Tom Bethell on Global Warming: Some Choice Quotes

Seeing as I'm debating Bethell on NPR's Science Friday tomorrow, I thought I would begin the warm-up session here by posting some samples of what he's had to say about various scientific topics, starting with the biggie--global warming. I am not going to comment on these passages; I'm simply going to list three quotes, number them, and then leave the rest up to you folks. You were excellent when it came to helping me prep to debate Ron Bailey, so I'm sure you will be equally awesome this time around.

Here goes:

1. It is often said: If we don't know whether to take an umbrella to work, how can we predict the weather a hundred years off? Some of those who are the most vocal about warming today were talking about global cooling twenty-five years ago. If the globe is warming, is mankind responsible, or is the sun? Inevitably, amid such uncertainties, the struggle to establish the relevant facts turned into a political struggle. (p. viii)

2. The surface data itself suggests that man-made carbon dioxide has not been sufficient to increase global temperatures. Consider the period 1940-1975, a time of considerable fossil fuel consumption. Coal-fired power plants emitted smoke and fumes without any Green Party or environmental ministers to restrain them. Yet the Earth cooled slightly. (p. 3)

3. It is likely, then, that the instrumental record, on which the hockey stick's "blade" is based, has an upward bias from local warming at atypical "heat islands." A National Research Council panel has agreed that the urban heat island effect is a serious and unresolved problem. (p. 7)

Have fun....

P.S.: An announcement of this debate is now up on the Science Friday site....


More like this

1. An honest casino can't predict individual rolls of the dice, but they do know that they will be richer at the end of the day. Sometimes averages are a lot easier to calculate than individual outcomes.

Not many believed in global cooling 25 years ago, and as William Connolley has shown this supposed scare left little trace in the scientific litterature:
What is true is that we knew a lot less about the climate 25 years ago so predictions were a lot less constrained. You could also note that some people who now claim humans aren't causing warming 25 years ago told us that smoking was harmless. (Singer and Seitz, for example)

2. The globe temporarily cooled *because* there were no environmental ministers to restrain the coal plants. Temporarily the cooling from sulphates overtook the warming from CO2, but then all the other nasty effects from sulphur forced us to add scrubbers to the plants.

3. Without a special reference to that report it is hard to tell if it really came to the opposite conclusion from most others. The urban heat island effect has been recognized since the 70s and is generally considered solved. Beside, nowadays even the satellite MSU data that has been so popular among sceptics show essentially the same warming.

By Thomas Palm (not verified) on 15 Jun 2006 #permalink

"If the globe is warming, is mankind responsible, or is the sun?" (eg, through increased solar output)

Those who deny significant human influence on climate seem to assume that climate scientists simply don't know that the sun exists.

But at least some do.

According to a climate scientist (Rasmus E. Benestad) who writes for Real Climate, "there is not much evidence pointing to the sun being responsible for the warming since the 1950s."

Benestad critiques the latest claim made for solar influence:…

By Laurence Jewett (not verified) on 15 Jun 2006 #permalink

on item 3): p. 7 of the US Climate Climate Change Science Program
report on temperature trends in the lower atmosphere
or says:

"1) Surface temperatures: For global-average
changes, as well as in the tropics (20°S to 20°N),
all data sets show warming at the surface since
1958, with a greater rate of increase since 1979.
Differences between the data sets are small."

Note that Christy is one of the co-authors -- this is
the definitive report on recent satellite-measured
temperature trends, which agree with both the surface measurements
and the global models.

Press release:…

I would tell Bethell he is behind the times. Here is a quote from that notorious left wing magazine the National Review:

"Global average temperature has risen by about 1 degree Celsius or less since the late 1800s." No serious person on either side of the global-warming debate questions this. Nor do serious commentators doubt that human activity, by increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, contributes to global warming.

Of course NR follows up that statement with:

What's in contention, scientifically, is how much of the warming we've seen so far is a consequence of human activity (as opposed to natural climate variation), and how much warming human activity will cause in the future.

But to make that argument, NR does the usual cherry picking of its science and expertise (Michaels, Balling, Lindzen, etc.) which Think Progress quite ably takes down in about six posts, which you can find here.

And then there's a recent appearance on the part of Environment and Public Works staff director Andrew Wheeler, defending the position of his boss, Sen. James Inhofe:

To me, he sounds skeptical around the edges, but he doesn't sound like a man defending the statement "climate change is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

A further interesting recent story is the one out of England, that "Heads of some of Britain's biggest companies are meeting Tony Blair today to demand tougher targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions":,,1791534,00.html

Does Bethell want to say that all these business leaders are deluded?

