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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Global Warming Skeptic Changes His Mind

Physicist Richard Muller. (Probaway Life Hacks)

The kind of weather headlines we’ve had this summer always prompt talk of global warming, from a severe drought across much of the nation to the unusual melting on the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet.

As science journalist Michael Lemonick writes, there’s always debate, even in the scientific community, about the extent to which those events are part of a natural cycle.

But almost all scientists believe the theory that global warming is real, and that it’s caused by human beings and the greenhouse gases we generate from power plants, cars and other sources.

Until recently, Richard Muller, professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, was not in that camp.

He had long doubted the existence of man-made global warming, and he received funding from a foundation supported by David and Charles Koch, prominent backers of the Tea Party.

But after undertaking his own scientific study, he changed his mind.

“I now believe that there has been significant warming for the last 260 years,” he told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “The clear evidence… is that essentially all of that is caused by humans.”

He wrote about the evolution in the New York Times:

Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.


  • Richard Muller, professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley

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  • TribalGuitars

    It sounds like Muller had to seek out the fringe, which he and others were holding onto , and invent his own criteria, in hopes that something would stick, and found that even that nothing did.  I don’t know how he says no none knows what the Koch bros opinion was on global warming when they have repeatedly denied global warming or humans effect on it.

  • Jkates

    The whole absurdity of your conversation is in the use of the verb “believe.” Scientific inquiry, testing, conclusions have to do with data and thought, not belief. Belief is irrelevant to any reasonable conversation about what’s going on, and what’s causing it.

  • Sheila

    This interview has gone on much too long.  Why is Richard Muller’s opinion, on either side of the issue, worth so much more than everyone else’s?  Good on him for going beyond kneejerk skepticism, but is his data really new?  Maybe you could have talked to an actual climate scientist about that.

    • TribalGuitars

       Probably because he bit the hand that fed him.  Muller was often the one pointing  at some obscure, barely anecdotal theory that could feed “skepticism” (read: denial) about global warming.   He just ran out of room to roam and things to point at. 

      Oh, well. Better that he comes around in his obtuse, egotistical (it seems only he was capable  of looking at the right things, which no one had before) manner than never at all. 

      • Michigan Man

        You got it, Tribal.  There is a terminological problem here.  Of course scientists should be skeptical.  Of course skepticism is at the heart of scientific inquiry.  But Muller has not been a skeptic all this time; he has been a denier.  First, he was denying the reality of global warming.  Then he was denying man’s role in global warming.  He is the one who has been coming to conclusions based on insufficient evidence all these years.  That was not skepticism, that was denialism.

        I welcome his new work.  It is an important contribution.  I’m happy for his “conversion”, half-hearted thought it may be.  I wish he would take more responsibility for his history of wrong-headedness.

        Great job, Robin, in trying to get him to answer some important questions about his past stances.  You didn’t succeed, but no one would have.  Professor Muller is very slippery; he just filibusters and avoids the questions.  But your questions and his evasions clarified the truth.  But please deep-six the term “climate skeptic” and replace it with the more accurate “climate denier”.

        Excellent comments by (most of) the commenters, too.

        • Info

          You hit the nail on the head Michigan man. A real scientist would have done some research before denying global warming. Instead, he jumped to an opposite conclusion up front. Now he just comes across as an embarrassed buffoon trying to save his reputation and promote his new book. Just ignore him. If  more people  had ignored him, the planet would be better off.  

          • TribalGuitars

             I’ve been listening to Muller blather on in other interviews about how all the info was there, but he always comes off sounding was the only one that had a healthy skepticism and the only one that was able to connect all the proper dots in the proper way.  

            When I was in college we were taught that when you have sea of evidence for something, the errant data is noted and anecdotal but thrown out. Like when a substitute  teacher is taking attendance and out of  dozens of students there’s at least one “Jack Kinoff” (can I say that here? lol). Usually the substitute knows that they have one joker in class, but that everyone else is real.

            What has always bothered me is the way the Republicans have tried to shut down scientific and technological  discovery and use to further their agenda. They refused to fund new satellites that were to replace those that were, and are still, due to fail as they come of the end of their useful lives.  These satellites are used for GPS, weather patterns, etc.  But they also showed how the oceans are warming, weather patterns shifting, icecaps and glaciers melting.  So the Right thought that if  the scientific community and public couldn’t see it that the issue would go away.

             There are multi-millions dollar satellites, ready to go into space sitting in climate controlled warehouses in crates because these same satellites would prove (PROVE) global warming.  That these Republican leaders, people that are supposedly leading the country want to keep the people deliberately ignorant, are committing a heinous act to maintain their status quo – Big Energy funding their campaigns and their stock portfolios.  They even refused to let one specific satellite be launched for free by the Indian space program. The thing is, business, Big Business (Oil, Ag, et al) need there satellites to do business. They need to know the weather so cargo on ships and planes can make good time and avoid catastrophe; farmers need to know weather patterns to know when to plant and if they need to brace for a disaster (hail, etc).  They’re not just shooting themselves in the foot, they’re shooting the American people and system along with it, also they can keep pressing for “Drill, baby, drill!” one one end, and “Emissions schmissions” on the other.

