Transcript: Ross Gelbspan v. "The Great Global Warming Swindle", Mar 20 2007

Thom and Ross debunk the "The Great Global Warming Swindle" documentary.

Thom Hartmann interviews Ross Gelbspan March 20 2007

[Thom Hartmann] I want to start with "The Great Global Warming Swindle". This is the title of a documentary, so-called, that is running on British television that is on the web that apparently was shown to Republican members of the United States House and Senate which has led to over 80% of them saying that they do not believe that there is a global warming crisis or climate change crisis, and I want to share some clips of this and get some feedback from a guy who really has done the research; who really does know what he's talking about.

Ross Gelbspan was a reporter and editor for 30 years with the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe. At the Globe he conceived, directed and edited a series of articles that won a Pulitzer Prize. In 1997 he published a book called "The Heat is On" and I read it when it first came out and it really got my attention. The book got particular attention when then President Clinton told the press he was reading it.

Ross Gelbspan's second book, "Boiling Point", published in 2004, received the lead review in the Sunday New York Times Book Review; it was reviewed by Al Gore. His website, Ross's website, is Ross Gelbspan, welcome to the Thom Hartmann program.

[Ross Gelbspan] Hi Thom, thanks so much for having me on.

[Thom Hartmann] Great to have you with us, Ross. I want to take a little time here, we may need to take more than even just the first segment of the show because I've got a bunch of clips from this documentary and I just, because this is being so heavily played in the conservative community. The conservative blogosphere is flying this thing around. This so-called documentary is getting hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of hits. It's being, as I said, being shown to members of Congress. I want to just take some excerpts from it and have you rebut them or respond to them, if that's all right with you.

[Ross Gelbspan] Sure.

[Thom Hartmann] OK. So here's one of the first, saying that the temperature on Earth is, by the narrator of the movie, is a consequence of sunspot variations and not carbon dioxide. Here we go.

In 1991, senior scientists at the Danish Meteorological Institute decide to compile a record of sunspots in the 20th Century and compare it with the temperature record. What they found was an incredibly close correlation between what the Sun was doing and changes in temperature on Earth. Solar activity, they found, rose sharply to 1940, fell back for four decades until the 1970s, and then rose again after that.

[Thom Hartmann] And then he goes on to point out that temperatures did the same thing. Your response?

[Ross Gelbspan] OK. A couple of points that he's making here. The first one is the relationship between solar activity and the warming of the planet, and basically what the scientists have found out is that up until, boy, probably the early part of the 20th century the sun was the dominant influence on the climate. It exerted about 85% of what's called the external influence on the climate. But, with the rise of greenhouse gases, they really swamp the influence of the sun so that today solar changes exert maybe about 15% influence on the climate and greenhouse gases about 85%.

[Thom Hartmann] So they neglected to mention that in the movie.

[Ross Gelbspan] They neglected to mention that for sure. The other point that's really interesting is, they do mention the fact that the warming proceeded until about 1940, sort of plateaued for about 30 years until about 1970, and since then it's been going up at an incredibly fast rate. And the reason for that is a little bit complicated, but when we burn coal and oil we put up two things. We put up carbon dioxide, which stays up there for a hundred years and traps in heat.

We also put up lower level particulates; they're the things that make for air pollution and they actually cool the planet; they reflect the sunlight back into space. And the period from 1940 to 1970 is the period when the world was industrializing around World War II - there was a huge increase in manufacturing; there was also a great deal of debris put up from all the bombings and so forth, and so you did have an offset effect from all these lower level pollutants. And then when they settled out in the late 60s and the 70s, the heating resumed and in fact it has been warming since then at a pace that exceeds any in the last 10,000 years. So that's the reason for that plateau.

[Thom Hartmann] So it was, yeah, it was the 1970s that we actually started getting serious about cleaning up our air. I mean, my recollection is that the Cuyahoga River caught on fire in the early 70s. [1969 - ed.]

[Ross Gelbspan] Well, that's right, that's right, and so for example the British ecologist James Lovelock today makes the point that if we were to really clean up air pollution around the world, and that includes places like India and China that are dependent on their coal, and Mexico and Nigeria that burn lots of oil, if we were to radically clean up our air, we would see a huge spike in heating, and so...

[Thom Hartmann] Because there'd be less reflected sunlight as a consequence of all the particulate matter in the atmosphere.

[Ross Gelbspan] That's exactly right.

[Thom Hartmann] So that, wow, that could be an unintended consequence. Ok, here's another quote. This is this new so-called documentary, "The Great Global Warming Swindle" suggesting that when things get warm, that's a desirable thing.

