9/11 and Global Warming: Are They Both False
By David Ray Griffin
September 11, 2015 "Information Clearing House"
- Some people have argued that global warming is a conspiratorial
lie, deceiving the public for pernicious reasons. The most well known of these
people is Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who in 2012 published a book entitled The
Greatest Hoax, which warns people against “the global warming
Some members of the 9/11 Truth Movement have endorsed
this view. Believing that the Bush-Cheney administration conspired with others
to claim falsely that America was attacked by Muslims on 9/11, they say that
the government’s false conspiracy theory about 9/11 should make us suspicious
that other governmental claims may also be conspiracies to mislead the public.
Suspicions about governmental conspiracies are not
baseless. Claims that the U.S. government has given a false account of this or
that event are, however, generally rejected by the press. Since the time of The
Warren Commission Report, which did not quiet suspicions that the
assassination of President Kennedy had been an inside job, beliefs about huge
government crimes have been derided by the CIA and the press as “conspiracy
theories” in the pejorative sense of the term. People who give voice to such
beliefs are ridiculed as “conspiracy theorists,” a label that implies that the
conspiracy claim is obviously false.
Nevertheless, as Lance deHaven-Smith has discussed in
his 2013 book Conspiracy
Theory in America, it is well known that the U.S. government has indeed
orchestrated conspiracies with enormous consequences, such as the Gulf of
Tonkin incident and the Iran-Contra affair, as well as, more recently, the
claims that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks and was prepared to use
weapons of mass destruction.
So if people, believing that there is good evidence
that 9/11 was an inside job, are aware of the U.S. government’s involvement in
these other conspiracies, there is no good reason to doubt that there are
additional examples of conspiracies that have been engineered at the highest
In particular, if it is assumed that 9/11 was indeed
an inside job, would this assumption provide a good basis for suspecting that
the theory of global warming has resulted from a deceitful conspiracy?
The phrase “theory of global warming” is
used here as shorthand for a fourfold conviction:
of the percentage of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere are raising the planet’s average temperature.
main cause of these increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases is the
burning of fossil fuels.
global warming produced by these fossil-fuel emissions is starting to
change the climate.
climate change, if it continues, will become increasingly destructive.
Because this fourfold conviction is held by virtually
all climate scientists around the world, the theory of global warming can also
be called “the position of climate science.” Individuals and organizations who
dispute climate science in this sense are referred to as “climate-science
deniers,” “climate-change deniers” or “global-warming deniers.” Often the term
“denialism” is used for the active argument against climate science, with those
engaged in this argument called “denialists.”
I ask the question about the relevance of 9/11 to
climate science not only because many members of the 9/11 Truth Movement have
supported global-warming denialism, but also because the success of this
denialist movement has been disastrous.
As I have documented in a 2015 book, the
denialist movement was formed and financed by the fossil-fuel industry, and the
doubt it created has been used to delay legislation to restrict the use of
fossil fuels – a delay that may result in the destruction of civilization.
Climate deniers call this fear “alarmism.” But there are times when alarm is
appropriate and, my book argues, this is the supreme example.
Believing that it is a shame that many members of the
9/11 Truth Movement have been misled into supporting self-interested propaganda
by the fossil-fuel industries, I ask whether this movement’s basic conviction -
that the official story about 9/11 is a lie - provides a basis for accepting
The transition from the one to the other is typically
made on the basis of two beliefs:
scientists’ claims about global warming are analogous to the government’s
claims about 9/11.
as evidence proves the falsity of the government’s 9/11 account, evidence
shows the falsity of the idea that the burning of fossil fuels is
threatening civilization by warming the planet.
The first two parts of this article looks at these two
beliefs in order; the third part argues that we do indeed have a climate
Part I: Are 9/11 and Global Warming Analogous?
Because the claims about global warming are analogous
to the government’s false claims about 9/11, some people believe, these claims
are also probably false. But the Bush-Cheney administration’s claims about 9/11
are not at all analogous to the widely accepted views about global warming.
9/11, Global Warming, and Science
A well-known member of the 9/11 Truth Movement, who
writes under the name “Victronix,” has argued that standard beliefs about 9/11 and global warming
are not only very different, but also different in ways that prevent 9/11
beliefs from providing an analogy to scientists’ belief about global warming.
The idea that global warming is a lie, she pointed out, implies that “the vast
majority of the scientific community is working in collusion to create a
worldwide hoax - including Russia and China and the entire industrialized world
- that a worldwide environmental crisis is unfolding.” In other words,
thousands of scientists from many countries around the world, including
countries that are strongly opposed to each other, all agreed to tell a huge
By contrast, she said, 9/11 involved “a single
national government (and collusion by other intelligence and government leaders
who also benefit) with highly limited and controlled science whose evidence is
completely controlled, destroyed or hidden.” This “controlled science” is very
different from the science supporting global warming belief: “Scientists all
over the world can and are investigating and confirming the same findings over
and over.” Unlike the purported events used to claim that Muslims attacked
America on 9/11, the science of global warming is based on “ongoing events
whose evidence is available to everyone all over the world to examine
simultaneously using the scientific method and simple tools to measure and
Making this point more succinctly, Australians Will Grant and Rod Lamberts wrote: “The idea of an international conspiracy
across dozens of disciplines, hundreds of institutions and thousands of
individuals is honestly laughable.”