  • Edward Silha

    Dr. Richard Muller said that people were not sufficiently skeptical regarding anthropocentric climate change three years ago is ingenuous. He he changed his mind after reproducing the same result that others had three years earlier. He asserted there were problems with the original data that motivated his skepticism. 
    Did he assume that the scientists that did the original research were not aware of the data problems? 
    Did he bother to ask them how they handled the data uncertainties? 
    Did he think that the scientists of the national academies of nearly all the developed countries accepted the conclusions without carefully considering the data and analysis?
    I am pleased that he finally acknowledged that the original conclusions were generally correct but I question why it took him so long.

  • Edward Silha

    He had only to consult the sourcewatch web site to uncover the fact that the Kock brothers were funding many of the climate skeptic organizations which are often devoid of scientist but with a plethora of ideologues.

  • Tina Stein

    Wouldn’t it have been better with such a preponderance of evidence to have erred on the side of preserving the environment “just in case”.  Now we are that much behind the eightball. 
    Although Professor Muller thinks the US should be a leader in preventing climate change he does not believe we should do anything to hinder the economic rise of the emerging markets, the “real contributors to climate change”.    The most disturbing thing about his conclusion is that although now convinced that man is causing climate change, Professor Muller does not give remediation a high priority.

    • Tncanoeguy

       Thomas Friedman (I think) pointed out what he called the 1% principle (or something like that).  Dick Cheney had said that if we are only 1% certain that someone like Saddam Husssein has WMDs, we need to do something about it.  Based on that thinking, if we have just an inkling that burning fossil fuels will cause problems, we should look for alternative sources of energy. 

  • Gerrialaska

    Anyone whose research is funded by such an ideologically driven
    organisation deserves to have his views treated with suspicion, as Dr.
    Muller must understand–and I am indeed very suspicious. Dr. Muller has gone from bring a skeptic (when there was overwhelming evidence, and has been for years, that the planet is warming thanks to human activity) to being convinced that warming is occurring. He ignored previous research, as though only his own research is credible. I sincerely hope that you will invite someone onto your programme to counter his new position that global warming is minimal, and that the U.S. should do nothing since future warming will be the fault of other countries. Given the extreme ideological stance of his backers, I can’t help but distrust Dr. Muller, and wonder if his current stance is a way to allow the Koch Bros. and others with an interest in doing nothing to slow the rate of global warming to continue to make profits at the expense of everyone living on this planet.

  • Norman

    OK: after all these years of obfuscation, can we please take seriously the need to save ourselves and the planet from ourselves now?

  • andyk1985

    Yes. Well.  He claims he was a skeptic and changed his mind. The history of his statements dont actually prove that.  And as per usual, his latest study doesnt stand up to the most basic peer review.  But of course, NPR as usual takes any alarmist claim at face value, and picks at the tiniest detail of the rational claims.  Muller evidently didn’t dig very deep into the warming curves, since solar emissions levels match very closely to his warming curve.  And of course his claims about volcanos are simply wrong.


    • Think!

      Why do people rely on wattsupwiththat.com given that it is:

      1. Run by a guy who didn’t even graduate from college (see http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Anthony_Watts); and

      2. Funded by Heartland Institute, which is itself funded in part by the Koch brothers and other coal and oil industry companies (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Heartland_Institute)?  The Heartland Institute was hired by the cigarette companies to “show” that second-hand smoke is not dangerous, and is no more reliable in its promotion of global warming naysayers….

      Consider your sources, folks.

      • andyk1985

        Your argument is what is called an appeal to false authority.  It has long been cited as an invalid and illogical method of argument.  It literally dates back thousands of years.  In addition, if you want to use the Koch bros argument, they also funded Mullers study.  They are probably more than slightly disappointed that his study has not yet managed to pass the most basic peer review.

        And your point about Watts is well taken.  Even someone without a college degree can poke holes in most of the studies the  AGW scaremongers  publish, Mullers among them.  BTW, you should look at the second hand smoke studies.  While first hand smoke has been shown to be dangerous, there is very little evidence that second hand smoke is dangerous.  Obnoxious, yes.  Dangerous, possibly but unproven.

    • Rcclimbhigher

      How did you arrive at the conclusion: “doesn’t stand up to the most basic peer review”? 

      • andyk1985

        Ross Mckittrick was asked to peer review it,  he recommended against publishing because the conclusions were unsupported by the data.  The study has yet to be published in a scientific journal.  So far, the study has only been published in the MSM.  In other words, it didnt and wont pass peer review.  FYI, the only reason Muller has been called a skeptic was because he thought the Mann hockey stick was crap.  Well, so did any rational person, and the IPCC, once they looked at it more carefully.

