Nature Conservancy Scientist Named CBS News Contributor

A U. of Montana research scientist and Nature Conservancy senior scientist adds to his portfolio as Science and Environmental Contributor for CBS News.

It’s the kind of partnership that likely would not have been considered by traditional broadcast news media standards, but in today’s evolving news media …

The arrangement has The Nature Conservancy’s lead scientist, M. Sanjayan, named CBS News Science and Environmental Contributor, with the assignment to “provide insight” on a range of environmental and scientific issues for various CBS News broadcasts. Along with his affiliation with The Nature Conservancy, Sanjayan who lives in western Montana, has a faculty research appointment with the University of Montana’s Wildlife Program in Missoula.

One of the first pieces aired under the new arrangement was Sanjayan’s Saturday, May 19, commentary on the primetime “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley,” the network’s flagship news program.

“If you were born after 1985, you’ve never known what ‘normal’ is, because the last 326 months have been consistently warmer than the 20th century global average,” Sanjayan said in the two-minute/11-second segment. “You have, in short, been living on a planet with a fever.”

Sanjayan added that it almost no longer matters if the public understands or accepts the science on climate change: they are responding to its impacts in myriad ways, such as moving livestock to cooler and wetter regions to escape the droughts, wildfires, and heat that have plagued parts of Texas in recent years.

“This is our society’s sink or swim moment,” Sanjayan concluded his commentary.

Here is CBS’s official announcement of the new partnership:


M. Sanjayan, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy, has been named Science and Environmental Contributor to CBS News. In this role, Sanjayan will provide insight into a broad range of scientific and environmental topics across multiple platforms and contribute to CBS News broadcasts, including CBS THIS MORNING and CBS EVENING NEWS WITH SCOTT PELLEY.

As lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy, Sanjayan specializes in human well-being and conservation, wildlife ecology and environmental education. He travels extensively to assess conservation efforts and wildlife protection needs across the globe. His scientific work has been published in journals including Science, Nature and Conservation Biology and has also received widespread print media coverage, including Vanity Fair, Men’s Journal, National Geographic Adventure, Outside and The New York Times.

Sanjayan’s broad-reaching television experience includes co-hosting documentaries for BBC, Discovery Channel, PBS and National Geographic TV, including his critically acclaimed 2010 four-part series, Powering the Future, on the Discovery Channel. Filming on his new series for PBS and National Geographic TV begins this year.

Sanjayan is a sought-after speaker with recent appearances at TED Global, International Women’s Forum, Aspen Environment Forum, Aspen Ideas Festival, Clinton Global Initiative and the Summit Series. He is a Catto Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a senior advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative.

Sanjayan holds a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Cruz and has a research faculty appointment with the Wildlife Program at the University of Montana. He is an avid fly-fisherman in Western Montana, where he lives.

For some died-in-the-wool traditional journalism ethicists, the Sanjanan/CBS News relationship no doubt raises concerns along the church-and-state lines: the need to separate news from advocacy, notwithstanding Sanjayan’s pieces being labeled as commentaries.

But respected journalism scholar and author Philip Meyer, recently retired from the faculty of the University of North Carolina, says he sees things differently.

“It looks like a good fit to me,” Meyer wrote in an e-mail when asked his view of the new collaboration. “Sure, he’s an advocate for protection of the environment, and there are political forces that would rather protect the private profits gained by disrupting the environment, e.g. fracking to get natural gas.

“But the simplistic model of giving equal weight to all sides, no matter how ridiculous, has been obsolescent since the 1950s when [then U.S. Senator] Joe McCarthy used it to manipulate the press. Everybody’s an advocate for something, and that is best controlled by transparency.”

Meyer added that Sanjayan “is not a hired gun offering his skills to anybody who can pay for them. The Nature Conservancy is a highly visible, non-profit, public interest group that tries to slow mankind’s persistent destruction of our planet. By bringing its chief scientist aboard, CBS News also serves the public interest.”

That’s a perspective, Meyer acknowledges, that likely is not shared universally among media watchers and press critics.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of Yale Climate Connections. (E-mail:
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9 Responses to Nature Conservancy Scientist Named CBS News Contributor

  1. In the early days of television the advertiser directly branded the show. Now it is not blatant, now it is subconscious.

    Most all major television news shows carry the burden of sponsors from the carbon fuel or carbon combustion industries. Basically: oil companies and car companies

    The Sunday news talk shows are mostly sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute ( This effectively removes the issue from any discussion.

    It is the same with local TV weather forecasters – they will rarely talk about climate – because it makes advertisers nervous. Journalist Ross Gelbspan wrote of direct language to CNN from advertisers – warning CNN never to connect weather events with climate.

