Review: Climate Hustle


In the spring of 2016, the movie "Climate Hustle" was introduced in theaters in a one-day showing. The movie claims that global warming is not real.

A Republican club that I belonged to went, but I had a conflict and couldn't make it.

Later, I decided to give a talk on the climate debate in front of a small science club, and to get the climate skeptic side of the argument, I bought the DVD and investigated the many factual claims it made.

I found the movie unpersuasive, to put it mildly, but as I read about global warming, I was also profoundly disappointed with the approach of most of the existing left-leaning environmental movement, and decided to become a climate activist, to try to inject some sense into the discussion.

The copyright message in the DVD does not prohibit public showing of the movie, provided you don't charge admission. About 4 times, I have shown the movie to audiences of environmentalists, stopping every few minutes to explain how the movie was wrong (or, in some cases, how it was right). It makes for a good introduction to climate science, a tour of the climate debate.

The 97% Consensus

There is an oft-quoted assertion by climate activists that "97% of climate scientists agree" that global warming is real and caused by the human combustion of fossil fuels.

The movie cites a single survey of 77 scientists, of whom 75 agreed. If you carefully watch every word they say, they don't say that's the only study, but they make it sound like it was.

Actually, there have been many surveys, here are some:

For example, one paper, done by a team of 9 people led by John Cook, reviewed the abstracts of 11,944 papers on climate science. Of these, 66.4% expressed no position on global warming, 32.6% endorsed global warming, 0.7% rejected global warming, and 0.3% were uncertain.

32.6 / (32.6 + 0.7 + 0.3) = 97.0% consensus

Note that the papers that took "no position" should not be interpreted as taking a stance of "uncertain". Climate scientists have a lot of things other than global warming to discuss, and those papers that took "no position" were just discussing those other things and global warming wasn't relevant to them.

What happens is that if you survey scientists in general, you get something like 80%, as you narrow it to disciplines closer and closer to climate science, the consensus grows, and once you get to climate scientists who actually publish, you get 97%.

Note that those are older studies, with time and as more warming has occurred, the uncertainty has been declining. A study done in 2021 by a team of 3 people led by Mark Lynas took 88,125 climate-related papers, randomly selected 3,000 to examine, and they identified:

  • 2104 papers that took no position
  • 892 papers that at least implicitly endorse global warming
  • 4 papers that were at least implicitly skeptical

892 / (892 + 4) = 99.5% consensus

Note that this 97% or 99.5% consensus is on the statement "The Earth is warming and it's caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.". It goes no further than that. It does not say anything about how much warming is expected in the future, how fast it will happen, or how harmful it will be to humanity.

Science, Consensus, and Galileo

They have Philip Stott, a UK Scientist, arguing that science is not driven by consensus, and he mentions Galileo. Bear in mind that the prisons, mental wards, and homeless shelters are filled with people who consider themselves to be "like Galileo". It is one thing to say that the consensus is sometimes wrong, but science does work through consensus -- a scientist has not succeeded until he gets a consensus behind his point of view. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity was not really a success until the bending of light by the sun had been observed in a solar eclipse, which convinced the broader scientific community.

Water Vapor vs CO2 as Greenhouse Gases

The movie claims that water vapor makes up 95% of greenhouse gases. They might be going by weight, which is irrelevant. One should assess gases by their impact on the greenhouse effect: this source find that water vaper, including clouds, make up between 66% and 85% of the greenhouse effect, while CO2 by itself makes up between 9% and 26%.

It should be noted that as increases in CO2 warm the planet, the warmer atmosphere is able to absorb more water, which causes more warming, in a positive feedback loop. Climate models do take the influence of water vapor into account.

Water vapor is in a constant equilibrium in the atmosphere depending upon temperature. If you suddenly dump a lot of water vapor into the atmosphere, it will rain out and restore equilibrium with a matter of days, while CO2 will linger in the atmosphere for many years.

Very High Prehistoric CO2 Levels

Dr. William Happer, of Princeton University, is shown saying that for most of Earth's history, CO2 levels were at at least a thousand ppm (it's about 410 ppm now) and the Earth was "just fine" in those periods.