        In Muller wrote:  ‘If you are concerned about global warming (as I am) and think that
        human-created carbon dioxide may contribute (as I do), then you still
        should agree that we are much better off having broken the hockey stick.

  • GreenStBurlington

    He was a skeptic because he is a scientist. Most others are just individuals who want attention. Thank goodness someone takes a thorough approach to get the actual facts so something can be done in a systematic way.

  • Guest

    This guy is now pretending that he was the ONLY ONE that could have definitively answered this question.  Since his result completely agrees with prior findings by other credible scientists it is clear that the question was ALREADY ANSWERED over 20 years ago! He’s now trying to take credit for deciding that humans are the problem. There were no “big problems” with the prior work!! Guys like this just helped to delay working on solutions to the problem. We could have started 20-30 years sooner.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patricia-Dickerson-Lemon/1592900607 Patricia Dickerson Lemon

    I found Dr. Muller’s investigation very persuasive, confirming my belief that what we’re seeing worldwide is the result of enormous amounts of energy into the atmosphere.

    • Cakilmer

       These days more and more people think that energy is coming from the sun. The record from ice core samples show wild swings in earth’s temperature and carbon dioxide level going back hundred’s of thousands of years. But always changes in temperature PRECEDE change carbon dioxide levels. This suggests that temperature change causes carbon dioxide change rather than the other way around. Many people think that for religious reasons the anthropogenic global warming crowd have got their cause and effect backwards.

  • Guest

    OK, so now EVERYONE, EVERY LAST “credible” scientist is now on board, it’s official, we have a serious problem with man-made global warming. Can we finally stop with the phony “debates” now? To those in the media, can we finally stop with all the nonsense?
    Romney and Koch brothers, can we stop with all the nonsense?

  • Tncanoeguy

     Many people who make a living from fossil fuels are smart enough to know that using fossil fuels causes problems on many levels.  But their short-term economic needs trump any thoughts of what is good for society as a whole or the future.  It only takes one senator, typically from Texas, Oklahoma, or Kentucky to block any meaningful change to energy policy.  Give that person lots of campaign cash and they are yours. 

    • TribalGuitars

       Ever notice that the ones that run Big Energy never live where the industry exists. WV is well on its way to becoming a mountain-less toxic wasteland due to strip mining for coal, but not one owner of those mines to be found in WV. 

       Where do you find the owners? Living is less polluted areas, drinking purified bottled water  and organic foods while sitting in their HEPA filtered mansions and highrises. 

  • Patrick Mason

    I listened to your interview with Richard Muller about his changed opinion regarding global warming- great job!!! The only other comment is that trying to convince those who have the contrary opinion that the upward trend in global climate temperature is not directly caused by human activities is like trying to explain human reproductive biology to someone who still believes that storks bring babies!
    Patrick Mason

  • Petrice Omeler

    I really appreciate Prof Miller’s work. It address some important challenges that needed to be addressed for an understanding of how to effectively deal with climate changes/ global warming.

  • TribalGuitars

    The media needs to go back to calling it “global warming”, which is what’s inducing the climate change.  “Climate change” makes it sound like we’re just going to have to wear a sweater longer, or crank up the AC now and then.  

  • “heatwave”

    I agree …Great job on this interview…..
    and kudos to Mr. Muller that when faced with what he determined as solid proof and given the source of funding for the study, changing his position on this very important topic. One phrase that I heard repeated in this conversation and I hear nearly each time the subject is discussed…
     is the ” Do you believe or not believe” in the whether Climate Change is  real. Would one be asked if they believe in gravity?
     If the preponderance of good scientific study & empirical information supports a condition or process as being fact whether I believe it or not doesn’t make it any less true.
    I have heard the media on many occasions the media asking a polititian ” do you believe” and receiving the NO answer. I have rarely if ever heard the folow up question to determine on exactly what information they base that position on.