Lastly, conservatives, not knowing what else to say, have been ragging on Kyoto, calling it "flawed", unfit to pass congress, blah blah. But what they never talk about is that there is a difference between having problems with particular treaty provisions and flatly declaring it dead:

Even so, Clinton economists say, Bush could have tried to revise the treaty to reflect these new realities. By simply walking away from it, he is letting the Europeans portray the United States as the villain...

By Jon Winsor (not verified) on 15 Jun 2006 #permalink

Forgive me for changing the focus from global warming, but I had no idea who this guy was until I just did a search.

"People are not dying of AIDS [in Africa] but of the diseases that have always afflicted those parts of the globe where the water is not clean and sewage is not properly disposed of." -- "INVENTING AN EPIDEMIC The traditional diseases of Africa are called AIDS", By Tom Bethell

I suppose in one sense, the above statement is correct -- technically, at least. It's not the AIDS that kills you, but all the other diseases to which you are susceptible when your immune system is weakened. But that's like saying "Guns don't kill people, bullets do", and this was NOT the author's intended meaning, at any rate.

By laurence jewett (not verified) on 15 Jun 2006 #permalink

1. If we cannot predict the paths of individual atoms, how can we possibly predict things like temperature and pressure?

Chris: I suggest you politely point out to Bethel that he appears not to understand the distinction between weather and climate (point 1) and has not kept up with the last couple of decades of climate research (points 2 and 3), and then offer to email him some relevant documents.

Also, of course, you have the more general point that maximizing "doubt", "debate", and "uncertainty" is an easy rhetorical tactic, often employed by people more interested in sowing confusion than clarifying issues for the public.

And this tactic has a history. The Discovery Institute had its "controversy" and big tobacco had its "doubt". All you have to do is find one minor point somewhere --the more technical the better-- take it out of its proper context and/or proper proportion, and use it to create the appearance that there is "debate", "controversy", "uncertainty". And since the public has no technical context with which to judge these things, the public is sometimes taken in. But now, the fact that even the National Review agrees with the basics tells you something about where the debate is (although Think Progress shows that they're still using discredited science to argue their fallback position). (Not saying anything new, but maybe worth restating here...)

By Jon Winsor (not verified) on 15 Jun 2006 #permalink

We don't even try to predict traffic for tomorrow, so transportation projects that take years to complete are clearly a complete waste of money.

"If we cannot predict the paths of individual atoms, how can we possibly predict things like temperature and pressure?"

And if that were not bad enough, there's "Iceberg's Climate Uncertainty Principle", which says that "One can not know precisely both the carbon dioxide concentration and temperature of the atmosphere."

As most people know, this means that the more precisley one measures the CO2, the less precisely one can know the temperature -- and vice versa -- which prevents one from checking the climate models against the past AND from making future projections.

In equation form, we have

delta_CO2 * delta_temperature = h/(2Pi)

where h is "Hank's Constant" and Pi is (well, you know what Pi is: 3.14...)

It's Nature's very own right-wing conspiracy (though, on the whole, life as we know it here on earth is nevertheless left-handed).

By Lauence Jewett (not verified) on 15 Jun 2006 #permalink

Hey Chris,

1) The glib answer is, "Yeah, and scientists once thought that the earth is flat."

Technology. Since the 1970s, climate scientists have enjoyed the benefits of satellite data and dynamic global climate models, both of which have dramatically enhanced our ability to study the climate system and understand the causes of global warming.

Also, recall that the scientific discussions of global cooling and the possibility of a coming ice age occurred for only a couple years (and the media hyped it). As a science historian, you may be able to appreciate that these discussions occurred in the context of major breakthroughs in our scientific understanding of orbital pacing of past ice-ages (see early works by Nick Shackleton, etc.). Subsequently, more research was done, dramatic global warming occurred and the views of most scientists changed accordingly.

2) Roughly HALF of the anthropogenic rise in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 has occurred since 1975.

3) Satellite measurements. Ocean heat content. Sea surface temperatures. Disappearing glaciers. Disappearing sea ice. Rising global sea levels. All point in the same direction.

Also, see:
Thomas C. Peterson (2003). "Assessment of Urban Versus Rural In Situ Surface Temperatures in the Contiguous United States: No Difference Found". Journal of Climate 16: 2941-2959

ALSO: If he tries to suggest that CO2 is a good thing or that future temperatures are not unusual in the history of the planet, you might point out two things:
A) the potential dangers of ocean acidification.
B) the RATE of change that we are seeing (and that we expect to see in the future) introduces on a whole new set of risks. From this perspective... we are really heading into uncharted waters and the precautionary principal should apply (in my view).

