“Severe weather not due to climate change,” ran the comforting headline in a recent San Antonio Express-News interview with Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.
When asked in the opening question about the link between “climate change and severe weather patterns,” Nielsen-Gammon responded that U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is “essentially correct” to say that “long-term trends in weather disasters are not caused by human-made activity.”
While it would appear that he is denying climate change’s influence on severe weather (a perception bolstered by the headline), the nearly impenetrable reality is he was speaking about related economic losses from those storms. It’s not until the end of the interview that Nielsen-Gammon’s unequivocal position on global warming (“it’s real” and “mostly us”) becomes clear.
That performance by our state climatologist—tasked with monitoring and communicating Texas climate information from his Texas A&M University office since being appointed to the position by Governor Rick Perry former Gov. George W. Bush in 2000—led to a lot of grumbling among San Antonio environmentalists and beyond. The headline, with Nielsen-Gammon’s approval, was later changed to a more accurate, “Effect of man-made changes hard to quantify.”
“What I disliked on that one was the order of things,” said a Texas-based climate researcher who has worked closely with Nielsen-Gammon in the past and asked not to be identified by name. “I’m not sure he’s ever had any communication training.”
For years, scientists have warned that intensified heat and drought, more powerful storms and accelerating sea-level rise from unchecked climate change could challenge the ability of human society to adapt. It’s a warning that even the Pentagon has taken to heart.
But in Texas, that urgent message is denied outright by many of the state’s most prominent elected leaders and frequently downplayed in the media.
Environmental stories get little ink. And even when preeminent climate-change communicators get a platform in the press, as the Express-News flop shows, confusion can reign.