Source: The Green Front
Date: 01/08/2012
Event: Richard Muller on Climategate: "What they did was, I think, shameful. And it was scientific malpractice."
Credit: The Green Front

  • Richard MullerLead scientist, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project
  • Betsy Rosenberg: Radio host, The Green Front
  • D.R. Tucker: Conservative author and radio show host 

Betsy Rosenberg: Well, thanks so much for joining us, especially on short notice. And we have seen you just about everywhere, and it's really a pleasure to have you on. And, you know, we are advocates here for believing that climate scientists know what they're talking about, so we've watched your story and your evolution, you know, really closely, with great interest. And, by the way, my co-host - I don't know whether you heard this at the beginning - D.R.Tucker, I found him through the blogosphere when he wrote a column about his conversion from being a climate change sceptic to a believer. And he can tell the story better, and those regular listeners to this show know that it was actually reading the 2007 IPCC report that made him, you know, wake up and smell the carbon, so to speak. [D.R. Tucker laughs.] And I call him my favourite Republican, because he is obsessed with this subject matter as I am. So, why don't you two say hello?

D.R. Tucker: Yes, so, Richard, how are you doing?

Richard Muller: I'm doing great. How are you?

D.R. Tucker: Congratulations on your great piece in the New York Times earlier this week. 

Richard Muller: Well, thank you. Of course, I think the key work are [sic] the five papers we've put online, our computer programs and our analysis, and right away, our due [?] credit to Robert Rohde, who is a young scientist, who's an absolute genius, and he was able to guide us to the best statistical methods, and collect the data and put it online in a format that now other people can use it too. So, in the end we stand by not my opinion but by the science that we've done.

Betsy Rosenberg: And, by the way, I should mention... the formal introduction, Richard, of course, founded the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project known as BEST, along with his daughter Elizabeth, who kindly got you lined up to be on our show. And you are also a Professor of Physics, so you certainly, you know, are an interesting figure to have had this evolution, for lack of a -

Richard Muller: And also the author of a new book that just came out that I hope you'll mention.

Betsy Rosenberg: Ah, go ahead, tell us the name.

Richard Muller: It's Energy for Future Presidents, and it actually has a description of the Berkeley Earth message on how we did it and what our results are, for a lay audience. So I think people will find that a good introduction.

Betsy Rosenberg: Okay. Before we do get in to drill down a bit - pardon the expression - to what led you to have this conversion, you know, you're getting a kind of mixed response, I would say. First, climate activists applauded you because they noticed the irony that some of your research is funded by the Koch brothers, and would love to hear what you think about that irony. And also some criticism, that you're just seeking publicity, you've got a new book out, and what took you so long? 

Richard Muller: Well, I'm not seeking publicity. Publicity is finding us. Everybody is calling us up and wants to talk to us. I think it's because, for the last several years, we have actually developed a reputation of being objective, and depending on the science. We're a group of twelve of us, including truly eminent people like Carl Rosenfeld, who's won international awards for energy conservation. And the last December, one of our team members, Saul Perlmutter, won the Nobel Prize for the work he did in astrophysics. So I have a superb team. We are doing work that is objective and which, wherever the data leads, that's where we'll be. I think that we did establish that reputation. I think that's why we're getting the attention now. 

D.R. Tucker: It's, uh... Dr. Muller, I wanted just to bring up a specific point which you made in your op-ed, which you note that - you write at one point that Hurricane Katrina cannot be specifically linked to global warming. And I read that and I actually raised by eyebrows, because I remember a piece written by Ross Gelbspan in the Boston Globe, in August 2005, when he knew that Hurricane Katrina's - quote - "real name is global warming" - unquote. And I thought he meant it in the sense that storms like Katrina are the inevitable consequence of what happens when we constantly pump - without any sort of limitations - CO2 - you know, greenhouse gases and CO2 - into the atmosphere. So, even if your interpretation is correct, that Katrina had nothing to do with global warming, is it fair to say that if we don't take any steps to reduce emissions, we are going to have more superstorms like Katrina? 