  • Rcclimbhigher

    The War on Scientists that research climate change is the real story. Muller is being very disingenuous in his inference that HIS research is the seminal writing on climate change and the causes. I believe, a many others doing this type of research for many years, that the Koch Bros gave Muller $150,000 to further discount climate chang,e because of his well-known denial which gave the GOP ammunition for so long. Take a look at the new book by Michael Mann, Nobel Laureate and Director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center: ” The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”. He describes a pattern of threats of violence, intimidation, legal and political threats, e.g., Sen. James Inhofe, Environment and Public Works Committee who accused Mann and 17 other climate researchers of violating the Federal False Statements Act.  Attacks on climate scientists is the “new McCarthyism”. Mann’s called a “compulsive liar” and compared to Hitler, Stalin and Satan! The Koch Bros give $$$ to several organizations:  the “Union of Concerned Scientists”, Fox news commentator Steve Milloy, who runs “JunkScience.com; Milloy, a hired gun that worked for the tobacco industry, and”CimateDepot.com’s Marc Morano who declared that “climate scientists should be publicly flogged”!
          This past May, the right wing Heartland Institute launched an anti-science-climate media blitz that included billboards in Chicago depicting pictures of the unabomber, Ted Kaczynski , Charles Manson and Osama Bin Laden with the message: “I still believe in Global Warming. Do You?” The Right wonders why we are so far behind in science education.  Many climate scientists have been forced out of research on climate change do to the costs of defending frivolous lawsuits and threats to them and even their families: “when I get an e-mail that mentions my child and a guillotine, I want to pull a blanket over my head”, Katharine Hayhoe, a conservative, evangelical Christian researcher @@Texas:disqus  Tech.; Hayhoe was a once sought after science advisor to the GOP until she wrote about the validity of climate science!
         Where was Muller during the last 60 years of climate research? The only research Muller has done is to “finally” take a look at the science already done and have an “ah ha!” moment.  

    • andyk1985

       Mann is not a Nobel Laureate.  Mann is an incompetent liar, as anyone who reads what he says and subjects it to critical analysis should realize.  The IPCC committee as a whole was awarded the Nobel prize.  Mann personally was not, and he knows it.  The only people being personally attacked are the people that are called skeptics.  Usually by Mann..  Mann’s book itself doesnt stand up to any sort of critical analysis, if he were honest he would realize that he is guilty of exactly the charges of which he accuses his opponents.

  • Thebawd2

    Assuming global warming is real we need more discussion about  realistic responses. Emerging market countries will continue to burn fossil fuel until it is gone or until unsubsidized alternatives are actually cheaper. China is building 800+ new coal burning electrical plants. Emerging economies depend on low cost fossil fuel. Over the long term (100 years)  we may see a migration to Canada, Russia, etc. as increasingly moderate climate areas where agriculture and development may do well on a warming planet

    • Thebawd2

       To summarize: Global Warming is global and beyond the control of the US. The US can lead research for alternatives but can not demand Emerging Economies to stop using fossil fuel.    Global economics and politics dictate that alternative energy will only be used when it is cheaper (unsubsidized)  than fossil fuel.

  • Louis Wells

     Most of the world’s population are concerned only about the events of their lifetime,and not enough care  about the future of the race .Consequently taking steps which are intended to preserve the planet for future generations is of little interest  to them , I fear .
    To this majority,global warming is only an issue if it seems likely to affect their lives materially. Unless this attitude can be changed ,then even the survival of homo sapiens for another century seems to be in doubt

  • Guest

    Here’s how North Carolina is going this latest “fly-in-the-ointment”:


  • Guest

    “going to handle this”…


    With friends like Dr. Muller, climate science does not need enemies.

    What’s going on in this interview is a re-framing of denial.  Consider, for example:

    A) Dr. Muller’s desire that we no longer think of “global warming” and “climate change” as synonymous terms

    B) his suggestion that until now climate scientists weren’t addressing such issues as the accuracy of measuring devices–so doubt about global warming was justified before his research.

    Moreover, it seems likely that Dr. Muller’s defense of Gov. Romney and the Koch brothers* indicates his political slant, one not favorable to addressing global warming as a priority.
    *  The Kochs are “involved in core industries such as the manufacturing, refining and distribution of petroleum” (Wikipedia), businesses that are a major part of the climate problem.

  • Guest

    Robin Young is a gifted interviewer.  Her disarming questions, like “wouldn’t it have been good to take this position 3 years ago” (or words to that effect) exposed a disturbing level of intellectual arrogance.

  • J Frog

    I’d give the interview a 95…plus or minus 4%. The host did her typical deft job of making a complicated subject understandable and listing the skepticisms to a normal Joe like me. On the other hand, I was disappointed she tried to pull the professor into the political fray.  Let him be a scientist.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5TTE32AL5KMIG42BJY6UV2Y5EU gab127

    It was embarrassing to listen to Robin’s political hackery.  The Koch brothers are owed a big apology.  I was have been warming up to NPR but not if they carry this type of slander against conservatives.

  • ElinaProcrastinator

    so is he ready to admit that the earth is round?

  • Joe Miller

    I was struck by Muller’s stupefying arrogance.  Even when admitting he’s wrong, he casts aspersions on those who have been right all along, and denies responsibility for the critical situation we now find ourselves in, due to so-called expert skeptics like himself, who refused to see the truth of man-made climate change even though it had been clearly established and accepted by 90% of the scientific community.  The world failed to act in time, and the consequences of that inaction are still unknown, but terrifying to contemplate.

  • Johnbrowne123

    its about time. the  repubs must be going crazy.

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