[Professor Philip Stott] It's important people know that climate enabled a quite different lifestyle in the medieval period. We have this view today that Warming is going to have apocalyptic outcomes. In fact wherever you describe this 'warm period' it appears to be associated with riches.

[Audio of song "We're having a heatwave".]

[Narrator] In Europe this was the great age of the cathedral builders, a time when, according to Chaucer, vineyards flourished even in the North of England.

[Professor Philip Stott] All over the City of London there are little memories of the vineyards that grew in the Medieval Warm Period. So this was a wonderfully rich time. And this little church in a sense symbolizes it, because it comes from a period of great wealth.

[Thom Hartmann] So, and they're talking about the medieval warming period was good times for Europe.

[Ross Gelbspan] It probably was a good time because it was coming out of a very cold period and it did allow more grapes to grow and so forth, but that's all within what's called the range of natural variability which traditionally is in an upper limit and a lower limit, and so that was a warmer upper limit and it certainly was very good. That was before there was things like greenhouse gases. That was before we were changing the climate. And the real concern here, Thom, is that the planet, as it's warming up, we can't arrest global warming at any particular comfort level. If we could, it would be great, but the scientists right now are projecting that the climate will increase from, boy, 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit within this century.

And if you look at what's happening around the world right now, the glaciers are melting, violent weather's increasing. All over the world plants, animals, birds, insects, whole ecosystems are migrating toward the poles in search of stable temperatures. We have the ice caps melting. All of that has happened from one degree of warming. And so, if we could stop it right here, it may be a more pleasant world, but we are not in control. And what scientists are really concerned about is runaway climate change whereby the warming sort of takes on its own internal dynamics and just really trashes the planet in a big way. So, as I say, if we could control it and bring on another little medieval warm period and stop it right there, that would be great. Unfortunately, we don't have those kind of controls for the thermostat that controls the planet's climate.

[Thom Hartmann] OK. Here's another clip from the, and I'm going to ask Alex to just push this break back a little bit here, I'm going to play one more clip from this so-called documentary, "The Great Global Warming Swindle" and we'll get your response on that.

[Ross Gelbspan] OK.

[Professor Ian Clark] When we look at climate on long scales we're looking for geological material that actually records climate. If we were to take an ice sample for example, we use isotopes to reconstruct temperature, but the atmosphere that's imprisoned in that ice, we liberate and then we look at the CO2 content...

So here we are looking at the Ice Core record from Vostok. And in the red we see temperature going up from early time to later time at a very key interval when we came out of a glaciation, and we see the temperature going up, and then we see the CO2 coming up. CO2 lags behind that increase. It's got an 800 year lag. So temperature is leading CO2 by 800 years... CO2 clearly cannot be causing temperature changes. It's a product of temperature - it's following temperature changes.

[Thom Hartmann] So, their point is that CO2 is a result of biological activity that increases as a consequence of temperature going up and that we have it backwards.

[Ross Gelbspan] I think...

[Thom Hartmann] Ross, I'm sorry, the break just started, we'll get your answer on the other side. We're talking with Ross Gelbspan, is his web site, Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, Philadelphia Bulletin, Washington Post, Boston Globe, he's author of "Boiling Point" and "The Heat is On" and we're debunking "The Great Global Warming Swindle"; the Republicans' favorite movie right now.


[Thom Hartmann] We're talking with Ross Gelbspan, his web site. We're talking about this new documentary out of England that all the Republicans are all agog about, saying that Al Gore's wrong on everything. Ross, the last clip that we just heard, I'll just again play the last 10 seconds of it, just to recap it, suggests that carbon dioxide levels actually follow warming rather than precede it.

[Professor Ian Clark] CO2 clearly cannot be causing temperature changes. It's a product of temperature - it's following temperature changes.

[Thom Hartmann] So, your response?

[Ross Gelbspan] OK. If you look at CO2, Thom, when the Earth was formed, the atmosphere was mostly CO2 and over the years it got drawn way down to where it's now something like .003% of the atmosphere. Basically, it's not a question as to whether CO2 causes warming or whether warming generates CO2; it's sort of a dance between the two of them and it's a feedback mechanism. So, for example, when we had some early CO2 that helped promote plant life, the plants absorbed the CO2, produced more oxygen. But then as we had the plants decaying and decomposing and so forth, more volcanic eruptions, it put up more CO2. And, if you look at the temperature records, the changes in Earth temperature and the changes in carbon dioxide concentrations track each other perfectly.