Richard Muller: Oh, no. No, no. First, you have to recognise that according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, the number of hurricanes has been going down. The next thing you need to know is that Katrina was not a superstorm, it was only a Category 3 when it hit New Orleans. Just happened to be the first Category 3 that hit New Orleans in decades. And they were unprepared for it - it was Category 5 when it was out to sea, and now we call it Category 5 because we have satellites and we can detect things out at sea. But the number of hurricanes has been constant - in fact, it has been going down slightly. The theory doesn't predict more intense storms. The theory says that's a possibility, but intense storms come about when there are big temperature differences between the Equator and the Poles - that's what drives the energy up and makes the hurricanes. And in global warming theory, you expect the temperature difference to decrease, because the Poles warm more than the Equator. So it's plausible that storms will go up, plausible that they will go down, but Hurricane Katrina was just - a place - a hurricane that hit a city that was unprepared. It was not an extremely intense storm.

D.R. Tucker: Okay, so from that perspective, I want to bring up a piece that Bill McKibben wrote last fall. "We know that Hurricane Irene's middle name was Global Warming". Was that an accurate statement [Richard Muller is laughing] or - 

Richard Muller: Oh, you know, this is really unfortunate, because right after Katrina, 2005, people said "We can now expect a whole bunch of more storms". In the next year, not a single hurricane hit the U.S. When people exaggerate, they try to come up with dramatic examples to convince the public. That's the wrong way to go. You have to respect the public. You have to give them the honest truth and not the exaggerated truth. People now feel as if they've been misled. They say to me "What do you mean, the polar bears aren't dying because of global warming?" "What do you mean, the Himalayas aren't melting because of global warming?" You get this stuff, and I think the public is smarter than most people think. Vice President Al Gore had so many exaggerations in his movie, that I think there's a backlash now. And I think part of the reason why people - now why the polls show less interest in the United States - is because so many of the proponents exaggerated. And they can get away with that for a few years, but eventually the public learns that it wasn't true.

Betsy Rosenberg: Okay, I'm going to challenge you on that. I was one of the thousands of people that were trained by Al Gore and - okay, if you don't believe Al Gore, that's one thing. But he had sitting next to him, the whole three days of the training, a climate scientist named Michael McCracken, and I don't know if you have an opinion on him. But what he said - which gave me goose bumps - was that the movie was actually milder, that since the film had come out, that turned out to be - the film version, the slide show at the time, when we saw An Inconvenient Truth, was conservative, that things were actually getting worse.

Richard Muller: Well, no. In my previous book - not the new energy book but in Physics for Future Presidents - I go through that film in some detail, and I show all the exaggerations. You have to recognise that Al Gore should be considered a sceptic or a denier. Because what he is saying is so far exaggerated from what the IPCC consensus is, but it's on the other side. So why do they call sceptics who think it's less bad "sceptics", but people who think it's more bad  - Gore should be considered a sceptic too, because most of what's in that film... When he shows New York City being flooded, and the IPCC is predicting that sea level will rise by maybe one foot or two foot - but he shows New York City being flooded? When he shows the polar bears being hurt by global warming? When the scientific studies show that there's no evidence of that, whatsoever? No. It's, unfortunately, exaggerated, and that hurts people who, like me, believe that the evidence is now strong, that humans are to blame and there's something we need to do. But so much of the public has been - feel like they've been fooled. And there's a backlash now, and I think that's unfortunate.

Betsy Rosenberg: Well, we could argue that, I would take the whole hour to do that, because I certainly would challenge some of that, and you're the physicist - 

Richard Muller: I would be happy to come back for an hour some time, and I enjoy this, because - 

Betsy Rosenberg: Okay.

Richard Muller: - science is often missed in the kind of training that Al Gore gives, which is to send a message, but not to look at, independently. 

Betsy Rosenberg: Well, do you think that Al Gore did a service to the country, in terms of beginning to wake Americans up to this problem that you're now acknowledging as real?

Richard Muller: Well, once - when he did that, when he did that - and I was worried that eventually it would be shown to be an exaggeration and the public would have a backlash, I think that's now been vindicated. I think that's exactly what's happening.

D.R. Tucker: It's an interesting point. Dr. Muller, I sort of wanted to bring up the issue or the instant that first brought me to your attention [sic], which was the so-called Climategate matter, where you noted at the time, in some of your media appearances, that it appeared at that point that there was some sort of chicanery going on, and that's why you wanted to, sort of, check the data and check the figures. Now that you have validated, you know, some of the - now that you have validated the information that was in dispute, supposedly, in the Climategate matter, is it fair to say, once and for all, that that is a settled matter, that should be all be [inaudible] and set aside?