The different relations to science can also be stated
in another way: The theory of global warming is analogous not to the U.S.
government’s account of the 9/11 attacks, but to the 9/11 Truth Movement’s rejection of the
government’s account: Just as the 9/11 Truth Movement is supported by
scientists from various fields, including physics and chemistry (as well as
by students of architecture and
engineering), the idea that fossil fuels are causing global warming
and hence climate change is supported by most of the scientists who publish
about climate change – indeed, at least 97.5%
So this is the appropriate analogy: The 9/11 Truth
Movement, which is supported by scientific evidence, is disputed by the U.S.
government, which the 9/11 Truth Movement regards as behind the 9/11 attacks.
And the theory of global warming, which is based on scientific evidence, is
disputed by the fossil-fuel industries, which climate scientists see as
primarily responsible for global warming.
So in each case, the views of independent scientists
are disputed by huge enterprises, which clearly have self-interested
reasons for challenging thescientific evidence.
Accordingly, the idea that 9/11 skepticism is similar
to global warming skepticism has the relationship backwards. When it is claimed
that “they” are deceiving the public about global warming, just as “they”
deceived the public about the 9/11 attacks, it is necessary to determine the
identity of the “they.” The best clue to the likely “they” in each case is to
determine who would have benefitted from deception.
The 9/11 Truth Movement has considerable consensus on
the question of who benefited from the official account of 9/11: The
Bush-Cheney administration (which wanted Afghanistan’s minerals and natural
gas and also planned to attack Iraq for its oil); the biggest U.S. oil companies
(the CEOs of which were covertly members of Dick Cheney’s 2001 energy task force); Israel
(as stated by the 9/11 Commission Report’sexecutive
director, Philip Zelikow); the U.S. military (the budget of which went way up); and the U.S. intelligence agencies (whose budgets doubled after 9/11). But who are the “they” with regard to global
Who Benefits from Climate Denial?
Victronix concluded her discussion of global warming
by asking, “who benefits from the claims that human involvement is a hoax?” The
answer to that question is, of course, fossil-fuel companies, which have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to promote denial of climate science.
For many years, the main promoter of climate-science
denialism was ExxonMobil, the world’s most successful corporation, earning
roughly $40 billion a year and paying its CEO over $30 million a year.
Besides giving millions of dollars to scientists,
lobbyists, and politicians to promote climate denial, ExxonMobil gave at least $25 million since 1998 to support some 100 climate-denying front
groups. ExxonMobil thereby created the impression that climate denial had
arisen spontaneously from scientists, politicians, and ordinary citizens.
According to a 2009 article by Raw Story, a “group promoting climate skepticism has
extensive ties to Exxon-Mobil” (it was on a website responding to this
article that Victronix posted her comments).
The group in question, which is named the
Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, published a report
entitled Climate Science
Reconsidered. Arguing that global warming is not human-caused, this report
said: “Nature, not human activity, rules the planet.” In addition, reported the highly
praised book Merchants of Doubt, the report said
that global warming is “unequivocally good news,” because rising CO2 levels
“increase plant growth and make plants more resistant to drought and pests.”
This denialist report was released and promoted by the
Heartland Institute, which between 1998 and 2009 had received at least $676,500 from ExxonMobil. The lead author of this report was S. Fred Singer,
who has had a notoriously bad scientific career, having previously been proven
wrong in a series of issues in which he contested the scientific consensus. But
his career path has been financially successful.
In 1998, Singer started an organization called the
Science and Environmental Policy Project, in order to begin a book on
global warming, and for which ExxonMobilgave him
$20,000 between 1998 and 2000.
Oreskes and Erik Conway reported in Merchants of Doubt,
Singer had previously helped the tobacco industry’s effort to avoid regulations
about environmental smoke, also called secondhand smoke. Singer used this
project to promote what he called “sound science” and to denounce “junk
science,” by which he meant, specifically, the EPA’s 1992 report that
secondhand smoke causes cancer. Singer also became an advisor to The
Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, which was funded by Philip Morris to
attack the EPA’s report, even though Philip Morrisand hence
Singer knew that the EPA report - which was based on scientific studies from
around the world - was sound, not junk, science.
