Posts misuse weather maps to back false climate claims

·4 min read

Images shared on social media purport to show a German television channel changed the colors of its weather maps to exaggerate the effect of climate change. This is false; the images show different types of maps, one photo is doctored and a broad majority of scientists say climate change is making heatwaves more frequent and intense.

A July 17, 2022 Facebook post shows a series of weather maps from German television channels.

The top image, purportedly from 2009, shows a map of Germany in green with a sun over it and temperatures up to 36 degrees Celsius (97 Fahrenheit). The middle photo, labeled "2019," is red and shows temperatures up to 34C. The third image in the post shows a weather presenter in front of a backdrop of flames, with temperatures up to 32C.

"That's how manipulation works," the caption says.

German text under the photos says: "From weather reports to climate hysteria."

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken July 26, 2022

The post, which comes amid a severe heatwave in Europe, is the latest to misleadingly share weather maps to cast doubt on the credibility of climate change coverage. Social media users have also promoted old news reports to claim record temperatures in July 2022 were not unusual.

The top two images in the latest post come from the German news program "Tagesschau," while the bottom photo is doctored from a weather forecast by German broadcaster RTL. They show different kinds of reports -- and do not negate the scientific consensus on climate change's role in worsening heatwaves.

Non-comparable maps

In 2019, Tagesschau explained the color scheme of its maps in response to accusations from the far-right Alternative for Germany party that it had manipulated them for ideological reasons.

The green map in the post shows a weather forecast, indicating not only temperature but also cloud cover, precipitation and sunshine. The second map shows a temperature-only forecast.

This screenshot of a Facebook post taken July 22, 2022 shows two Tagesschau maps

Tagesschau said in its 2019 statement that on the second map, "through the coloring, you can also guess, where there is no number, how high the temperatures will be approximately."

"The scale can range from dark red for hot temperatures to cold blue," the news program said, noting that different color scales are used depending on the season.

With slight changes in design, Tagesschau used these two formats in 2009 and 2010 -- as well as in broadcasts dating back to June 1999.

Screenshots of a "Tagesschau" weather report from July 15, 2010

AFP has previously fact-checked other false claims about Tagesschau maps.

Bottom picture doctored

The third picture in the post stems from the German TV program "RTL Aktuell." The image bears the logo of the weather platform Wetter.de, which RTL operates.

RTL spokeswoman Michelle Wilbois said in an email that the RTL Aktuell broadcast aired on August 22, 2019 -- not in 2020, as the post claims.

Wilbois sent AFP a clip of the broadcast for comparison. The layout matches the image shared on social media, as do the clothes worn by host Christian Häckl.

But there are several differences that indicate the photo was doctored.

These screenshots show the image shared on social media (left) and the original August 22, 2019 broadcast from RTL (right)

The original clip shows a sunset in the background, not fireballs. Häckl's face appears to have been colored red in the image shared online, which also omits the studio lighting.

"The screenshot has been edited," Wilbois said. "RTL has not used fire graphics in the context of weather forecasts at any time."

The doctored photo has been circulating on social networks since at least 2020.

Climate change worsens heatwaves

Climate scientists agree that carbon emissions from humans burning fossil fuels are heating the planet, raising the risk and severity of heatwaves and other extreme weather events.

The World Weather Attribution service has conducted several studies that show how climate change has made heatwaves more likely.

In 2021 and 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its major sixth assessment report, warning of the need for urgent measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions to avoid catastrophic global warming. The report reflects the global consensus among scientists on human-caused climate change.

"It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land," the report said.

AFP has fact-checked other claims about the climate here.

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