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Meet the TV Meteorologist Who Quit After Facing Death Threats for Explaining Climate Crisis on Air

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Chris Gloninger resigned from his position as chief meteorologist for KCCI-TV in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday after receiving death threats as a direct result of reporting on climate change. One man behind the emails has pleaded guilty to harassment. We speak with Gloninger, now a senior climate scientist at the Woods Hole Group, about the difficulties scientists and journalists face when reporting on the climate crisis. “Meteorologists need to be doing this more, not less,” says Gloninger.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we end today’s show with a TV meteorologist in Iowa who resigned his job after receiving a series of death threats and harassing messages over his coverage of the climate crisis. This is how Chris Gloninger, chief meteorologist for the CBS affiliate KCCI-TV in Des Moines, Iowa, signed off Friday after his final broadcast.

CHRIS GLONINGER: I’m walking away from a career, an 18-year career in television, that I dreamed of since second grade. So that’s why I’m a little emotional. And I can’t thank KCCI enough for the opportunity to become chief meteorologist. I’m not giving up. I’m just reinventing myself, finding ways that I can make a bigger difference with climate change — more important than ever as the Earth recorded three of its warmest days, now four of its warmest days, this week.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Chris Gloninger Friday. This is a clip from one of his recent broadcasts for KCCI-TV in which he connected the dots between the Canadian wildfires and the climate crisis.

CHRIS GLONINGER: As the planet warms, a lot of these fires are gaining steam and seeing explosive growth because of the warming planet, and we are paying the price in the form of poor air quality across the state. And if we look back at the month of May, globally, it was the third warmest on record, the warmest ocean water temperatures that we have seen on record. And at this point, already an 89 — 89% chance that 2023 will be not just a top 10, but a top five warmest on record. Big signals, concerning trends.

AMY GOODMAN: So, for more, we’re joined now from Falmouth, Massachusetts, by Chris Gloninger. He has resigned his job as KCCI-TV chief meteorologist in Des Moines, Iowa, and started a new position as a senior climate scientist at the Woods Hole Group.

So, Chris, take us back to the beginning. You started the country’s first weekly series on climate change when you were in Boston. But then, why did you go to Iowa, which is so important even in determining the president of the United States, but to be the chief meteorologist? And what happened to you when you started your reports?

CHRIS GLONINGER: Amy, as cheesy as this sounds, we wanted to make a difference. My wife and I have no connection to Iowa, no family, no friends there, going into the move. We truly made the move because I thought I could fill a void, a void where no one was talking about climate change. And station management saw that need, as well, and I commend them for bringing me on board to do that. And it was a big leap of faith, going from Boston, where it tended to be a preaching to the choir, right into the lion’s den.

And when you heard me connecting the dots, it wasn’t anything outrageous. Iowa is powered 65% by wind, right? So, that is true renewable energy independence. Farmers get a good amount of money for land leases for those wind turbines. Eleven percent of the GDP is agriculture-based. And you would think, being at the mercy of Mother Nature, that a lot more people would care about the climate crisis.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, could you talk about the reaction that you got and the emails and the people — threats, people showing up at your house?

CHRIS GLONINGER: Juan, you know, it caught me off guard. My wife was running errands. I had come back from a haircut. And I read this email. And it said, “What’s your address? Us conservative Iowans want to give you a welcome that you’ll always remember, kind of what the [blank] tried to do to Justice Kavanaugh.” And police, when they read that, said, “This is more than just an email that states, ’I’m going to come and kill you.’” It was deliberate. It had, essentially, a plan on how this person would carry it out. Now, he was arrested for harassment in the third degree, a $150 fine in Iowa.