So what you have here is the feedback between the generation of CO2, the warming, the warming which generates CO2, and so forth. Now, what's really interesting about that is, that process sort of stabilized itself. It stabilized itself, boy, probably about 600,000 years ago, and for the last 10,000 years we had the same amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, about 280 parts per million, which really created good conditions for the civilization to develop. And that was because...

[Thom Hartmann] And thus our civilization being only about 10,000 years old.

[Ross Gelbspan] That's right, that's right, and we had this 280 parts per million and it was pretty constant. But that was from the natural sources of CO2. Since we have begun to industrialize using coal and oil, we have upped that 280 parts per million to 380 parts per million and the temperature's begun to skyrocket. So, it's sort of not important whether or not, which comes first; the chicken or the egg. The point is, it's in a mutual feedback cycle and the more CO2 we pump up there, the more heat we get down here, and there's no question about that.

[Thom Hartmann] Right, so, for millions of years we had a relatively unstable system or at least a system that was going through wide oscillations in temperature that had to do with a whole bunch of variables from tectonic activity to meteorites to sun activity.

[Ross Gelbspan] Exactly.

[Thom Hartmann] And we're within the context of that now, but now we've thrown a new variable in and that's massively increasing the CO2 levels by man-made activity. Is that a good way of summarizing it?

[Ross Gelbspan] Exactly.

[Thom Hartmann] OK, here's another clip. This is suggestion that the ocean has a memory and therefore all of our numbers are meaningless.

[Professor Carl Wunsch] The ocean has a memory of past events, running out as far as 10,000 years. So for example if somebody says, "Oh, I'm seeing changes in the North Atlantic - this must mean that the climate system is changing", it may only mean that something happened in a remote part of the ocean decades or hundreds of years ago, whose effects are now beginning to show up in the North Atlantic.

[Thom Hartmann] So, the point being that the ice cap that's receding from the Arctic has got nothing to do with increases in carbon dioxide over the last 100 years; it's from something that happened 3, 400 years, or maybe 10,000 years ago. Might have been, you know, a volcanic activity.

[Ross Gelbspan] Certainly doesn't seem that way, but again, what's really important about these changes, Thom, is the rate at which they are taking place and that really is what is alarming the scientists; it's the rate of these changes. So, for example, you have had 3 big pieces of Antarctic ice shelves break off due to warming water since 1995. All 3 of them are bigger than the size of the state of Rhode Island. That has not happened in that kind of 10, 12, 15 year period in prehistory; there's no record of that whatsoever. The changes that he referred to here have been very gradual, very slow and they've come and gone and ebbed and flowed.

And what we're seeing now is very radical sudden changes. And in fact, what we're seeing, if you're talking about the oceans, is an extraordinary phenomenon where the oceans have been detected to have warmed up down to a depth of 2 miles. Now that's extraordinary given the inertia of the oceans. And that is only because of the forcing of our atmosphere of warming.

[Thom Hartmann] And that's an enormous amount of heat to heat that much water. That's a lot of mass, compared to the mass of the atmosphere.

[Ross Gelbspan] Absolutely.

[Thom Hartmann] We're talking with Ross Gelbspan. Ross, can you stick around for one more segment?

[Ross Gelbspan] Absolutely, Thom.

[Thom Hartmann] Great, I still have another 5 or 6 clips from this movie I'd like to share with you and get your rebuttal to. Ross Gelbspan's website for more information.


[Bumper Music: "Heatwave"]


[Thom Hartmann] This is a very, very timely topic...

[Thom quoted from "Ex-Bush Official: I Fixed The Facts Around The Policy" about Philip Cooney, who is not a climate scientist. The article reads:]

Philip Cooney is the former chief of staff to President Bush’s Council on Environmental Quality who made hundreds of edits to government climate reports in ways that played down links between human activity and global warming. He worked for the American Petroleum Institute before coming to the Bush administration, and left the White House for Exxon shortly after his edits were revealed.

Cooney appeared yesterday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) told Cooney he wanted to determine whether what is “driving the policy of this administration on global warming and climate change is the science or whether it’s something called the politically correct science.”

Cooney admitted it was the latter: “My objective was to align these communications with the administration’s stated policy” of climate skepticism.

[Thom Hartmann] We're fixing the facts to meet the policy. I fixed the facts. Same as the Downing Street memo. So we're talking with Ross Gelbspan, the author of "The Heat is On" and other books, and his website and just going through this, and we're just going to spend a few more minutes with this. I realize this is a lot of time and typically what we're doing is I'm debating conservatives on this show. Here we have Ross and I debating this movie. Because this is a huge topic.

