Exposed: Glenn Beck's Climate of Distortion

Exposed: Glenn Beck's Climate of Distortion

››› ››› ROB DIETZ & KATHLEEN HENEHAN

On the May 2 edition of his CNN Headline News show, Glenn Beck aired an hour-long "special report" titled "Exposed: The Climate of Fear," which he promised would present the "other side of the climate debate that you don't hear anywhere." During the show, Beck and those he featured rehashed several falsehoods and misleading talking points in an attempt to discredit the scientific consensus on global warming and to claim that former Vice President Al Gore "exaggerate[d]" and misrepresented climate science in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Classics, 2006).

Sea level

During the program, Beck put forth an apples- to-oranges comparison by suggesting that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report contradicts Gore's statement in An Inconvenient Truth, that if the West Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets were to break up or melt, "sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet":

Sea Levels

BECK: Now, what about that really cool animation of Florida and Manhattan drowning? Ha! Cool, huh? You've seen these horrific scenarios everywhere, based purely on catastrophic hypotheticals that dramatically exaggerate even what the UN says. It's Al Gore's best supporting actor -- the word "if."

GORE [video clip]: If we have an increase of 5 degrees. ... If Greenland broke up and melted. ... If this were to go, sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet.

MARLO LEWIS (senior policy analyst at energy industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute [CEI]): Where he's misleading is that he gives the impression that this is something that is likely to happen. The likelihood of this is next to nil.

DAVID LEGATES (University of Delaware associate professor in climatology): The IPCC report is that the upper limit of sea-level rise by the year 2100 is going to be about 23 inches.

CHRIS HORNER (counsel for CEI and senior fellow): That's why Al Gore makes up 20 feet. The truth isn't scary.

BECK: Just look at the difference between Greenland's ice melt in Al Gore's scenario when spread out over a century versus what the IPCC projects.

JOHN CHRISTY (University of Alabama professor and director of its Earth System Science Center): To come up with 20 feet is really grasping at straws, I think. But it does make a dramatic image. It makes a startling announcement. And that is where, as I heard one commentator say, "It makes blood shoot out of my eyes."

BECK: Gee, I wonder who he could be talking about.

But Beck's depiction of the supposed "difference" between Gore's statements and the IPCC's relied on a false comparison. While the IPCC projected a maximum 23-inch sea-level rise before 2100 as a result of rising temperatures, Gore's statement predicted a 20-foot rise in sea levels if the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheets were to melt or collapse at an indefinite point in the future. Indeed, while Beck purported to contrast the two scenarios, "when spread out over a century," even New York Times science writer William J. Broad -- who, as Media Matters noted, also set up this false comparison -- acknowledged that Gore cited "no particular time frame," in which the seas could rise by 20 feet.

Moreover, Lewis' claim that the likelihood of Gore's sea-level scenario is "next to nil" and Horner's assertion that Gore "makes up 20 feet" appear to conflict with the IPCC report. According to the report, "Contraction of the Greenland ice sheet is projected to continue to contribute to sea level rise after 2100," and "[i]f a negative surface mass balance were sustained for millennia, that would lead to virtually complete elimination of the Greenland ice sheet and a resulting contribution to sea level rise of about 7 m," which is equivalent to approximately 23 feet.

The IPCC report notes "new concern" with regard to the West Antarctic ice sheet's stability. Although it does not provide a timeframe for which the ice sheet may melt or collapse, it contradicts the claim that scientists know that the likelihood of such an occurrence is "next to nil":

Recent satellite and in situ observations of ice streams behind disintegrating ice shelves highlight some rapid reactions of ice sheet systems. This raises new concern about the overall stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the collapse of which would trigger another five to six metres [approximately 16 to 20 feet] of sea level rise. While these streams appear buttressed by the shelves in front of them, it is currently unknown whether a reduction or failure of this buttressing of relatively limited areas of the ice sheet could actually trigger a widespread discharge of many ice streams and hence a destabilisation of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Carbon dioxide and warming

During Beck's program, Tim Ball, the chairman of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project, argued: "We now know for certain that the temperature changes before the CO2. And one of the fundamental assumptions that Gore doesn't understand is that in the theory of global warming due to humans is, as the CO2 goes up, the temperature will go up. Well, the ice-core records show it's exactly the opposite." Later in the program, Beck asked Horner to name "one fact" in Gore's film that people should "Google." Horner replied: "Well, the cause-and-effect relationship of CO2 and temperatures. Obviously, temperatures go up throughout history. The scientific literature is fairly clear, fairly uniform. Temperatures go up; then, CO2 concentrations go up. CO2 does not drive temperature."