Singer had earlier earned money by joining the efforts
of industries that wanted to prevent legislation to reduce acid rain. By 1983,
there was an overwhelming scientific consensus that acid rain was produced by
the sulfur released during the burning of fossil fuels, and the United States
and Canada were set to sign an agreement to reduce the emissions of sulfur. But
the Reagan Administration, which strongly opposed any such legislation,
appointed Singer to an acid-rain task force, for which he was allowed to write
a separate appendix, claiming that the science was still uncertain. As a
result, the United States did not sign the agreement with Canada, and sulfur
dioxide levels did not begin declining until 1990 when legislation based on the
scientific consensus was
Singer also, while serving as the chief scientist for
Reagan’s Department of Transportation, argued against the scientific consensus
that a growing hole in the ozone layer was caused by chlorofluorocarbons
(CFCs), which were used in spray cans, refrigerators, and air conditioners. The
aerosol industry, seeking to prevent legislation, hired scientists to dispute
the scientific consensus, and Singer joined in, arguing that an “ozone scare”
had been created by “corrupt scientists.” The scientists who had shown that the
CFCs in the stratosphere destroyed ozone won a Nobel Prize, so Singer attacked
the Nobel committee! But eventually, Singer’s argument “was
proved wrong, when CFCs were banned and the ozone hole began to repair
Nevertheless, after having been wrong time and time
again, Singer was asked by the Heartland Institute to be the lead author of its
report, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, which
claims that the burning of fossil fuels is not creating
dangerous global warming. Besides whatever money Singer made for writing this
book, he has also served as a consultant by several other organizations funded by ExxonMobil, including Frontiers of Freedom (which ExxonMobil
gave at least $1,272,000) and the National Center for Policy Analysis (which
ExxonMobil gave $615,900).
id Singer actually believe his arguments about
secondhand smoke, acid rain, the ozone layer, and fossil fuels? This seems
unlikely, especially given information learned from leaked documents. For
example, by 1965, showed
one document, tobacco industry scientists were “unanimous in their opinion
that [tobacco] smoke is . . . carcinogenic.”
The same pattern appears to have occurred with regard
to global warming. A document shows that in 1995, the oil industry’s own scientific
advisors said: “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the
potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases is well established and cannot
be denied.” Nevertheless, just as the cigarette companies continued to
deny the existence of evidence showing that cigarettes cause cancer, ExxonMobil
not only continued to deny that oil and gas emissions cause climate change but
also paid tens of millions to hire others, such as Fred Singer, to support this
In the meantime, Koch Industries, which is invested in
various kinds of fossil fuels, including
the Canadian tar sands, has
begun providing even more financial support for global-warming denialism than
ExxonMobil: Between 1997 and 2010, Koch
Industries gave over $67 million for this purpose. At that point, the
Kochs no longer allowed their contributions to be traced. But these
contributions may have become even higher, as suggested by stories in the Guardianand the Washington
Two dark money trusts (which promise their
contributors complete anonymity), named Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund,
between them doled out $118 million to 102 groups, reported the Guardian. The purpose of the money was to help “build a vast
network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to
redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising
‘wedge issue.’" This funding stream, said theGuardian, “far
outstripped the support from more visible opponents of climate action such as
the oil industry or the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.”
However, it is possible that much of this money
actually came from the Kochs: A 2014 Washington Post story suggested that these two dark money trusts were
simply part of a “Koch-Backed Political Network,” which raised over $400
million for right-wing political causes in 2012.
In any case, whether Charles and David Koch have given
over $100 million to support climate denialism, or “only” $67 million, this is
pocket change for them: By 2010, their company, Koch Industries, was worth $35
billion; by 2013, they had brought their wealth up
to $68 billion. They evidently find the use of a little pocket change to
promote climate denial, and hence to head off legislation to restrict
fossil-fuel burning, a worthwhile investment.
Who Would Benefit from Fabricating Global Warming?
There is a clear answer, accordingly, to the question
of who benefits from climate denial. But if climate science is a lie, who would
benefit from spreading this lie?
The idea that the “government” – perhaps the U.S.
government, or U.S. and European governments, or perhaps most of the world’s
governments - fabricated global warming would make this lie parallel to the
9/11 lie, with each being a government-created lie. But this would make no
sense. Neither the U.S. government nor governments in general have wanted to
reduce their burning of fossil fuels. The climate scientists of the IPCC –
indeed, most climate scientists everywhere - have been pleading with
governments to reduce their fossil-fuel use, but in almost all countries, the
use has continued to rise.
Some people suggest that the “government” in question
is the United Nations. But the U.N. is not a government and has no power to act
apart from the willingness of the nations to follow its suggestions – or, in
the case of the Security Council, of the nations constituting it. The U.N. did
create the IPCC and supports its work, but it has no power to act on climate
change other than calling meetings and publishing reports. And the IPCC did not
create the idea that emissions from fossil fuels are causing global warming,
which in turn causes climate change. Rather, the IPCC was formed in response to
a growing consensus among climate scientists about these connections.
