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|Review: Climate Hustle|
In the spring of 2016, the movie "Climate Hustle" was introduced in theaters in a one-day showing.
A Republican club that I belonged to went, but I had a conflict and couldn't make it.
The movie claims that global warming is not real, or at least if it's happening, human activity is not the cause. The very title -- "Hustle" is inspired by the claim that the whole thing is a fraud, and there is a skit in the movie of a con man playing a fraudulent card game as an analogy to the story climate activists are telling about global warming.
In the fall of that year, 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.
We will not be discussing:
In an analogy to global warming, the movie shows a street hustler (the analogy to the climate scientists) trying to con a couple of passers-by in a con game.
Marc Morano shows up and pulls a card from up the hustler’s sleeve, exposing him as a fraud. The analogy is that that is what the rest of the movie is going to do to the climate scientists.
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.
Furthermore, how is a layperson to draw a conclusion about a technical issue in a reasonable amount of time if not by deferring to the consensus of experts?
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.
This insinuation is an outright lie. 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.
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:
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.
The fossil fuel-funded climate-skeptic think tank "Heartland Institute" has gone to great lengths, funding phony studies to debunk all of these surveys. They send a pamphlet titled "Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming" that they mail, unsolicited, to thousands of high school science teachers to sow confusion. The pamphlet goes into great detail about why each study is wrong. So we're left with a situation where both sides are accusing the other of lying and no way to get to the bottom of it without an enormous amount of work.
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 finds that water vapor, including clouds, make up between 66% and 85% of the greenhouse effect, while CO2 by itself makes up between 9% and 26%.
They do an analsys that claims that human-emitted CO2 (the red cube) is tiny compared to naturally-emitted CO2 (the orange cubes). This is not accurate -- human-emitted CO2 is over 30% of the CO2 currently in the atmosphere.
It should be noted that as increases in CO2 warm the planet, the warmer atmosphere can 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 within a matter of days, while CO2 will linger in the atmosphere for many years.
Dr. William Happer, of Princeton University, is shown saying that for most of Earth's history, CO2 levels were at least a thousand ppm (it's about 417 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 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 mastodons walking through the snow -- this is just completely wrong -- 430 million years ago is so far back that insects and mollusks barely existed, long before dinosaurs, let alone giant mammals.
Incomplete and Misleading
They show the temperature record shown in An Inconvenient Truth, from Antarctic ice cores going back 800,000 years.
They then show the CO2 record going back millions of years, and show that for most of the planet's history, CO2 levels were way higher than now. The movie is right about this.
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 oceans warm, CO2 is flushed out of them, and the CO2 now causes more warming, in a positive feedback loop.
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:
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.
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 gets into a lift with the CO2 / temperature plot in the background, like Al Gore did.
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.
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 reasonable level of confidence that no great harm will befall us if we do that.
Morano talks about how, during the 1970s, "scientists were predicting a coming ice age" and shows a lot of popular media at the time reporting on this. Journalists generally aren't very good at science.
Actually, the earth had been cooling for the decades preceding about 1970 due to particulate pollution from the burning of high-sulfur 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 video clip of Leonard Nimoy predicting global cooling. Leonard Nimoy was not really a smart person, he just played one on TV.
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 to make it hotter. That was regrettable but par for the course for a politician (for a scientist it would be inexcusable).
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.
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 show some projections, probably from An Inconvenient Truth, showing projections of sea level rise.
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. That's really not true, there's been quite a bit of acceleration, but it's very recent (bear in mind that the movie was released back in 2016 and made before that).
So, the rate of sea-level rise since 2006 has nearly tripled compared to the sea-level rise for over a century before that.
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, when it would probably take centuries if not millenia.
The movie shows several scenes from TV news, all attributed by the media to "climate change".
The movie then 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.
Pielke 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. Private insurers are raising rates, and because congress won't let FEMA raise rates, it's losing $36 bill per year on flood insurance.
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 observed 1 degree C of warming, which has caused an increased frequency of winds from the hot, dry Nevada desert to the east rather than winds from the cold, wet Pacific Ocean to the west.
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".
Global surface temperature, 1982-2022, 5-year average.
Michaels is right, that less warming was observed in the first decade of this century than was predicted.
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".
Satellite temperature, lower troposphere, 1980-2022
Satellite temperature data differs from the surface temperature data, and shows a pause in warming from about 1999-2015 (around when the movie was made) after which warming aggressively resumed.
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 to 2009 was significantly warmer than any preceding decade since the invention of the thermometer.
CATO eventually gave up on climate skepticism as a lost cause and disbanded its climate operation. Patrick Michaels' Wikipedia page doesn't say where he is now.
They then start getting into conspiracy theories, saying that scientists have doctored the temperature record to show more warming than really happened.
The movie shows Prof. Robert Gieggack of U Penn claiming that he didn't believe the hockey stick for 2 reasons:
Regarding "A', the Medieval Warm Period, the Medieval Warm Period was not a global phenomenon, it was just Greenland, Northeat America, and some of Europe. It doesn't show up in the Antarctic ice cores.
Regarding "B", the kink in the curve happens when the thermometer was invented, and we started burning fossil fuels, which happened at the same time.
This is a story circulated by a blogger who then claimed to be named Steven Goddard and has since announced that his name is really Tony Heller.
What really happened is that it turns out that averaging out temperature readings from a multitude of ground-based stations is a very non-trivial exercise. The problem is, as cities build up and the area surrounding a temperature measuring station gets paved over, the area heats up. So that has to be adjusted for. Also, there are always measuring stations being phased out and others being phased in, and some are in naturally hot spots and others are in naturally cool spots so taking the average temperature of a state, country, or the planet, is complex. As time goes on, people come up with more sophisticated and accurate ways to accumulate the average. So, adjustments happen, and Steven Goddard cried foul.
There was a debate about this, and it turns out that even Anthony Watts, who runs the climate skeptic website "WattsUpWithThat", disagreed with Goddard. 'I took Goddard to task over this as well in a private email, saying he was very wrong and needed to do better,' Watts wrote.".
Goddard's claim was promoted for a while on Fox News by host Steve Doocy. Politifact rated the claim by Goddard and Doocy as a "Pants on Fire" lie.
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 to 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.
Prof Richard Muller
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.
They then show several famous leaders of the climate movement, making alarmist dire predictions of the Earth's temperature reaching a "tipping point" beyond which we will be unable to recover, and doom unless immediate action was taken -- and they all were saying these things many years ago, and these prophesies of doom have not been realized.
The IPCC reports are more reliable than any one person, and do not prophesize doom in any short time frame.
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 a while, 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.
I think the movie really does have a point here, much of the broader public feels the situation is graver than it is, with Greta Thurnberg acting like she thinks she won’t live to menopause, and many millenials thinking the world will end in a couple of decades. Such catastrophe is not predicted by the IPCC reports.
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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