This is a really asinine statement. "The Earth" would be "just fine" after an all-out nuclear war. People, on the other hand, wouldn't be doing too well.

William Happer was one of the climate skeptics appointed to positions in the Trump administration, but he resigned in 2019 because his climate skeptic activities were not receiving as much support from the White House as he wanted. Some in the administration believed that all these climate skeptic activities could harm Trump's chances for reelection in 2020.

It's true that for most of Earth's history, CO2 levels were radically higher than now, but for most of those periods, the Earth was much warmer, there were no ice caps at the poles or glaciers in the mountains, no ice anywhere on the planet, and sea level was dozens, possibly a hundred, feet higher than now, which is why we find fossils of giant sea dinosaurs in places like Kansas and Alberta.

The last time CO2 levels were this high was at 15 million years ago, very long before the existence of humans. Temperatures were much higher than now, and sea level was around 100 feet higher than now.

Dr. Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace (who has since had a change of heart on environmental issues) is shown saying that we had an ice age when CO2 levels were 10 times higher than now. He's talking about a period 460 to 430 million years ago, and it is wrong to call it an "ice age" -- there were minor glaciers in some parts of the Earth, but far from a complete ice age or even as much ice is on the planet now. The reason it got cold enough for any water to freeze at those CO2 levels was that the sun was about 3% dimmer back then. All that CO2 was preventing the Earth from turning into a complete snowball.

The movie shows a picture of a herd of mastadons walking through the snow -- this is just completely wrong -- 430 million years ago is so far back that insects and molluscs barely existed, long before dinosaurs, let alone giant mammals.

Another issue with high CO2 levels, other than warming and sea-level rise is, even if we somehow cool the planet in spite of very high CO2 levels, above around 1200 ppm, which is where we'll be in 2100 unless we take action, increasing CO2 levels reduce human IQ, so we could be inflicting cognitive deficit on the whole human race, many of whom aren't all that sharp to begin with.

Prehistoric CO2 Level Increases Lag Temperature

The movie observes, correctly, that if you look at the temperature/CO2 record in the ice core data, typically a warming period begins with the temperature rising first, 800 years before CO2 begins rising.

They then imply that this means temperature drives CO2, not the other way around, which is wrong.

The way a prehistoric warming period would typically begin is with an astronomical event, like a change in the Earth's orbit or a wobble of its axis, which would cause some warming. The solubility of CO2 in water decreases with increased temperature, meaning that as the ocean's warm, CO2 is flushed out of them, and the CO2 now causes more warming, in a positive feedback loop.

Artist's Depiction

Ivar Giaever, "Nobel Prize-Winning Climate Skeptic"

They cite a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Ivar Giaever, saying that he doesn't believe in global warming. Actually, his Nobel Prize was awarded in 1973 for superconductor physics, completely unrelated to climate or even Earth sciences, for work done in 1960.

A lot of Nobel Prize-winners get really full of themselves and are so arrogant that they weigh in on subjects they know almost nothing about. Giaever is a prime example of that. He said, in 2012, 52 years after doing his prize-winning work in an irrelevant field:

"I am not really terribly interested in global warming. Like most physicists I don't think much about it. But in 2008 I was in a panel here about global warming and I had to learn something about it. And I spent a day or so - half a day maybe on Google, and I was horrified by what I learned. And I'm going to try to explain to you why that was the case."

Note that in 2008, the first time Giaever even paid any attention to global warming, he was 79 years old, way, way past his prime.

Marc Morano's Barrage of Flim-Flam

At this point, the emcee, Marc Morano, stresses that many factors other than CO2 influence the climate, and criticizes Al Gore for failing to mention them in An Inconvenient Truth.

He then launches into a "Gish Gallup". Duane Gish was a famous Creationist debater, and a tactic he would use, the "Gish Gallup", would be to rapidly mention a long list of dubious claims in a short time, during a timed debate. It takes longer to rebut a false claim than to make it, so his opponent wouldn't have to rebut the multitude of arguments that he had made.