Gore said of the relationship between CO2 and temperature:

GORE: The relationship is actually very complicated, but there is one relationship that is far more powerful than all the other and it is this: when there is more carbon dioxide the temperature gets warmer, because it traps more heat from the sun inside.

But despite Ball's assertion that "[w]e now know for certain that the temperature changes before the CO2," scientists and scientific organizations, including the Met Office -- which is the UK's national weather service -- offer a different assessment of the relationship between temperature and CO2. In fact, the Met Office lists Ball's and Horner's arguments as the top "myth" related to climate change. The Met Office states:

Myth 1 -- Ice core records show that changes in temperature drive changes in carbon dioxide, and it is not carbon dioxide that is driving the current warming

Only the first part of this statement is true. Over the several hundred thousand years covered by the ice core record, the temperature changes were primarily driven by changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun. Over this period, changes in temperature did drive changes in carbon dioxide (CO2). Concentrations of CO2 are now much higher and increasing much faster than at any time in at least the last 600,000 years. This should be a warning that what is happening now is very different to what happened in the past.

In fact, over the last 100 years CO2 concentrations have increased by 30% due mainly to human-induced emissions from fossil fuels. Because CO2 is a greenhouse gas, the increased concentrations have contributed to the recent warming and probably most of the warming over the last 50 years.

The bottom line is that temperature and CO2 concentrations are linked. In recent ice ages, natural changes in the climate (due to orbit changes for example) led to cooling of the climate system. This caused a fall in CO2 concentrations which weakened the greenhouse effect and amplified the cooling. Now the link between temperature and CO2 is working in the opposite direction. Human-induced increases in CO2 is [sic] enhancing the greenhouse effect and amplifying the recent warming.

In a February 2007 article, Paul Fraser, chief research scientist at Australia's CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, wrote:

The panel concludes there is very high confidence that the warming is due to human activities, which are likely to have been at least five times greater than the impact of solar irradiance changes on global warming. In fact, they conclude that there is a greater than 90 per cent chance that temperatures are rising due to human activities.

These conclusions, supported by many hundreds of climate experts around the world, contradict Dr [Len] Walker's implication that increasing carbon dioxide levels do not cause global temperature increases, which he makes in his statement, "The fact is the Earth has cooled since 1998 ... despite ... increasing carbon dioxide levels."

Fraser added:

There have been numerous research papers and reviews published over the past 10 years, including several in prestigious journals such as Nature and Science, that conclude that the observed temperature changes over the past 100 years are consistent with the combined changes in atmospheric aerosols (volcanic and anthropogenic), land surface changes, variations in solar irradiance and increases in greenhouse gases. As a researcher in the field for more than 30 years, I am not aware of a single peer-reviewed paper or review, in a quality atmospheric science journal, that relates the temperature changes over this period to only natural causes such as changes in solar activity.

[...]

The fact that, in the long history of the atmosphere, temperature increases sometimes precede carbon dioxide increases simply implies that those temperature change are due to some factor, or factors, other than carbon dioxide increases; for example from changes in the Earth's orbit. This in no way precludes an imposed carbon dioxide increase (such as the current rapid increase from the combustion of fossil fuels) leading to an increase in global temperatures.

Eric Steig, an isotope geochemist at the University of Washington in Seattle, similarly argued in a post on the Real Climate weblog:

[I]t is not as if the temperature increase has already ended when CO2 starts to rise. Rather, they go very much hand in hand, with the temperature continuing to rise as the CO2 goes up. In other words, CO2 acts as an amplifier, just as Lorius, Hansen and colleagues suggested.

[...]

In summary, the ice core data in no way contradict our understanding of the relationship between CO2 and temperature, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with what Gore says in the film.

Oregon Petition

Beck aired a clip of Patrick Moore, one of the original founders of Greenpeace, saying that Gore and others who speak out about the effects of global warming "completely ignore the fact that there's this thing called the Oregon Petition that was signed by 19,000 professionals and scientists who don't agree with the idea that we are causing climate change." As Colorado Media Matters noted, the so-called "Oregon Petition," drafted in 1998, "urge[d] the United States government to reject" the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to limit the production of greenhouse gases in an effort to curb global warming. The petition further stated that "there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth."