So, if there is a culprit for a global warming hoax,
it must be the scientists themselves. And that is, indeed, what many deniers
claim. For example, a 2007 documentary film, “The Great Global Warming Swindle,” argued that “the publicized scientific consensus is
the product of a ‘global warming activist industry’ driven by a desire for
Some climate scientists do indeed apply for grants,
and a few of them actually receive them. But there are five reasons to doubt
that the desire by scientists for funding could explain their published
statements about global warming:
there is considerable fraud in science – as has been extensively documented - scientists who engage in fraud are a
small minority. Although there are many reasons to criticize mainstream
science, few scientists would consciously engage in fraud. Of course,
scientists who work for corporations or government agencies must sometimes
either falsify evidence or lose their jobs. Members of the 9/11 Truth
Movement believe that this was the case with the scientists at NIST (the National Institute of Standards and
Technology), which was tasked with writing the reports about the
collapse of the Twin Towers and WTC 7. But this was an example of
“controlled science,” which, as Victronix said, “is very different
from the [peer-reviewed] science supporting global warming.”
if a few important climate scientists had published false evidence for
global warming, they would not have been able to persuade most of the rest
of the world’s thousands of climate scientists to support their false
claims. The fact of fraud by individual scientists provides no
evidence that thousands of scientists around the world could be persuaded
to engage in fraud.
support for global warming comes from a wide variety of types of evidence. The idea that all of these different
experiments and tests could have been coordinated to support the same bogus conclusions
makes the mind boggle.
most scientists are primarily motivated by money, they would have gone
into some other line of work. It is true that a few people, after going
into science for noble reasons, have become devoted to making money to an unseemly degree.
But getting government grants is seldom a road to riches. As Grant and Lamberts said: “Tell the TCCD [Typical Climate Change Denier]
to go to any university car park and count the luxury vehicles parked near
science buildings. They won’t even need all their fingers to keep track.”
are indeed scientists who have made significant amounts of money by
writing about globl warming, but these are scientists who have arguedagainst climate
science. For example (in addition to Singer), take Patrick Michaels, who
has written many books and articles with titles such as “Global Warming
Myth” and Climate of Extremes. Michaels has served as a
consultant for a large number of climate denial organizations funded by
ExxonMobil. And in 2006, a furor was raised when it was revealed that a
coal-burning electric association had, at its members’ expense, paid
Michaels $100,000 “to help confuse the issue of global warming.”
Again, if there is an analogy between 9/11 and global
warming, it is not between the official 9/11 story and the theory of global
warming. It is between climate science and the 9/11 Truth Community’s position.
Just as large numbers of independent scientists have rejected the official 9/11
story, most climate scientists reject the idea that global warming is a hoax.
And just as a few scientists whose salaries are paid
by the U.S. government have supported the official account of 9/11, Singer,
Michaels, and some other scientists paid by the fossil-fuel industry have
endorsed climate-change denial. In the one case, independent science
is opposed by Big Government; in the other, independent science is opposed by
Big Carbon. In both cases, the scientific evidence is overwhelmed by Big Money,
whether this be governmental or fossil-fuel money.
The relation between climate denial and the 9/11
attacks has been described as even closer by a former U.S. Senate
candidate from Vermont, Craig Hill. “[W]hat the 9/11 false-flag op and
denying global warming have in common,” wrote Jerry Mazza in a summary of
Hill’s thesis, “is oil, and gas . . . , and the desire to quench an
unquenchable thirst for these fossil fuels.” Moreover, Hill said, just as the perpetrators
of 9/11 shrouded it in unscientific myth and lie, the oil companies have also
“shrouded the evil effects of warming in unscientific myth and lie.”
In other words, said Hill, both the Bush-Cheney
administration and the climate deniers funded by ExxonMobil and the Kochs have
foisted a false, unscientific theory on the world, especially the American
people, for the sake of oil. (To be sure, Hill’s statement would need to be
qualified by the fact that, as mentioned earlier, oil did not provide the only
motive for the 9/11 attacks.)
Part II: Does Scientific Evidence Disprove Global
In addition to suspecting global warming to be a hoax,
some members of the 9/11 Truth Movement have endorsed the view, promulgated by
climate denialists, that the true facts do not support the global warming
theory. Instead, these denialists argue, the facts show the global
warming theory to be a fabrication.
One of those members is Australian chemist Frank
Legge. Besides warning Victronix that she should “be careful about using global
warming in the argument,” because it is “looking pretty shaky from a scientific
point of view,” he in 2008 wrote an article called “The Global Warming Emergency.”Because this was so many years ago, I wrote Legge in
November 2014 to ask if he still stands by that essay. He replied that if
writing it now, he would update a few items, but “the general thrust would be
exactly the same.”