  • Morano mentions "the sun" as "one of the key drivers that Al Gore tries to diminish". Actually, solar radiation has varied by less than 0.2% in the last couple of centuries, and its variation does not correlate with the Earth's temperature.
  • Then he talks about volcanoes, but doesn't say anything intelligent. Humans have emitted at least 100 times as much CO2 into the air over the last couple of centuries than volcanoes have during that time. Really big volcanoes do influence the climate, but mostly cool it because the dust they emit reflects sunlight while it lingers in the atmosphere.
  • He mentions cosmic rays with no explantation of how they're relevant. Cosmic rays typically come from outside the solar system, so don't vary much at all over the years.
  • He mentions the tilt of the Earth's axis without any explanation. The north pole moves during huge Earthquakes by something like a foot. It oscillates back and forth over a distance of about 170 miles over a period of 41,000 years, which means it moves 0.008 miles per year, or 42 feet per year. This is nowhere near enough motion to have caused the amount of climactic impact we've observed over the last few decades.
  • He mentions "atmospheric circulation" with no explanation of what on Earth he's talking about. Is he claiming that climate models don't take atmospheric circulation into account?
  • He mentions "water vapor". That's already been discussed, and climate scientists are very aware of it.
  • He mentions "methane". Yes, we're very concerned about methane. What's his point?
  • He mentions "clouds". What about them? Does he think climate scientists have never heard of them?
  • He mentions "reflectivity of the Earth" or "albedo". Yes, we know all about it, it's taken into account.
  • He talks about "land use policy" and "soil". Everybody knows about that.

What Marc Morano is trying to do is overwhelm and confuse the viewer with so much flim-flam and distractions that the viewer will decide that it is impossible to draw any scientific conclusions.

Morano is trying to put a high burden of proof on the climate activists, and he assumes that all he has to win is confuse and create doubt. But Morano also faces a burden of proof! If he wants us to believe that we can forget about global warming and burn fossil fuels to our heart's content, it is incumbent upon him to demonstrate with a reaonable level of confidence that no great harm will befall us if we do that.

Preditions of "Global Cooling" in the 1970's

Morano talks about how, during the 1970's, "scientists were predicting a coming ice age".

Actually, the earth had been cooling for the decades preceeding about 1970 due to particulate pollution from the burning of high-sulfter coal -- the sulfurous particles in the atmosphere were reflecting sunlight and cooling the planet. We eventually put scrubbers on the smokestacks of coal-burning plants to combat acid rain, and warming resumed. Some scientists were expecting the cooling trend to continue, but they were in the minority -- most climate scientists at the time were predicting warming.

They show a lot of media reports from the 1970's quoting scientists predicting global cooling. Journalists generally aren't very good at science.

They show a video clip of Leonard Nimoy predicting global cooling. Leonard Nimoy was not really a smart person, he just played one on TV.

Manipulation of the Senate in 1988 Hearing

They start talking about the senate hearing in 1988 that introduced global warming to congress, and how the politicians deliberately turned off the air conditioning in the room so make it hotter. That was regrettable but par for the course for a politician (for a scientist it would be inexcusable).

Polar Bears

The movie claims that what Al Gore said about endangered polar bears is wrong. Actually, they're right about this, a British Court found that everything Al Gore said about polar bears in An Inconvenient Truth had pretty much no scientific basis at all .

Polar Ice and Sea Level Rise

They quote some scientists predicting the complete loss of Arctic ice year-round. That wasn't an intelligent thing for those scientists to say. There isn't really much sea level rise expected by most scientists up to the present day.

Judith Curry is shown claiming that records are being set for Antarctic sea ice. Actually, this was a temporary trend that eventually reversed itself after 2014 (Climate Hustle was released in early 2016) -- here is a chart of Antarctic maximum sea ice extent from 1979 to 2020:

They talk about the claims of some scientists that sea level rise is accelerating, and say that's not true, there's been sea level rise, but the rate has stayed pretty constant, and it's not fast enough to be alarming at this point. The movie is within reason on this one, we haven't experienced clear acceleration of sea level rise thus far. I'm not sure, but I don't think the one scientist they quote claim that "sea level rise is accelerating" represented the consensus of the field when he said that. The movie shows the same guy saying other dumb things. There has been a lot of melting of Arctic ice, but since that ice was floating, its melting did not cause sea level rise.

