With record-setting heat waves across the country, it’s not difficult to get people talking about climate change. Whether it’s conservatives accusing climate alarmists of being un-American Socialists wanting to ban SUVs or progressives portraying skeptics as slaves to the oil industry, we’ve reached a status of justifiable cynicism that funding sources affect scientific studies. But this week, Dr. Richard Muller, the director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study Group, talks about the findings of their new study that changed him from a climate change skeptic to affirming it as a real and human-influenced concern. It’s worth noting he received major funding from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Dr. Richard Muller[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: With record-setting heat waves across the country, it’s not difficult to get people talking about climate change. Of course, the subject is far more complicated than average yearly temperatures; for many, this once-scientific realm of data and analysis has long ago turned into a peculiar religion. With many conservatives portraying climate alarmists as un-American Socialists bent on taking away their SUVs, and progressives viewing the skeptics as misguided slaves of evil petroleum companies and their representatives in government, it’s the perfect recipe for an uniformed debate – and ultimately a stalemate.
There has to be a way to talk about this beyond just beliefs – and this past week, the prestigious Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study Group at the University of California made headlines when it released the results of an analysis of 14.4 million temperature readings dating back to 1753. For the justifiably cynical among us who have noted the frequent impact funding sources seem to have on scientific study outcomes these days, it was worth noting that Berkeley Earth receives major support from the Charles G. Koch charitable foundation. So petro-dollars helped pay for this. Now, does that add a special legitimacy so often missing from today’s politically-charged climate, no pun intended?
Here to talk about the study is Berkeley Earth Founder and Scientific Director Richard Muller, who is an astrophysics professor at the university and was a 1982 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant. Dr. Muller also has just published a book, Energy for Future Presidents. Dr. Muller honors us by coming on State of Belief Radio, and Dr. Muller, I welcome you to this show.[DR. RICHARD MULLER, GUEST]: Oh, I’m honored to be here myself. Thank you very much. [WG]: You’ve made headlines with a piece in The New York Times that signaled a significant shift in your own personal views on climate change. If you would, talk about that just a moment. [RM]: Well, I thought your introduction was spot-on, in that this has become a religious debate. And we staked out the center territory. We wanted to do just science; not to have an opinion, not have a policy perspective, but simply: let’s get back to the basics.
The skeptics in this field, several of them had raised legitimate issues; and I recognized that, because I recognized that we want some respect in this skeptic community. At the same time, some very good work had been done in the climate community, and we needed to bring these together. So about two and a half years ago, we had raised enough money to begin a serious scientific study of the key data, which is the global warming data; it’s thermometer data, as you said, going back to 1753. Incidentally, some of those earliest temperature measurements were made by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who built their own thermometers.[WG]: My Goodness! [RM]: They are probably some of the best measurements we have in that entire era. So we began the study, and it was difficult – because the issues raised by the skeptics were legitimate, and they were difficult. Many of the thermometers were low quality; there had been adjustments of the data; so we had to go back to the raw data to look at that. There had been potential biases from the fact that the previous groups have never used more than about 20% of the known temperature stations. There are issues of whether urban heating, which is not due to the greenhouse effect, were biasing these results. So we had to look to each one of those with great care. It was a lot of work. We had a young scientist named Robert Rohde who was absolutely stupendous in this effort, using – we adopted what we decided were – the best statistical methods. These are things that were well-adapted to the problem, and because of that, in our ability to use all the data using these methods, we were able to create, in the end, a plot of temperature versus time that, to me, was absolutely stunning. [WG]: So where in that process – or at the end of the process – where did something click that changed your mind, and how did your mind change? [RM]: Well, the first thing was that we actually did see a temperature rise. Now, before we did this, I wasn’t sure whether there had been or not; the issues raised were so severe that it was plausible there was a temperature rise, but the scientific evidence, in my mind, was weak. So that was about a year ago, nine months ago – we saw the temperature rise, and we announced that we are now confirming that, indeed, the temperature has been going up. But only in the last three to six months were we able to push this back to 1753.