Richard Muller: No, no, no. Just the opposite. Actually, that's not really accurate at all. The data they used in Climategate was proxy data. I wrote a book on the using of that. What they did was, I think, shameful. And it was scientific malpractice. If they were licensed scientists, they should have to lose their licence. What they did is they held back the discordant data. Now, their data had to do with the temperature older than 400,000 years - I'm sorry, older than 400 years. That's what the main thing they were producing was. What they were saying was for the last thousand years, it has not been this warm. I think that conclusion is wrong. And... global warming is right, but they were, again, exaggerating. They withheld the data, as they said in their emails - by the way, most people don't believe those emails were hacked, they were leaked by a member of the team - they hoped [?] the data -

D.R. Tucker: Which member? Which member? Wait a second - which member?

Betsy Rosenberg: Why would they do that? 
Richard Muller [laughing]: I think some of the members of the team were pretty upset with the exaggerations that they were reporting. 

D.R. Tucker: And if that is indeed the case, then why - I believe there were eight different investigations in the U.S. and the UK, all of which found the scientists innocent of data manipulation. And so, were all eight fixes? It seems kind of odd.

Richard Muller: It was not data manipulation, it was data hiding. This was  - 

D.R. Tucker: [inaudible] - data manipulation?

Richard Muller: What's that? Look, if they had done this at Berkeley or Stanford, I think they would have been shamed.

D.R. Tucker: Really?

Richard Muller: The standards held over there at the University of East Anglia are just not up to what we consider standard scientific methods. When you withhold data, that is discordant. And they refused to release it until it came out in this leak. Anyway, that's off the subject, because I do believe in global warming. What's wrong is what they said. The conclusions that Michael Mann drew, that it's the warmest it's been in a thousand years - I was on an international academy review panel that looked at that. Our conclusion was: he could not draw those conclusions.

Betsy Rosenberg: Okay. We have a show in the near future with Michael Mann on. Will you come on and you guys can debate, because I think that would make some interesting - 

Richard Muller: Well, I would like to have him - Michael Mann characterised me as a scientist who's never done anything in his life. And I thought that was highly misleading - he didn't mention the awards, the discoveries I've done, all the work I've done. It was basically an ad hominem attack, when in fact the data shows that he is wrong. Look - global warming is real and it's caused by humans. The trouble is, there's so much nonsense out there that this misleads people. The problem isn't what we have so far, the problem's what's coming up in the future - 

Betsy Rosenberg: Okay - 

Richard Muller: - and that's what we have to worry about. 

Betsy Rosenberg: Okay, would you call nonsense what's happened in the past month, alone - record drought, record heat, record fires, all kinds of bad [?] weather that - 

Richard Muller [laughing]: Okay, let me give you a little background on that. The NOAA announced that this is the warmest year on record for the United States - that immediately surprised me because I've been looking at the world record, and I'd seen that the temperature had actually gone down, compared to the last five years. So I looked it up, and sure enough, the 2% of the world that happens to be the United States is a record warm, the 98% of the world, the rest of it, was actually cool. Okay, we're having a heat spell. To call that "global warming" - and the globe isn't warming - is just an attempt to grab headlines [interference on the phone line, Prof. Muller's voice is breaking up], to get the public interested in this important issue. [Line is really bad now, but he says what sounds like "But I don't think it should be done in such a fashion".]

Betsy Rosenberg: I hope we're not losing anyone... but I do know that we've already broken, you know, tens of thousands of records, I mean, something like - was it 40,000 heat records?

D.R. Tucker: Yeah, I believe so, I believe so.

Betsy Rosenberg: How can you ignore that?

Richard Muller: Well, you know my position is that - my position is that the world has warmed. On average. And when the world has warmed, you expect records to be broken. And that's true. The last decade is the warmest it's been in 250 years.

Betsy Rosenberg: Okay, just a couple of weeks ago - 

Richard Muller: Warming is taking place. What's not taking place are all these other things.

Betsy Rosenberg: Well, what about the - more than half of the country is, you know, having extreme drought conditions and states of emergency. Would you attribute that to climate change? The droughts and the fires - 

Richard Muller: Well, it depends on what you mean by climate. This microclimate that's due primarily to changes in ocean currents, such as El Nino and the Gulf Stream - we had this in the 1930s, when we had terrible droughts. That wasn't due to climate change. But now when there's a terrible drought, people say "climate change". The fact is - 

Betsy Rosenberg: We're breaking records - 

Richard Muller: - variability has not increased. It is warmer, but no - I don't think there is any good scientific evidence to attribute that to climate change. 