    This CBS appointment is encouraging – but the structure of information shows prevents open presentation.

  2. Susan Anderson says:

    That news piece was superb!

  3. Hugh K says:

    Good luck M. Sanjayan!

    CAGW advocate/scientist/journalist/now disgraced Peter Gleick left some pretty big shoes to fill.

  4. GoodBusiness says:

    Lead Scientist

    M. Sanjayan is the lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy, where he specializes in human well-being and conservation, Africa, wildlife ecology and media outreach and public speaking on conservation issues.

    In addition to being the Conservancy’s lead scientist, Sanjayan holds a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Cruz and has a research faculty appointment with the Wildlife Program at the University of Montana. He was recently named science and environmental contributor for CBS News.

    Read Sanjayan’s Full Biography

    Sanjayan’s scientific work has been published in journals including Science, Nature, and Conservation Biology, and he co-edited the book Connectivity Conservation (Cambridge University Press, 2006). He frequently speaks at internationally recognized venues, including the World Forum on Sustainable Development, International Women’s Forum, and TED Global 2010. He is a Catto Fellow with the Aspen Institute.

    Sanjayan’s work has received extensive print media coverage — from Vanity Fair to National Geographic Adventure, Outside to The New York Times. In 2007, he was named and featured as one of Men’s Journal’s “Heroes of 2007.” He is a frequent guest on NBC’s Today Show and has appeared on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

    He has also co-hosted documentaries for the Discovery Channel (Mysteries of the Shark Coast, Expedition Alaska), BBC (Wildlife in a War-Zone), and featured in National Geographic TV (Earth Report 2009). His four-part series on energy for Discovery Channel (Powering the Future) aired in July 2010.

    In May 2012, CBS News named Sanjayan its science and environmental contributor.

    When not at work, Sanjayan can be found either trekking in Africa or fly-fishing in Western Montana, where he tries to live.

    Awards: Catto Fellow, Aspen Institute; Past Elected Governor Society for Conservation Biology

    ??? what is his PhD in? What kind of scientist is this man – I see nothing about what qualifies him to make statements on technical subjects?

  5. Why the Nature CONservancy enjoys such a well respected reputation is beyond me. Their asset base to yearly expenditures would place them firmly in the profit making category, were the assets considered liquid. They are, in reality, a real estate brokerage operating as a non-profit. Trouble is, some of the money used to buy properties is taken from us through government grants to be used as they see fit. They logged off a purchase in the Adirondacks leading to extreme errosion that ruined a local native trout stream. They have turned over property in short time spans like in New York State for a profit of $millions. Then there was the double dealing in an Alaskan town that has cost Wassilla $Millions. With over $4.5Billion in assets they have a lot of power. Their Coastal Resilience program is positioned to increase that figure substantially. A bill under consideration in the Connecticut Assembly would provide for “an orderly withdrawal from private ownership of the shoreline.”according to one statement in the bill. It is unclear how this bill may benefit the Nature Conservancy but you can bet that much of this land will end up in their coffers for next to nothing on their part and a loss for the current stakeholders. Their plan presented to the town of Guilford showed a potential sea level rise of 1 meter by 2080. Nobody has predicted anything to happen by 2080. If you look at James Hansen’s paper here:
    You will see where he claims 5m by 2100 and 1m by 2080. The N/C chart is a cropped version of Hansen’s who they claim to be working with as part of the GISS. They have not mentioned this to our town or anyone else that I know, for that matter. Despite bringing this to the attention of the Guilford Selectmen there seems to be no concern for this deception. I would love to hear from the Conservancy explaining how they arrived at this chart if the Hansen paper was not the source. Also, why did they did not tell the town, or the State, of the 5m figure. This would expand the state bill to encompass far more land as being likely to be inundated according to “the best science” as in the bill’s language. Isn’t it amazing what you find when you investigate a bit?

  6. John D. Swallow says:

    In Kaktovik, an Arctic village, I visited a 70-year-old Inupiat man who showed me the ice cellar that had been in his family for generations. Today, it doesn’t stay cold enough for him to store meat. Instead, a big General Electric freezer is sitting on his porch. My god, we’re now selling freezers to the Eskimos!

    It took all of two minutes to come up with the information below and from just a quick appraisal of it and from my 14 years of experience from living 140 miles north of the arctic circle above Kotzebue, AK.; what M. Sanjayan, Wildlife Program at the University of Montana claims above is not the truth and if you can’t be trusted to tell the truth about something as simple and easy to verify as this, then when and regarding what will M. Sanjayan prove to be an honest and therefore, trustworthy scientist that one could feel comfortable quoting about anything?