Some scientists, however, are reporting that major giant land-based ice sheets in Antarctica are showing signs of increasing instability, and they could very rapidly slide into the ocean, which could greatly accelerate sea-level rise in the future.

It should be noted that in 2006, when Al Gore showed videos of what 20 feet of sea level rise would do to the world's great coastal cities in An Inconvenient Truth, the IPCC was predicting only 2 feet of sea level rise by 2100. Gore did mention that this was the scenario "if Greenland melts" but made no mention of how long that would take, leaving much of the audience thinking that it would happen within a few decades.

Wild Weather

The movie shows professor Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado saying that we have observed no increase in the number of hurricanes or tornadoes as a result of global warming.

Big hurricanes occur in small, integral numbers annually, so if there were a 5% increase in the frequency of hurricanes, you would have to collect many decades of data to confirm the difference. So while we cannot prove that the frequency or intensity of hurricanes has increased, the professor does not have evidence that they have not.

The IPCC does not predict more tornadoes with warming.

The professor goes on to say that droughts and floods have not been increasing in frequency or intensity. The movie doesn't show the date he was testifying, but actually flood insurers have been facing increasing claims.

There have been increasing wildfires in California, this is not due to the 1 degree C of observed warming, but rather to a change in the jet stream caused by the obseved 1 degree C of warming, which has caused an increased frequency of winds from from the hot, dry Nevada desert to the east rather than winds from the cold, wet Pacific Ocean to the west.

"Failing" Climate Models, "Warming Has Stopped"

They show Patrick Michaels, then a climate scientist at the Libertarian CATO institute, saying that most climate models "have been failing", they've "been predicting too much warming".

To put this in perspective, we have to talk about El Niño and La Niña, two opposite weather patterns depending on the direction of currents in the tropical Pacific Ocean. In an El Niño year, we get a hotter year than expected, and in a La Niña year, we get a colder year than expected as heat is directed into the ocean depths where we don't measure temperature.

Climate scientists cannot predict whether future years will be El Niño's or La Niña's.

1998 was a phenomenally hot El Niño year, a major fluke. Then most of the first decade of this century we had La Niña years, so there was less warming than expected -- in fact, the temperature record of 1998 was not broken until about 2010. This is what Michaels is talking about when he says that "the climate models have failed".

Michaels agrees that human combustion of fossil fuels causes warming, his climate models just predict less of it than those of most other climate scientists.

A lot of climate skeptics were cherry-picking that super-hot, fluke 1998 year to claim that "warming has stopped", which was misleading -- the decade from 2000-2009 was significantly warming than any preceding decade in human history.

CATO eventually gave up on climate skepticism as a lost cause and disbanded their climate operation. Patrick Michaels' Wikipedia page doesn't say where he is now.

"Faked" Temperature Data

They then start getting into conspiracy theories, saying that scientists have doctored the temperature record to show more warming than really happened.

This is just preposterous, the temperature record is not kept in a single, centralized place -- it has been downloaded by climate scientists all over the world to check out how well their climate models are performing. It would not be possible to dishonestly doctor the data without hundreds or thousands of people knowing about it and many of them blowing the whistle. Most scientists, whatever their position, would be furious about something like that.

They may be talking about pre-satellite and particularly pre-thermometer data, temperature records from centuries ago, obtained by many proxy methods like measuring the thickness of tree rings or somehow analyzing ancient coral -- if someone comes up with a different way to interpret these proxies and translate them into temperature, and they convince the scientific community that the new method is more accurate, that's not "cheating", that's "scientifically improving your estimates".