D.R. Tucker: Dr. Muller, I think part of the frustration on my part, and - I hope I can speak for Betsy here - on her part, is that you note, okay, that it's getting warmer. The problem here is that when you have industries, including - and you know, we've been talking about this before - entities such as the Charles Koch Foundation, that have been funding people who run around saying, without any evidence whatsoever, that it's getting cooler, it tends to make you a little - in my case, anyway - irritated. I know I want to speak to that - I mean, I find that quite perverse that people are asserting things without evidence, on the - within a certain political movement in this country, a movement I used to be a part of. Do you have any thoughts on that? You mentioned that certain allegations claiming that certain things are global warming, when they're not, does a disservice to science, but when people are blatantly going on - shall we say - Fox Business Channel, saying "It's getting cooler", when it's not, does that also not do a disservice to science?

Richard Muller: Oh, absolutely. I think both sides have been equally bad on this. Many of the people who are concerned about global warming have ignored the legitimate criticisms of many of the sceptics. I believe that's why the Koch Foundation funded us, because we showed them that we understood those criticisms and could look at them in an objective way. Which we did. But that's important to do. There are people on both sides who have done this, and I don't particularly see that Fox News is any worse on one side that MSNBC is on the other. 

Betsy Rosenberg: We would argue that, but we only have a couple of minutes and I have to ask you: do you know David and Charles Koch personally at all?

Richard Muller: I have met them. I have met them.

Betsy Rosenberg: And how would you characterise their view of science and climate change, truly, because the -

Richard Muller: Well, what they have said to me is that- 

Betsy Rosenberg: - we've every reason to think they're actively denying it. And yet your daughter was quoted as saying they have a real interest in getting to the bottom of the science. Is that accurate?

Richard Muller: No, no, that's a cartoon characterisation that comes about from some articles that - people... The idea, for example that all generals are in favour of nuclear war, and that everybody in industry is a denier, is just a very naive viewpoint. They emphasised to me that what they wanted was to get the science right. If we could address these issues, which were valid issues, then they wanted to know what the real answer was. I think they had legitimate concerns. I think, three years ago, everybody should have had legitimate concerns, because the issues being raised, like the quality of the temperature stations, like the adjustments to the data that had been made, like the fact that the UK group was only using 7% of the data, these were real issues that needed to be addressed. And we did. And we came to the conclusion that global warming is real, and the evidence points very strongly to 100% of it being due to humans. But that evidence had to be examined, before you could really reach this strong conclusion. We reached a stronger conclusion than the UN.

Betsy Rosenberg: And since you came to your conclusions, which matches what 98% of the world's climate scientists - expert in their fields - say, have you talked to the Koch brothers or been in touch with them, and might this change their views or where they put their money, in light of your "coming out", for want of a better term? 

Richard Muller: You know, I can't tell where the Foundation is going to put its money - that's beyond me - but I think when you say I've now reached agreement with 98%, I actually disagree with most of that 98% on many of the things they say, if not most things. Global warming is real, but the things they attribute to climate change, I think, are mostly wrong and demonstrably wrong. 

Betsy Rosenberg: With all the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, why - and you're a physicist. Why is that - shouldn't be - I'm not a scientist but it's not rocket science that we are tampering with the atmosphere, and that is changing our weather patterns.

Richard Muller: Absolutely. But the change so far has been less than one degree Celsius. Two thirds of one degree Celsius. The problem is not that anything has happened so far. The problem is that we expect, with the continued emissions, particularly in the developing world, particularly based on coal, that this will go much higher. And, based on what we have done in my group, I expect that to happen. And I expect it to get much, much warmer than it's ever been, during the era of homo sapiens. But that doesn't mean that we're seeing increased wildfires. It doesn't mean we're seeing increased tornadoes. We're not, we're not. Yes, the temperature's going up, yes it's greenhouse gases. But to exaggerate it, by bringing in all these other things, I think, tends to mislead the public. And when they learn that they're wrong, when in 2006 there are no hurricanes hitting the U.S. despite predictions, they tend to become somewhat cynical about science. I think that's really unfortunate.    