Al Gore's going to be testifying tomorrow before Congress on this. The day after that they are going to have Bjorn Lomborg on, I believe, who's the guy who's going to be putting out a lot of these talking points that you're hearing in this movie right now, and I want to immunize you in advance, give Ross an opportunity to tell you all about these things. So Ross, welcome back.

[Ross Gelbspan] OK, thank you Thom.

[Thom Hartmann] Lord Dawson [Lawson - ed.]. This is, for those who may have just tuned in, there is a Channel 4 in England, in the United Kingdom, TV show that has come out that is all the rage among conservatives. It's been shown to Republican members of the House and the Senate. It's called "The Great Global Warming Swindle" and it alleges that, you know, don't worry, be happy, there's nothing to worry about here, this is all nonsense. And just, you know, playing some clips from this and getting Ross's response on them. This is Lord Dawson [Professor Philip Stott - ed.] discussing the mini ice age.

[Professor Philip Stott] In the 14th Century Europe plunged into the Little Ice Age. And where we would look for evidence of this are the old illustrations and prints and pictures of Old Father Thames, because during the hardest and toughest winters of that Little Ice Age, the Thames would freeze over. And there were wonderful ice fairs held on the Thames, skating and people actually selling things on the ice.

[Thom Hartmann] So, the point they're making in the last clip that we played in the last segment, Ross, was that there was this medieval warming period, and here, this little ice age, that these temperature variations, these temperature fluctuations from the Thames being frozen over to there being vineyards in Northern England are just all part of the natural scheme of things, and thus, you know, changes that are happening right now are part of the natural scheme of things.

[Ross Gelbspan] It is certainly true of changes that happened back then, Thom. I mean, the climate is subject to wild swings, but they've happened within certain limitations and you can't compare the little ice age, the medieval warm period to what we're seeing now. For example, 11 of the 12 hottest years on record have happened in the past 12 years. The 5 hottest consecutive years ever are 91 to 95. The planet is heating at a rate faster than at any time in the last 10,000 years. So, what we're seeing today is really off the chart and it goes way beyond the oscillations that we've been used to, which is normally part of our traditional climate.

[Thom Hartmann] So, the medieval warm period and the freezing of the Thames, the little ice age, were both within that normal variation and we are now swinging outside of that.

[Ross Gelbspan] Absolutely. Exactly right.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah, OK. Patrick Moore; he was the co-founder of Greenpeace, and he's in this movie here now. He's become a climate denier and he takes a whack at you and me and everyone who has a position on this.

[Patrick Moore] The shift to climate being a major focal point came about for two very distinct reasons. The first reason was because by the mid 80s the majority of people now agreed with all of the reasonable things we in the environmental movement were saying they should do. Now when a majority of people agree with you, it's pretty hard to remain confrontational with them. And so the only way to remain anti-establishment was to adopt ever more extreme positions.

[Thom Hartmann] And then here's another person saying essentially the same thing; that this is all the conspiracy theory of why folks like you and I are talking about this.

[Professor Frederick Singer, Former Director, US National Weather Service] Well, Carbon Dioxide clearly is an industrial gas. So it's tied in with economic growth, with transportation in cars, with what we call civilization. And there are forces in the environmental movement that are simply against economic growth. They think that's bad.

[Thom Hartmann] So it's all people, you know, Greens who are frustrated because in fact they were right back in the 80s and everybody agreed with them and so now they are taking out their frustrations by trying to destroy civilization.

[Ross Gelbspan] Well, there are really two points here, Thom, and both of them are absolutely off the wall. Moore is saying, he's sort of attributing this whole thing to an emotional recalcitrance and people being upset because their extreme positions, which is nuts. What we know about the climate doesn't come from the environmentalists; it comes from more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries in what is the largest and most rigorously peer reviewed scientific collaboration in history. Bunch of these scientists were themselves initially skeptical about climate change, and I'm thinking of people like Tom Carls [Thomas R. Karl? - ed.], very, very respected scientists, until they really looked at the data, really began to understand the mechanisms, and said, 'holy cow, this can only be due to greenhouse warming; nothing else explains it'. So this is not, this has nothing to do with the environmental movement. The environmentalists did not give us the basis on which to understand global warming. They've sort of taken it and run with it and they may be subject to criticisms. That's fine, but they're not the source of our information.

[Thom Hartmann] Right.