Here's the Climate at a Glance website provided by NOAA, the federal weather administration, which runs the US weather satellites, but it contains a lot of data from before we had weather satellites. You can look up the temperature record for the whole world, or a country, or a state, or a major city.

NOAA is part of the executive branch. From 2017-2021, Donald Trump, a climate skeptic, was in charge of the executive branch. If the NOAA data had been faked, Trump could have had it corrected. He did not.

When the ClimateGate emails were leaked in 2009, Berkeley professor Richard Muller was enraged and declared that he did not trust climate science as a discipline, and created the Berkeley Earth project, which re-created the temperature record of the last two centuries from the raw data from scratch, and confirmed that the temperature record that the climate scientists had originally reported was accurate all along.

Dr. Robert Giegengack, introduced as the "former chair" (What does that mean? Retired?) of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at U Penn, who has been quoted saying stupid things throughout the movie, complained that the published temperature record did not contain the Medieval Warm Period, which was just an ignorant thing to say -- the Medieval Warm Period was not a global phenomenon, it was just in Europe, Greenland, and some of North America, and the rest of the world was not particularly warm during this time.

Morano then started outright lying and claiming that there has been "no warming for two decades" prior to 2016. As I said before, climate skeptics were arguing "warming has stopped", dishonestly, for as long as the 1998 hot year record had not been broken. They enjoyed saying it so much that they kept saying it, even more dishonestly, after the 1998 record had been broken multiple times. At this point in 2021, the 1998 record has been broken 8 times and some climate skeptics are still claiming "there has been no warming since 1998".

Multitudes of Stupid People

They then start showing a lot of journalists, environmentalists, politicians, and even British royalty saying stupid, hysterical things about climate change. But billions of people believe in climate change, if you focus on what the dumbest ones are saying, of course you'll find a truckload of idiocy.

Politicians and lay journalists are not scientists or engineers. They are mostly liberal arts majors who haven't taken much, or any, science since high school, and in most cases, weren't very good at it when they did. You should not look to politicians or lay journalists for leadership on highly technical issues. Truth is very central to the values system of a journalist who is any good, but not to most politicians. And some of the "journalists" shown by the movie saying stupid things are news anchors, who are chosen for their looks rather than for their brains.

When Joe Rogan interviewed Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, he asked Musk "What one change do you think would make the world a better place?". Musk said "That's a good question." and thought for awhile, and said "I wish politicians were better at science.". Rogan said "They have no incentive to be." and Musk agreed.

The same goes for many environmentalists. Many climate activists do not even prioritize learning about climate science or the engineering issues involved in decarbonizing the economy. For many people, including die-hard activists, their political positions are statements of fashion rather than anything based on careful analysis or reflection. Some leaders of global warming organizations think that "97% of scientists agree" is all they need to know about science or engineering to do their jobs well.

They show Robert F Kennedy Jr saying stupid things. The guy's stupid opinions are not limited to the environment. He's nobody -- his only claim to fame is two famous photogenic relatives, who died long before he was old enough to have an intelligent conversation with either of them.

Nastiness of Climate Debate

They start talking about how heated and nasty the debate has gotten. They say how unfair it is that people call them "climate deniers" (Note that at the Conservative Climate Activists, our stated policy is never to call them that, we always call them "climate skeptics", which is what they like to be called).

But Marc Morano is hardly one to point fingers about things getting nasty. He has published private email addresses of climate scientists so that they would, and did, receive death threats from the public.

They show the climate skeptic and flim-flam man "Lord" Christopher Monckton complaining about how mean it is that people tell him he's not really a "Lord". He nearly made it into the British House of Lords, but lost out on a technicality and started calling himself "Lord" anyway. The House of Lords eventually passed a resolution saying that Christopher Monckton is not, and never was, a Lord. The movie says that Monckton was a "former advisor to Margaret Thatcher" but Thatcher's environmental minister said that Monckton was "a bag carrier in Mrs Thatcher's office. And the idea that he advised her on climate change is laughable.". His education was in "the classics", nothing technical. It should be noted that Margaret Thatcher, who was educated in chemistry, called in 1989 for a global treaty on climate change.

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