The petition was sponsored by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM), which, according to PR Watch, describes itself as "a small research institute" that studies "biochemistry, diagnostic medicine, nutrition, preventive medicine, and the molecular biology of aging." Arthur Robinson, who founded OISM, was the lead author of a paper accompanying the petition, which asserted that the effects of increased levels of carbon dioxide are "a wonderful and unexpected gift from the Industrial Revolution." The Associated Press reported on April 30, 1998, that Robinson is "a physical chemist" who "acknowledges he has done no direct research into global warming." The New York Times reported on April 22, 1998, that the paper "was printed in a format and type face similar" to that of the journal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) -- which subsequently disassociated itself from the paper, saying, "that the petition had 'nothing to do' with the academy and that the article was never published in the academy's journal," and clarifying that the petition "does not reflect the conclusion of expert reports of the academy."

Also circulated with the petition was a letter from Frederick Seitz, the former NAS president. Seitz's letter warned that "[t]he United States is very close to adopting" the Kyoto Protocol, which, according to Seitz, "would ration the use of energy and of technologies that depend upon coal, oil, and natural gas and some other organic compounds." Seitz added that "there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful." A June 5, 2000, item in Business Week reported that "[f]or 28 years, Seitz was also a paid director and shareholder of Ogden Corp., an operator of coal-burning power plants that stands to lose financially should the Kyoto Protocol become law." Business Week reported that Seitz "sold most of his 11,500 shares" of Ogden in 1999 -- after promoting the petition in 1998.

Further, as Media Matters has noted, many of the signatures on the petition apparently belong to people who are not climate experts. In its April 22, 1998, article, the Times reported, "Of the 15,000 signers of the petition [at the time], Dr. Robinson said, about 2,100 were physicists, geophysicists, climatologists and meteorologists, 'and of those the greatest number are physicists.' " According to a May 1, 1998, AP article, the petition at one time included the names, "Drs. 'Frank Burns,' 'Honeycutt' and 'Pierce' (Remember the trio from M*A*S*H?), not to mention the Spice Girl, a.k.a. Geraldine Halliwell, who was on the petition as 'Dr. Geri Halliwel' and again as simply 'Dr. Halliwell.' "

Nazis

Twice in the hour-long special, Beck asserted that those who question global warming are called "Nazis" or "Holocaust deniers." In one segment, he cited environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who called Beck "CNN's chief corporate fascism advocate." And Beck ended the special by saying that scientists who are "just yelling, 'The debate is over, and these people are heretics or Nazis,' as loud as you can is not really the best way to advance science." However, Beck himself has frequently compared his opponents on this issue to Nazis. For instance, on the April 30 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Beck likened Gore's fight against global warming to Adolf Hitler's use of eugenics as justification for exterminating 6 million European Jews. On that program, Beck stated: "Al Gore's not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization. The goal is global carbon tax. The goal is the United Nations running the world. That is the goal. Back in the 1930s, the goal was get rid of all of the Jews and have one global government."

Beck continued: "You got to have an enemy to fight. And when you have an enemy to fight, then you can unite the entire world behind you, and you seize power. That was Hitler's plan. His enemy: the Jew. Al Gore's enemy, the U.N.'s enemy: global warming." He added: "Then you get the scientists -- eugenics. You get the scientists -- global warming. Then you have to discredit the scientists who say, 'That's not right.' And you must silence all dissenting voices. That's what Hitler did." Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham H. Foxman subsequently called Beck's remarks "outrageous, insensitive and deeply offensive."

In addition to his April 30 comments, on the March 22 edition of Glenn Beck, Beck likened Gore to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels for Gore's statement, during his testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, that he would initiate a "mass persuasion campaign" to urge Congress to act on climate change.

Further, on the June 7, 2006, broadcast of his radio program, Beck compared An Inconvenient Truth to Nazi propaganda. Beck dismissed many of the conclusions drawn from the documentary, stating, "[W]hen you take a little bit of truth and then you mix it with untruth, or your theory, that's where you get people to believe. ... It's like Hitler. Hitler said a little bit of truth, and then he mixed in 'and it's the Jews' fault.' That's where things get a little troublesome, and that's exactly what's happening" in An Inconvenient Truth.

From the May 2 CNN Headline News special, Exposed: The Climate of Fear:

LAURIE DAVID (producer, An Inconvenient Truth) [video clip]: No serious scientist, no peer-reviewed scientist is saying that, OK?

GORE [video clip]: Those who deny global warming are just flat-out wrong.

BECK: Ellen Goodman from The Boston Globe wrote, "Let's just say that global warming deniers are now on par with Holocaust deniers."