And I think what’s most concerning in all of this is, yes, the threat was made, but in my position as meteorologist, a chief meteorologist in a major severe weather market in the United States, it’s a high-profile job, and not a single remark from Republican leadership in that state condemning what was said. And this was something that was widely reported on when it happened last year, and again during my resignation.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Gloninger, last July, you shared this series of disturbing emails that you got regarding your coverage. One message said, quote, “Science like FAUCI you dumb son of a [bleep], go east and drown from the ice cap melting dumb [bleep]!!!” That message referring to President Biden’s former chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci. Another message said, “What’s your home address, we conservative Iowans would like to give you an Iowan welcome you will never forget.” If you can talk about the response of your network? You were thanking them at the end of your final broadcast. But why you felt you had to leave? And how much support did you get?

CHRIS GLONINGER: Tremendous support. And, Amy, what’s funny is, if you notice that first email, if you find humor in it, he acknowledges that the ice caps are warming. So, anyway.

But, yes, when I received the series of obsessive emails, it started the ball rolling with conversations between my wife and I. What is next for us? I went to therapy every single week for a year following this event. And it took a lot of soul-searching and reflecting on what do we do next. And ultimately, it was to retool and reinvent myself and my career. I have always been engaged in what I do. I made it into a top 10 market in Boston, Massachusetts. And I was finding myself at a loss for words, filling my weathercasts with “ums” and “uhs,” and it just wasn’t me. And my station supported it. Again, I commend them for making the effort to talk about climate change in an area where it hadn’t been talked about before. But, you know, meteorologists need to be doing this more, not less. So I encourage my colleagues to keep going and find a place to make the connections.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Your colleagues, the meteorological community is a small one. Have you heard of similar experiences from other colleagues of yours in other stations and cities?

CHRIS GLONINGER: There are a ton of negative emails. There isn’t the number of death threats. There haven’t been a lot of death threats made against my colleagues. We all receive the same number of emails that push back against our coverage. And it’s that 11%, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University, that are dismissive. But you’re far more likely to write in when you don’t approve of something that is happening. And I get that. And they are the loud minority.

But a lot of what they’re giving us in return is photoshopped graphs, poorly at that — poorly done at that, and they’re quoting self-proclaimed experts that say that they are an expert in climate change. But in reality, they have no background in the subject matter, but yet they are getting hundreds of retweets because it follows their ideology. It would be like asking an airline pilot and talking to them about your cholesterol, because your cardiologist said you have high cholesterol, but you’re trusting the judgment of a pilot. Just the logic blows my mind that I can have an eight-year college background between my undergraduate degree and master’s degree, but this person, this self-proclaimed person, holds more weight, because, again, it follows their beliefs and ideology, and not the science and data.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Chris, you’re not the only one. In 2006, Dr. Heidi Cullen of the Weather Channel urged other TV forecasters to address climate change in their reporting. She was met with criticism, a lot of it sexist. She later went on to write on her Weather Channel blog, “If a meteorologist can’t speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS [the American Meteorological Society] should not give them a Seal of Approval. If a meteorologist has an AMS Seal of Approval, which is used to confer legitimacy to TV meteorologists, then meteorologists have a responsibility to truly educate themselves on the science of global warming.” We just have a minute left, Chris. What is your recommendation, both for Iowa, which often can help to determine the president of the United States — the Republican presidential candidates are traipsing through right now — to meteorologists, what they need to say?

CHRIS GLONINGER: First of all, Bob Inglis, Republican congressman from the Carolinas, ran on climate, lost, unfortunately, but works with colleagues to help Republicans understand the impacts of climate change. That is important.

To my meteorology colleagues, if you’re talking about an earthquake, if you’re talking about a volcanic eruption or a meteor shower, you can talk about climate change. Our core curriculum matches more with climate than it does with astronomy, geology and geography. And if you’re OK talking about those three, then you have every reason to be connecting the dots between climate change. And as Heidi mentioned in that statement, make sure you’re up on the latest research. It is part of your job. We should always be learning.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Gloninger, we want to thank you for being with us, was the chief meteorologist for the CBS affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa, KCCI-TV, resigned Friday after receiving a series of death threats and harassing messages as he covered the climate crisis, now a senior climate scientist at the Woods Hole Group, speaking to us from Falmouth, Massachusetts. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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