Legge said that the conclusion that there is a climate
emergency would require a threefold argument: (1) Global warming is occurring,
it is not trivial, and the claim that the temperature and sea level will
continue to rise must be based on good science; (2) “the current and predicted
temperature is unusual and dangerous”; and (3) “the warming is largely caused
by man-made carbon dioxide.”
1. Is Global Warming Significant and Destined to Rise?
Suggesting that global warming, if it is occurring at
all, will be minor and short-lived, Legge based this suggestion on several
claims, which he derived from climate-science deniers.
In one of his arguments, Legge wrote: “The recent
warming period is giving signs of coming to an end: satellite measurements of
global atmospheric temperature have been declining this decade.” In support of
that argument, Legge referred to an argument by Roy Spencer, one of the handful
of climate scientists who reject the consensus view. But citing Spencer’s claim
about satellite measurements hardly adds credibility to Legge’s argument.
In the 1990s, Spencer and fellow climate denier John
Christy argued that the satellite data showed no warming – that the troposphere was not warmingin conjunction with surface warming.
Joe Romm, a physicist who founded Climate Progress -
one of the most highly respected websites dealing with climate science - said
that Spencer and Christy had “created one of the most
enduring denier myths,” namely, “that the satellite data didn’t show the
global warming that the surface temperature data did.” A scientiston the RealClimate
"Spencer and Christy sat by for most of a decade
allowing — indeed encouraging — the use of their data set as an icon for global
warming skeptics. They committed serial errors in the data analysis, but . . .
did little or nothing to root out possible sources of errors, and left it to
others to clean up the mess."
Spencer and Christy’s treatment of this issue, along
with some others, led Romm to write an article asking, “Should You Believe Anything John Christy and Roy
Urban Heat Island Effect
Besides supporting Spencer’s argument for preferring
satellite to other evidence, Legge said: “There is also ongoing debate about
whether proper allowance has been made for the confounding effect of urban
encroachment on temperature stations.” Legge was here referring to the
heat island (UHI) effect, which can occur when weather stations are
situated in urban areas, where the air tends to be warmer than rural areas.
Fellow climate denier Patrick
Michaels has claimed that at least half of the alleged global warming
is due to this phenomenon.
Legge, however, cited the climate denialist who has
made this case most strongly, former TV weatherman Anthony Watts, who has a
website called “Watts Up With That.” Watts had long argued that temperature
recordings have been skewed by the fact that most recordings are made in urban
areas. In 2010, Watts wrote: “UHI is easily observable. I’ve been telling
readers about UHI since this blog started.”
In 2010, when Watts made this comment, it seemed for
various reasons that a project called the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature
(BEST) project, organized by UC Berkeley professor Richard Muller, was soon to verify Watts’ claims. As Joe
had long been critical of climate science, believing that many scientists
and their admirers, including Al Gore, had exaggerated the evidence.
Moreover, the “Climategate” charges made him suspect that climate
scientists had “concealed discordant data,” about which heexamined the
claims of denialist bloggers.
chose as a climate scientist Judith Curry, who, according to Romm, has “now taken the crown as the most
debunked person on the science blogosphere” and who has, in fact,
denying billionaire Charles Koch was to fund the study, and Watts and
other deniers were even allowed to work
with the BEST team.
However, Muller chose good scientists to carry out the
study, including lead scientist Robert Rohde, and the study did not work out as
deniers expected. Based on data from some 40,000 weather stations around the
world, the study’s results, reported the BBC, were “remarkably similar to those produced by the
world's three most important and established groups, whose work had been
decried as unreliable and shoddy in climate sceptic circles” – namely, the
reports by NASA, NOAA, and the “collaboration between the UK Met Office and
UEA's Climatic Research Unit (CRU), from which the emails that formed the basis
of the ‘Climategate’ furor were hacked.” Muller told the BBC: “Our biggest surprise was that the new results
agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams
in the US and the UK.”
“When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had
raised legitimate issues, and we didn't know what we'd find. Our results turned
out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that
those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability
to convince some skeptics of that. . . . Global warming is real. Perhaps our
results will help cool this portion of the climate debate.”
the New York Times, Muller called himself “a converted
skeptic.” He now believes, he said, that the prior estimates of the rate of
warming increase were correct and that “essentially all of this increase
results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.”
Before Muller’s report had been published, Watts had written: “I’m prepared to accept whatever result they
produce, even if it proves my premise wrong. I’m taking this bold step because
the method has promise.” However, after learning what the result actually was,
Watts reneged. He first refused to accept Muller’s report on the grounds that
it had not yet been peer reviewed. “When the science and peer review is
finished,” Watts predicted, “the results are likely to look different.”