Now we have this really long record – much longer than anybody has ever had before. And there were several big surprises in it. We could see volcanic eruptions: big volcanic eruptions just stood out as if their fingerprints were right there – but we found the effects were always very short-lived. So they were there, there was a signature of them, or a fingerprint if you will, but they were short-lived.
We looked for the effect of the sun, because the predominant alternative theory was that it was variability in the intensity of the sun that was changing the climate. But the sun has a definite fingerprint too, based on measurements of sun spots that have been going, going all the way back to Galileo; so we could look for that – and it was absent.
Finally, when I took the known carbon dioxide record and laid a template of that on top of our temperature change – it was a perfect fit. And it was stunning to me. The fit was so good, basically I said: “Wow!” At this point – I wouldn’t say I changed my mind – I developed my opinion. Prior to that, I wasn’t sure, didn’t know what it was – people called me a skeptic because I didn’t sign on to the position that it’s all settled; remember, Vice President Al Gore said a long ago the science is all settled, it’s just a matter – the only opponents now are people who are opposed to science. Well that was, you know, that was ridiculous.
So what really happened was my opinion formed, and it formed in a way – I didn’t expect that we would be able to so clearly distinguish the solar, the volcanic and the carbon dioxide – but we could, and based on that we have five papers that we’ve put online, we have all of our computer programs online, and I came out with an explanation for the layman in both my op-ed and in my new book.[WG]: I want to talk just a second about consequences and new concerns. From your perspective, what are the really profound concerns raised by the findings of the Berkley Earth team? [RM]: Well, the temperature rise so far has been quite small. Average over the oceans it’s less than one degree Celsius, two thirds of a degree Celsius, a little bit over one degree Fahrenheit. So it’s been very small, and most of the things that people ascribe to global warming cannot be ascribed to this small change. But because it tracks the carbon dioxide, and because we know the carbon dioxide in the future is going up rapidly – mostly because of emissions from the developing world, China and India, not from the US, our emissions have actually been going down – because of this, we can now project that the temperature of the earth will rise; it will rise as rapidly as the developing world’s economy develops, you know, unless we can get them to switch away from the coal to something that’s less polluting. [WG]: Doctor Muller, as a minister, I understand why so many people approach something as big as global climate change from a position of faith. I don’t, on the other hand, understand why the more conservative the faith, the more resistance to the findings of science and the projections of climate change. But I wonder what it’s like for you, as a scientist, to watch the debate get so muddied by competing agendas and accusations of dishonesty – and I guess I should first ask, is it strange to you that the issue itself is even a source of public debate outside the scientific community? [RM]: Oh, that’s because the issue is so important. It really is important to the future of the world, to the future of our economy, to our children and what happens here. I project that if we do nothing, that within the next 20 years humans will be subjected to conditions that homo sapiens have never experienced before. So I am concerned about that, and I think that’s why there is so much interest. But yes, I do believe that this approach of argument – and extreme argument – that one of the terrible losses in this is a loss of faith in science. That people see scientists and they think that they are spinning the data – and many of them are – and as a result, people have lost much of their trust in science. And that’s really bad. Part of what we are trying to do is, by being totally objective and nonpolitical, to help restore this trust in science. [WG]: Oh boy. Dr. Richard Muller is the Founder and Scientific Director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study Group at the University of California. He made headlines this past week when he publicly moved from climate change skeptic to affirming this as a real, human-influenced concern; and Dr. Muller, I have to say I’m looking forward to seeing your new book, just out, Energy for Future Presidents.
I don’t know how it happened, but you’re not only a genius at science, you’re a very good communicator to those of us who aren’t scientists; and I appreciate that very much. I hope we can get you back to talk about your book.[RM]: I’d love to come back. I really enjoy your program; the thoughtfulness that you put into this is something that honors me. Thank you very much. [WG]: Dr. Muller, thanks so much for being with us on State of Belief Radio! [RM]: It was really a pleasure.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.