Best of luck, James

By James Bradbury (not verified) on 15 Jun 2006 #permalink

My response for #1: "Bethell doesn't understand the difference between random weather variations and overall climate trends. While we may not know whether next week will be warmer than this week, we do know that summer is warmer than winter. The same logic, the same reliance on historical data, the same, simple ability to understand basic mathematics, that tells us it gets warmer in the summer also tells us that the climate is getting warmer as we dump greenhouse gases into it."

For other stuff, don't forget Lambert's Global Warming Sceptic (sic) Bingo:

Here's the Urban Heat Island nonsense refuted:

The conservatives won't be persuaded regardless. Did you recently do a radio show with Douglas Groothuis of Denver? At his blog he said you didn't answer his questions, and he didn't put stock in your arguments against intelligent design, either -- so he thinks Bethell will get the best of the discussion.

The "hear no evil" stance really is a "hear nothing at all" position.

So, to impress the little old ladies who listen, be nice. Be factual. Be sincere. Make the basic arguments. Note that we can't really know what the government knows, since the government censors scientists in the Bush era. And then note that, even as censored, the information disfavors Bethell's position.

And be pragmatic. Note that hunters and fishermen can see the changes, and are concerned. Check out the Ducks Unlimited site, and the National Wildlife Federation site. Those guys are anything but wild-eyed liberals. People who know and care about wildlife want to act now against global warming. People who know and care about seashores want to act. People who know and care about protecting people from destructive storms want to act.

Who is really left?

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 15 Jun 2006 #permalink

Well, I also found Bethell's article for the Hoover Institute in 1998:

Probably there are dumb and offensive claims about science in there. But I got disgusted right at the opening, the paragraph in which he insults thinking Christians and disavows the Christian commandment to be wise stewards of the Earth. Bethell wrote:

Without embarrassment, Vice President Al Gore went to the climate change meeting in Kyoto, Japan, last winter and said that "we have reached a fundamentally new stage in the development of human civilization." This new stage is a crisis stage, and its "spiritual roots" are "pridefulness and a failure to understand and respect our connections to God's earth and to each other." Gore was talking about the emission of greenhouse gas. Worrying about it is the latest religion. But as Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal said, the scary part is that Gore really believes this stuff. This is a religion most decidedly not separated from the state, and therein lies both the danger and the opportunity. Fanatics are dangerous because nothing deters them. At the same time, Gore is so much the true believer that his fanaticism could put his political future at risk.

Here Bethell stakes his ground, that he has a religious aversion to the facts on global warming; and he makes this claim backhanding life-long Baptist Al Gore, and making the fantastic claim that Gore has abandoned the Christian roots that Gore has tended his entire life.

Bethell thinks this is a religious war, and trampling Christianity and its beliefs is a worthwhile tactic to him. Facts and logic don't affect such crusader/jihadists. Keep in mind the rational, business-minded people who can be persuaded . . .

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 15 Jun 2006 #permalink

re: #1 If we don't know whether to take an umbrella to work, how can we predict the weather a hundred years off?
The term 'global warming' is misleading. It should be more along the lines of climate instability due to global warming. Global warming in laypeople's minds means less harsh winters whereas instability and *unpredictablity* are the more likely scenarios (droughts,floods,etc).

On solar variation, Sami Solanki who is director of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, has stated:

"Just how large this role [of solar variation] is, must still be investigated, since, according to our latest knowledge on the variations of the solar magnetic field, the significant increase in the Earth's temperature since 1980 is indeed to be ascribed to the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide."

A general comment, in my experience debating this issue online, it's best to put these guys on the defensive rather than to try and answer them point by point. Ask him if he thinks that greenhouse gasses are responsible for the greenhouse effect. Their strategy seems to be to muddy the waters with lots of silly objections. Take (3), for example. It is best to laugh at him and point out that they have satellite data not just measurements in cities and that every single tropical glacier on earth is receeding; there are no cities on the tops of those mountains. If you catch him in a really laughably stupid objection then focus on it and make sure that you not only communicate that the objection is wrong but also that it is supid. The tendency is to want to show that you can answer everything they say, but that approach actually reifies their contention that there is a debate. Put him on the defensive then focus attention on just how silly one or two of his objections are. If he tries to shift to another objection ask him if that means that he is conceeding the point that his prior objections was completely ignorant.