However, when the report was published (in a peer-reviewed journal), the results,
contained in five papers, were not different. In an interview, moreover,
Muller emphasized the report’s main point about UHI, saying “urban heat islands
contribute essentially zero to the warming.” This report, which challenged Watts’ main claim to
fame, was never accepted by him, in spite of his promise.
Sensitivity: Feedback as Negative
Climate scientists acknowledge that they have an
imperfect understanding of “climate sensitivity,” meaning the amount the planet
will warm because of the various feedbacks affecting the climate. Sensitivity
is usually discussed in terms of the temperature increase to be caused by a
doubling of the preindustrial CO2 concentration of 275 parts
per mission (ppm) to 550 ppm. If the sensitivity is extremely low, then
doubling the concentration of CO2would not raise the planet’s
temperature much. But if sensitivity is very high, the doubling will be
catastrophic. The IPCC puts the likely temperature increase to range between 2
and 4.5°C, with 3°C being most likely, and James Hansen, whose ideas are
taken very seriously by fellow climate scientists, believes the increase to be
near the top of that range.
By contrast, Roy Spencer argued that the sensitivity is much lower – so low in
fact, reported Legge, that the feedback will be negative, not positive, so
that “there is no cause for alarm.”
“[I]t is evident that this paper did not get an
adequate peer review. It should not have been published [because] there is no merit
whatsoever in this paper.”
The fact that it was published led
the journal’s editor to resign, saying that Spencer’s paper was "fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted” by the team of
reviewers, which he (the editor) had chosen.
2. Current and Predicted Warming: Not Unusual and
In line with Legge’s claim that insofar as there is
currently some global warming, it is minor and short-lived, he also argued that
the warming is not unusual and dangerous.
Medieval Warm Period
He based this view primarily on the Medieval Warm
Period, citing denialist stories claiming that during this period – which
occurred between the 10th and 15th centuries, A.D. - the planet
was warmer than today. Referring to the fact that the Vikings had farms
in Greenland, Legge said that “it appears that the present temperature is
not yet quite as high as during the Medieval warming.”
However, a Skeptical Science article
reported: “The Medieval Warm Period was not a global phenomenon. Warmer
conditions were concentrated in certain regions.” There were indeed areas that
were warmer than they were in 1990. However, “Some regions were even colder
than during the Little Ice Age. To claim the Medieval Warm Period [MWP] was
warmer than today is to narrowly focus on a few regions that showed unusual
warmth.” When considered globally, “temperatures during the Medieval Period
were less than today.”
In addition, a 2012 report in the journal Geology, headed
by a scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said
that “the MWP wasn’t
all that warm after all - and certainly not as warm as the climate is
today.” Even islands 400 miles north of Norway during the past 25 years, he
said, have been “3.6°F and 4.5°F higher . . . than the summers the Vikings
Present Warm Period
On the question of whether today’s temperature is
dangerous in the sense that it might lead to runaway global warming, Legge
argued that this “seems unlikely . . . as it did not happen in the previous
warm periods.” However, that probability cannot be judged apart from the
question of what has caused the recent warming, which Legge assumed to be just
one more example of natural variability.
Legge’s assumption does not fit the facts. One problem
is that, after a long period of decline, there was an unprecedented increase in
global temperature in the 20th century. A graph tracking the
temperature over the past millenium shows the 20th century as a
virtually vertical line, making the graph look somewhat like a hockey
stick – a change that could not be considered natural. Ever since
physicist Michael Mann used this graph in a 1998 paper, denialists have argued
that it was based on errors - saying, for example, that the “hockey stick is
broken.” However, Mann’s conclusions have been confirmed by several
different sources, including boreholes, corals, ice cores, stalagmites, and
The attempt to explain the 20th-century
increase as an example of natural variation is made even more difficult by a 2013 study in Science of the global temperature for the past 11,300
years. This study showed that the planet, after the Medieval Warm Period,
had been cooling for 5,000 years. But in the 20th century, this
long period of cooling was abruptly ended, with the rate of warming since 1900
being 50 times greater than the rate of cooling in the previous 5000 years.
Climate deniers try to explain this 20th-century
uptick in the global temperature by increased radiation from the sun, which was
true of the Medieval Warm Period. However, the increase in solar radiation
leveled off after 1950, so that since about 1970, greenhouse gases have clearly
been the main contributor to warming. Since 1970, in fact, the sun and the
climate temperature have been moving in opposite directions: While the sun has had a slight cooling trend, the
climate has been getting warmer and warmer. As one scientist put it, “We should
be cool, but we're not.”
This contrast has been articulated by physicist Stefan
Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Within a
hundred years, the cooling of the previous 5000 years was undone,” said
Rahmstorf. “[W]ithout the increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans, the
slow cooling trend would have continued.”
3. The Role of Carbon Dioxide
In arguing his third claim – that CO2 cannot
explain whatever recent global warming there has been – Legge employed several
of the common denialist points, all of which have been answered in the
literature, most systematically at Skeptical Science.
