An Inconvenient Business

The Weather Channel thinks there's money in objective information about climate change. The forecast? Partly cloudy with a chance of controversy.

More than most companies, the Weather Channel is in the business of sticking its neck out. All day, every day. TV viewers and Weather.com visitors plan their wardrobes and lives around its forecasts. Even so, its new Web site, One Degree, a video-laden community devoted to educating visitors about climate change without getting mired in politics, represents a challenge with a high degree of difficulty. At least everyone believes that the weather actually exists.

"This is different for us," admits Matthew de Ganon, vice president of broadband and consumer applications. "As [president Debora Wilson] says, 'We've never had to take a stand on something people won't agree with.'" One Degree, he says, aims to depoliticize climate change by being informative, not alarmist. The broadband site features video segments hosted by climatologist Heidi Cullen. Inspired by the Huffington Post (oddly, given that site's partisanship), it will also be a news hub and is trying to recruit more than 100 bloggers from the scientific community.

But has global warming, despite the hit documentary An Inconvenient Truth and several books in 2006, matured enough to sustain a business? "Their instincts are absolutely right," says Todd Dagres, founder of Spark Capital and a venture capitalist who specializes in media and technology. "But they have credibility on only half of the problem, the symptoms of global warming, not the cause of the problem, which is greenhouse-gas emissions. And their goal is not to save the world but to create an opportunity for advertisers."

People in the scientific community, though, welcome the attention, even if it comes with a sponsor (Toyota is One Degree's first). "The reason scientists are concerned about this is because of the day-to-day evidence slowly adding to the pyramid of knowledge," says Gavin Schmidt, a popular blogger (www.realclimate.org) and climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "By having more continual coverage, this could take the story to the next level."

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