LEGATES: Somebody says that whenever you get into Nazi connections, you've really jumped the shark.

BECK: No Nazi references? But how would these people even form sentences? Even I got to jump into the World War II of weather. Robert F. Kennedy called me "CNN's chief corporate fascism advocate." When asked why by The Washington Post, he recalled that I was voicing doubts about global warming a few weeks back.

LEGATES: When you have the science on your side, you argue the science. When you don't have the science on your side, you attack the messenger.

[...]

BECK: Lost among all the extreme rhetoric? Any semblance of balance. An Inconvenient Truth is a study in absolutes, a one-sided argument devoid of any gray area.

GORE [video clip]: There's not a single fact or date or number that's been used to make this up that's in any controversy. [...] Isn't there a disagreement among scientists about whether the problem is real or not? Actually, not really.

BECK: Attention: You're about to meet people that aren't really real.

ROY SPENCER (University of Alabama professor): Politicians and some of the scientists like to say that there's a consensus now on global warming ,or the science has been settled. But you have to ask them, "What is there a consensus on?" Because it really makes a difference. What are you talking about? The only consensus I'm aware of is that it's warmed in the last century.

MOORE: They completely ignore the fact that there's this thing called the Oregon Petition that was signed by 19,000 professionals and scientists who don't agree with the idea that we are causing climate change.

[...]

BECK: Now, here's one of Al Gore's favorite charts, comparing CO2 levels and temperature.

GORE [video clip]: When there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer. Look how far above the natural cycle this is, and we've done that.

BECK: We? Meaning you and me? I guess it looks pretty convincing. Gore assumes here that CO2 levels are causing temperatures to rise, but, look, could it be the other way around?

BALL: We now know for certain that the temperature changes before the CO2. And one of the fundamental assumptions that Gore doesn't understand is that in the theory of global warming due to humans is, as the CO2 goes up, the temperature will go up. Well, the ice-core records show it's exactly the opposite.

[...]

BECK: Now, what about that really cool animation of Florida and Manhattan drowning? Ha! Cool, huh? You've seen these horrific scenarios everywhere, based purely on catastrophic hypotheticals that dramatically exaggerate even what the UN says. It's Al Gore's best supporting actor -- the word "if."

GORE [video clip]: If we have an increase of 5 degrees. ... If Greenland broke up and melted. ... If this were to go, sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet.

LEWIS: Where he's misleading is that he gives the impression that this is something that is likely to happen. The likelihood of this is next to nil.

LEGATES: The IPCC report is that the upper limit of sea-level rise by the year 2100 is going to be about 23 inches.

HORNER: That's why Al Gore makes up 20 feet. The truth isn't scary.

BECK: Just look at the difference between Greenland's ice melt in Al Gore's scenario when spread out over a century versus what the IPCC projects.

CHRISTY: To come up with 20 feet is really grasping at straws, I think. But it does make a dramatic image. It makes a startling announcement. And that is where, as I heard one commentator say, "It makes blood shoot out of my eyes."

BECK: Gee, I wonder who he could be talking about.

[...]

BECK: Chris, one thing that somebody could Google right now, and you watched the movie and you said, "Oh, jeez, I wish people would just Google this fact." In the movie An Inconvenient Truth, what would be the one fact they should Google?

HORNER: Well, the cause-and-effect relationship of CO2 and temperatures. Obviously, temperatures go up throughout history. The scientific literature is fairly clear, fairly uniform. Temperatures go up; then CO2 concentrations go up. CO2 does not drive temperature.

[...]

BECK: I can't tell you how many calls I've received from parents saying their kids are now being shown An Inconvenient Truth completely unchallenged. Not just in science class, but in art and math classes. A green hotel in California has just replaced the traditional in-room Bible with an in-room copy of An Inconvenient Truth. Isn't that appropriate? Al Gore's version of climate change has no longer become science. It's dogma. And if you question it, you are a heretic.

You'd think that scientists would look back at their history, when out-of-control churches locked them in towers to stop progress, and realize that just yelling, "The debate is over," and "These people are heretics or Nazis," as loud as you can is not really the best way to advance science. However -- and many have discovered -- that it is the best way to secure funding.

For now, all we can do is look for sober solutions in a world drunk on hysteria. The debate is not over. I have a feeling it's just beginning.

From New York, good night.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
Network/Outlet
CNN Headline News
Person
Glenn Beck
Show/Publication
Glenn Beck show
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