CO2 Minor Compared with Water Vapor?
One of Legge’s reasons for claiming that increased CO2 cannot
explain much is that “it plays a minor role compared with water vapour.” His
argument is that, because water vapor is the dominant greenhouse gas,
constituting most of the greenhouse effect, CO2 is insignificant.
However, although water vapor is indeed the dominant
greenhouse gas, it is also the dominant feedback agent. And as CO2 emissions
make the temperature go up, evaporation increases, putting more water vapor in
the atmosphere, which further increases the temperature. There is, accordingly,
a positive feedback loop. The water vapor feedback doubles the warming that
would be caused by rising CO2 alone. As Skeptical
“Without any feedbacks, a doubling of CO2 would warm
the globe around 1°C. Taken on its own, water vapour feedback roughly doubles
the amount of CO2 warming. When other feedbacks are included . . . , the total
warming from a doubling of CO2 emissions is around 3°C.”
Another important factor is that, whereas the water
vapor in the atmosphere is short-lived (it arises from evaporation and then
falls as rain and snow), CO2 stays there for about a century.
So after CO2 enters the atmosphere, it will increase the water
vapor, with its powerful greenhouse effect, for a long time.
Accordingly, one should not denigrate the importance
of CO2 by comparison with water vapor. Rather, they work
together. It is the positive feedback relation between them that explains why
the climate is so sensitive to additional CO2 emissions.
CO2 Increase Followed Temperature
According to Legge, it is an “inconvenient fact” for
Al Gore “that the temperature rises about 1000 years before the CO2 level
rises.” Legge was referring to the fact that, based on Antarctic ice core
data from the past 400,000 years, changes in CO2 level followed
temperature changes by some 600 to 1000 years. This fact has been used by climate deniers, such as
U.S. Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, to argue that today’s global warming
could not possibly be explained by the increasing percentage of CO2 in
However, whereas the initial increase in temperature
during this period was due to changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun, this
increase led to a positive feedback process: The rise in ocean temperatures led
to releases of CO2 from the oceans into the atmosphere, which
increased the planet’s warming, which in turn led to the release of more CO2 from
the oceans, and so on. As Skeptical Science explained:
“This positive feedback is necessary to trigger the
shifts between glacials and interglacials as the effect of orbital changes is
too weak to cause such variation.”
In fact, as Skeptical Science continued, “While the
orbital cycles triggered the initial warming, overall, more than 90% of the
glacial-interglacial warming occurred after that atmospheric
Global Temperature Pause?
In a third argument against the role of rising CO2,
Legge said that “it is hard to see any correlation between the rising CO2 level
and temperature during the last decade.” This statement reflects the apparent
fact that, although CO2 and the surface air temperature of
the planet went hand in hand in the 1980s and ‘90s, the two seemed to diverge
in the present century: While the CO2 ppm continued to rise,
the increase in the air temperature seemed to slow down. This appearance led to
the conclusion that there has been an end to - or at least a pause in
- global warming.
However, that conclusion was based on the equation of
the planet’s temperature with its surface air temperature. This is a very big
mistake, becauseabout “90 percent of the warming of the planet is absorbed in heating the
oceans.” Accordingly, there has not really been a pause, but only – in Joe
Romm’s phrase, a faux pause. All that has happened is that a higher percentage of
the warming than previously went into the deep ocean, evidently because of changes in the trade winds.
Ocean acidification results from the fact that about
30 percent of our CO2 emissions have been absorbed by the ocean. This
absorption keeps down the warming of the atmosphere that would otherwise be
produced by these emissions. But this absorption also reduces the ocean’s PH
level, thereby making the water more acidic. Tests have shown that since the
industrial revolution, there has been a 30% increase in the ocean’s acidity. This acidity increases when CO2 mixes with
water, resulting in carbonic acid. Just as carbonic acid eats out limestone caves, it
does the same for animals with chalky skeletons, which make up a big percentage
of sea life. Elevating the percentage of carbonic acid makes it increasingly
difficult for these organisms - such as plankton, corals, crabs, clams,
mussels, oysters, and snails - to calcify to make their skeletons.
The planet’s CO2 is now slightly above
400 ppm. If it reaches roughly 500 ppm, says one expert, “you put calcification out of business in the oceans.” If this happens, phytoplankton
and corals will die, which will mean the death of all sea animals, from
plankton to fish to whales. And this will greatly increase the food problem,
because the ocean serves as the primary source of food for 3.5 billion people.
Once it is seen that the recent temperature increase
is not due to natural variability, but instead to the increase in greenhouse
gases, it is obvious that climate change is dangerous, not only because of the
risk of seafood extinction and runaway global warming, which is likely to occur
if global warming continues, but also because of various features of climate
change, such as sea-level rise.