    The chart below certainly shows that the old Inupiat man’s meat would have kept as well, if not better, in 2012 because during that year the mean temperature was -19.0 F. We don’t we take into consideration that this meat pit dug into the permafrost that the polar bears had probably raided to the point that the poor old Inupiat man felt that the General Electric freezer sitting on his porch is a lot better than fighting a polar bear to get to his meat.

    I know from my experiences in the arctic that it can, on occasion, get very warm but it does not last for long, as the chart below shows.

    Past Monthly Weather Data for Kaktovik, AK [Alaska] (“Barter Island (dew)”) : JANUARY, 1947 – 2012
    All months for this station: JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember

    “The National Weather Service, the official weather reporting and recording agency of the federal government reported 100 degrees F (37.8 degrees C) at Fort Yukon on June 27, 1915, as the highest recorded temperature in the state. The lowest recorded temperature was minus 80 degrees F (-62.8 degrees C) at Prospect Creek, about 25 miles southeast of Bettles, on January 23, 1971.”

    As Thomas Huxley famously stated: “The great tragedy in science: the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” and it seems that the fact is that there doesn’t seem to be an “earth with a fever” now any more than there was in 1985 or for Alaska, where obviously Kaktovik is located. It is interesting to note the fever that the earth must have been experiencing was in 1915 at Fort Yukon. We sure would not want to talk about that, would we?

    • John says:

      Taking a quick look at the first link (, there is an upward trend to the data for both average maximum and average minimum temperature records.

  7. John D. Swallow says:

    I sent this to the University Of Montana, Missoula and doubt that I get a reply from them.

    M. Sanjayan: Nature’s Guardian
    Name: M. Sanjayan
    Age: 45
    Hometown: Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Currently lives in Missoula, Montana.
    Hello; I have been to Colombo and Sri Lanka.  The beach in front of Colombo is so strewn with garbage that one can hardly see the sand.  There are many other environmental issues in the whole of the country that M. Sanjayan should have stayed in the country of his birth to address instead of traveling the world explaining to the developed world that has clean air and water how they need to “clean up”, unbelievable.
    On a lighter note, we did enjoy our stay and visit at Sigiriya and the view from the top of the strange red mountain, Kandy was OK but  Nuwara Eliya was more memorable and our stay at the St. Andrew’s Hotel was very enjoyable.  It was different to be in the tropics and have hot water bottles placed in the bed by the staff at night and to also have an electric heater, that we used, in the rooms.   The hotel looks over the third oldest golf course in the world, or so I was told.  Also M. Sanjayan must be aware that the relatively small island of Sri Lanka has two distinct and different monsoon seasons, but I’m sure that has nothing to do with climate, in his way of thinking.  I wonder if our being continually stopped at police check points by police because of the Tamil Tiger situation had anything to do with why M. does not want to “clean up his own backyard”, so to speak, and why he prefers to fly fish in Montana.
    “He is one of the most articulate people I know,” said Daniel Pletscher, UM Wildlife Biology Program director. “He has the outstanding ability of explaining difficult scientific issues to the average layperson and scholar alike.”
    It is really a shame that in addition to being articulate,  M. Sanjayan can’t present this in the realm of what is the TRUTH.
    Since the University of Montana, Missoula is a Land Grant University, I would think that I should be eligible for at least a conformation that the information that I have presented has been received; but, how it is dealt with would be asking too much, I am thinking.
    P.S.  The Heartland document is one that you should get a real bang out of as an answer to the Heartland billboard that some seemed to be so offended by.
    “Heartland Institute in financial crisis after billboard controversy
    Heartland president admits advertisment comparing believers in human-made climate change to psychopaths has taken a toll”

    The alarmist got their bloomers in a knot over this bill board that Heartland put up in Chicago and, yes Ted does believe in AGW as well as does Charles Manson.

    When this was going around on YouTube we didn’t seem to hear much out cry about any of the less than appealing “messages” that the alarmist were telling even children or who ever would listen.


    Take a look at Ted and then these videos and see which you think is the most offensive.

  8. David Ropeik says:

    The lack of outcry about this is stunningly hypocritical, and reveals a huge problem within journalism broadly and environmental journalism specifically. Mr. Sanjayan’s exceptional credentials and his honesty notwithstanding, if CBS hired the lead scientist from some conservative environmental advocacy organization the furor would be loud and long…appropriately so. How is this any different? Because he’s with the “good guys”, as Phillip Meyer’s cop-out apology makes clear? What an intellectually dishonest double standard. Impartiality and objectivity are critical to how trustworthy the news is seen to be. Relying on anyone so intimately associated with an overt advocacy organization abandons that bedrock principle, no matter how righteous the cause of what that organization advocates. This is a clarion example of environmentalISM getting far too mixed up with the part of journalISM that is supposed to be just about the facts.