can't do anything about," Cullen said. "That's not true anymore."

She said "our hand is now helping to guide" the increasingly harsh weather conditions we've experienced in recent years.

If it succeeds in getting that message across, "The Climate Code" will be a valuable addition to The Weather Channel's programming -- and could make the debate over global warming a matter of greater concern to the American people.

Informant: NHNE


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