[Ross Gelbspan] The second quote, which sounded like it came from Fred Singer, was basically saying that people who're sort of promoting the idea of global warming are against economic growth and that is absolutely nuts. It's not coal and oil that gives us economic growth; it's energy that gives us economic growth. And there's no question that we need energy for economic growth, so were we to get that same energy from windmills, and from tidal power and wave power and solar panels and so forth, we could still have the same amount of economic growth. And in fact, in my book "Boiling Point", I outline 3 strategies that would push a very rapid global energy transition to clean energy, and it would create millions and millions of jobs, especially in developing countries. There's no question about it. So, it's not the coal and oil that gives us economic growth, it's that energy is required for economic growth, and by all means to increase the living standards in developing countries, we need to provide them energy, and we need to provide them clean energy. And I would just add to that, that countries like India and China with their vast coal reserves are feeling the impacts in terms of air pollution and lung disease and acid rain; they would love to go clean energy; they just can't afford it. But if we were to help extend clean energy to those countries, they would snap it up in a minute. There is no resistance on their part.

[Thom Hartmann] Right. Well, in fact, China recently has allocated $300b to solarization of an entire city out in the middle provinces.

[Ross Gelbspan] Exactly.

[Thom Hartmann] I mean, they're looking at this very seriously. Here's a, I'm not sure who this speaker was, he's not attributed in the movie, but basically, again, back to our original point saying that CO2 has nothing to do with this.

[Professor Syun-Ichi Akasofu, Director, International Arctic Research Centre] CO2 began to increase exponentially in about 1940, but the temperature actually began to decrease 1940, continued till about 1975. So this is the opposite to the ration. When the CO2 increasing rapidly but yet the temperature decreasing, then we cannot say that CO2 and the temperature go together.

[Thom Hartmann] Now, this was just there, just restating the thing you already, your rebuttal to this was that the period in 1940 was the industrialization that corresponded with World War II and the bombing of World War II that was happening all over the world that increased aerosols in the air, particulate matter. That increased the reflectivity of the atmosphere. That cooled down the atmosphere for about a 30 year period. And then we started cleaning up all of our industrial pollutants in the 70s, you know, both in air and on land and in our rivers and things, and as a consequence of that cleaning up, then the warming became more noticeable, right?

[Ross Gelbspan] Well that's right, and it's not even that we cleaned it up; it's that these particulates only stay up there for, you know, a couple of years, where CO2 stays up there for a hundred years. So a lot of those pollutants naturally settled out.

[Thom Hartmann] I think that we've covered basically all of the points that these guys are making in "The Great Global Warming Swindle" and here's just, well, here's one more.

[Professor Eigil Friis-Christensen, Director, Danish National Space Centre] When we saw this correlation between the temperature and solar activity, or sunspot cycle lengths, then people said to us, "OK, it could be just a coincidence".

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah, and then he says, 'but it's not - it's all sunspots'. And again you say yeah, it has been for millions of years, that's been a major correlation but now human activity has shifted this.

[Ross Gelbspan] That's right, exactly. There was another argument that was made in the movie that had to do with satellite readings.

[Thom Hartmann] Right. Oh, satellites versus balloons, wasn't it?

[Ross Gelbspan] Satellites versus Earth surface temperature readings.

[Thom Hartmann] Earth surface, yeah.

[Ross Gelbspan] Yeah. And basically that's also a false argument because what happened was, at first the satellites did not reflect the kind of warming that we see, but that was because the satellites are in orbit and these orbits change; they sort of, it's what's called orbital decay; every time the satellite goes round its orbit, it slightly changes. And when they recalibrated the thermometers on the satellite, it basically gave it, it confirmed the fact that what we know is happening; that the Earth is warming.

[Thom Hartmann] OK, great. Ross Gelbspan, thanks so much for being with us, Ross. Go ahead.

[Ross Gelbspan] My pleasure, Thom, I really appreciate you giving the issue the air time. Thank you.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah, I think it's important. Ross, his website, Check it out.


This is going to be a - no pun intended - hot topic over the next few days. Here we have, in testimony yesterday before Henry Waxman's committee, the guy who was editing the Bush Administration's policies on global warming, saying that he changed information not because it was good science, but because it conformed with the administration's stated policy, quoting him, "to align these communications with the administration’s stated policy", he says, "was my objective". So, he's fixing the data to match the policy. The policy being, "whatever big oil wants, big oil gets." - no global warming? - there's no global warming.

At the same time you're going to have Al Gore coming before Congress tomorrow, and the day after you're going to have global warming deniers coming to Congress. This is the week for it, I'm telling you. So I just wanted you to be pre-, well pre-immunized. These are all, what you have just heard in this conversation in the last 45 minutes between Ross Gelbspan and I are all the - as far as I can tell, and we've done some pretty good research on this - all the major points that the global warming deniers are making and the specific rebuttals for them.


Channel 4 site.


Unofficial transcript with comments.

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