Betsy Rosenberg: I don't think it was so much predicting increased quantity hurricanes, as intense storms, and let's -

Richard Muller: Intense storms have not increased! They have not increased. 

Betsy Rosenberg: What about - do you think that all - we just had an incredible wave of fires, and the droughts are continuing, and cattle are, you know, being slaughtered because they can't get enough corn - 

Richard Muller: The greatest drought since 1930, right? 

Betsy Rosenberg: Is that all something you'd expect to see, you know, in a normal fluctuation? 

Richard Muller: We saw it in 1930 - was the dustbowl. So yes - these things happen, and they are normal fluctuations, driven primarily by El Nino and the Gulf Stream. And these large changes are not due to two thirds of one degree Celsius. 

Betsy Rosenberg: They are?

D.R. Tucker: Dr. Muller, you mentioned - as we've just made reference to, on the Rachel Maddow's show - your contention that a cleaner form of fracking is needed to, sort of, both supply the world's energy needs and also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What's your take on nuclear energy? Do you think that's something that also has to be ramped up, or do you think the risks are - 

Richard Muller: Well, I think nuclear energy can be made clean. I believe that the nuclear waste storage, again, is greatly exaggerated. On the other hand, I don't think that nuclear's going to be able to compete economically with natural gas. The same is true of wind and solar. I'm in real favour of wind and solar. My book, my new book, Energy for Future Presidents, goes into detail on wind and solar, and shows how they'll work. But the real problem is the cost of natural gas has come down so low, that nuclear, wind - the only thing that can compete with natural gas - with clean-fracked natural gas - is energy conservation and energy efficiency. It's the only thing that can compete. And those are actually much, much better, because you can make a huge profit by putting some insulation into your ceiling.

Betsy Rosenberg: And if conservation is really key, Dr. Muller, how are Americans going to learn how to conserve more? Certainly, we need policies that, you know, incentivise energy efficiency, but - this is our pet peeve, here - with not one, you know, media show on mainstream platforms, talking about these issues - energy and the need to create cleaner forms of it - how Americans can take part in this crisis, how are they going to learn about this, what to do? Especially if we have a pretty short time frame to turn things around, which perhaps you do agree with that.

Richard Muller: Well, I'm hoping that my new book addresses those issues. I think people need to recognise that energy conservation doesn't mean making a sacrifice for the good of the world. It means making money. A little bit of insulation on your house pays for itself - an interest rate that's 20 to 40% per year. I mean, that's better than you could have gotten from Madoff's ponzi scheme before [?] honest. It's enormous return on investment in energy conservation. I think too much energy conservation has been sold as "make a sacrifice". Now, if you want to be cynical, you could say "Of course, that's what the oil and gas companies do - they want you to think that energy conservation is making a sacrifice". In fact, it's highly profitable. And I talk a lot about that in my book. I give the numbers, I show how you can invest and get a great return on your income. So that is something that we need - to stop saying "sacrifice and do energy conservation". Let's use "technical energy conservation", and in technical energy conservation, you buy a little more insulation for your house, and you're better off.  

Betsy Rosenberg: Okay, you have to go, and we have to go to a spot, but just one last quick question. And that's: do you support fracking, and do you really think there is something that is, you know, a safe way to extract natural gas?

Richard Muller: Well, I totally don't support the old kind of fracking, but I think clean fracking - in which you just fine the hell out of the companies if they spill anything or upset the water tables - they can fix it up - compared to developing really cheap solar, developing really clean fracking, I think, is relatively straightforward. The earthquake danger is really quite small; I believe they can minimise that, too. So I think clean fracking is something we have to do, technologically, but I think it can be done - largely, by fining the companies if they spill. 

D.R. Tucker: Good point, good point.

Betsy Rosenberg: Thank you for your comments, and, Dr. Richard Muller, again we really appreciate you being available on short notice, and we don't agree with everything you've said, but that's okay. We appreciate - 

Richard Muller: Okay, well, call me back some time - 

Betsy Rosenberg: We will - 

Richard Muller: - and thank you very much.

Betsy Rosenberg: - we'll go back with Michael Mann at the same time. And, D.R Tucker, you're going to stay with us - we'll have your friend Charles Bandy up in a few minutes. Maybe he heard some of that conversation and can comment. And then, in our last segment, we'll be talking more about fracking, drilling down with Lisa Bardack. We'll be right back.