While admitting that the sea level had been rising,
Legge said that “in the last few years [it] appears to be falling or at least
to have leveled off.”
However, if the percentage of CO2 and
other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to rise, the sea level,
which rose about 8 inches (20 centimeters) in the 20th century,
will rise much faster in our century. Until recently, IPCC scientists expected it to rise 3 feet (roughly 1 meter) by 2100, with
some scientists predicting more like 6 to 7 feet (2 meters). But in 2015, leading climate
scientist James Hansen and 16 fellow scientists released a new study saying that, if fossil fuels are not radically
curtailed, the ocean could rise 10 feet (about 3 meters) before the end of the
The sea has already risen enough to force people -
such as those in Bangladesh, the Sundarbans, and the Carteret islands – to
move, because their lands flooded or at least became too salty to farm. Also,
the same fate threatens
the coastal areas of many countries, including Australia, China,
Japan, and the United States. “If you live in South Florida and you’re not
building a boat,” said a geology professor in Florida, “you’re not
In addition, although sea-level rise may be the most
obvious danger created by global warming-caused climate change, there are
dangers in every feature of climate change – as I have documented in the first
part of my Unprecedented:
weather, which has recently become extreme, will continue to get more
waves will become hotter, eventually becoming so hot that humans and plants
will not be able to survive.
will last more often and longer, with some places becoming permanently
dry; and the drier weather will result in more and worse wildfires.
of various types – rain storms, snow storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes -
will become more deadly.
water will become increasingly insufficient, due to various factors,
including loss of snowpack and the melting of glaciers (which provide the
major source of water for billions of people).
will become increasingly insufficient, due to drought, excessive heat,
sea-level rise, and fresh-water shortage (as well as loss of seafood
because of ocean acidification).
rise and other features of climate disruption will increasingly create
climate refugees and climate wars.
The website for Skeptical Science - which advocates “getting skeptical about
global warming skepticism” – has rebutted (under “Arguments”) over 175 denialist claims, beginning with the most
popular ones, such as “climate’s changed before,” “it’s the sun,” “it’s not
bad,” and “there is no consensus.” In most cases, these claims can quickly be
seen to be false with only a little study, so people who support them are
either deceivers or deceived.
The deceivers are the fossil-fuel companies, along
with their hirelings, who make these claims while knowing them to be false. As
pointed out above, the oil companies have known this since 1995, just as
tobacco companies have known cigarettes to be carcinogenic since 1965.
The deceived are those who believe these claims while
being unaware, as journalist Mark
Hertsgaard said, “that they are mouthing talking points originally
developed by big money interests.”
Many climate deniers identify with the Tea Party,
which was originally portrayed in the press as if it were a spontaneous
grassroots movement. In reality, however, it is an example of astroturfing, in
which seemingly grassroots campaigns have been manufactured to mask the
sponsor’s identity. In this case, the Tea Party was created by the Koch
brothers (whose father had been one of the founders of the John Birch Society),
especially by David Koch through his organization, Americans for Prosperity.
Although Americans for Prosperity claimed to be a grassroots organization, and
although David Koch tried to deny responsibility for it, the evidence shows it
to be largely his creation - as indicated by the title of Jean Mayer’s New
Operations,” along with the title of a New York Magazine article,
“The Billionaire’s Party.”
The covert operations of this billionaire’s party are
carried out only on behalf of causes that support Koch interests, which
generally are not the interests of the members of the Tea Party. Frank Rich wrote:
“When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice
president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket . . . , his campaign called for the
abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare
but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools — in other words, any government enterprise that
would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes.”
Although the Kochs call themselves libertarians, they
are “libertarians who hate the free market” (as pointed out by an article
discussing the Koch brothers as “America’s Greediest”).
In an essay entitled “The Tea Party Movement: Deluded
and Inspired by Billionaires,” George Monbiot said that the Tea Party is “mostly composed of
passionate, well-meaning people who think they are fighting elite power,
unaware that they have been organised by the very interests they believe they
Likewise, Frank Rich wrote that the agendas of the
Kochs often run counter to “the interests of those who serve as spear carriers
in the political pageants hawked on Fox News,” after which Rich added: “The
Koch brothers must be laughing all
the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and
abetting their selfish interests.” And the Koch brothers do, incidentally, keep
going to the bank: From 2010 to 2013, as mentioned earlier, they raised the
value of their company from $35 billion to
I wrote this article because members of the 9/11 Truth
Movement should not let themselves be deceived by the fossil-fuel corporations
and the front-organizations they have created. Holding that the Bush-Cheney
administration gave the public a completely unscientific account of what
happened on 9/11, the members of this movement should not accept the completely
anti-scientific denial of global warming and climate change. Seeing the
official story of 9/11 as a self-serving lie sold by Big Government, the members
of the 9/11 Truth Movement should not fall for the self-serving lie told by Big