Hot Air on Global Warming

A startling number of TV weathercasters believe climate change is a scam. And they are not keeping it to themselves.

| May-June 2010

Hot Air from a Weatherman

image by Jason Raish /

John Coleman, the weatherman at KUSI in San Diego, has by his own rough estimate performed more than a quarter million weathercasts. It is not a stretch to say that he is largely responsible for the shape of the modern weather report. As the first weatherman on ABC’s Good Morning America in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Coleman pioneered the use of the onscreen satellite technology and computer graphics that are now standard nearly everywhere. In 1982 Coleman used his spare time—and media mogul Frank Batten’s money—to launch the Weather Channel. The idea seemed quixotic then, and his tenure as president ended a year later after an acrimonious split with Batten. But time proved Coleman to be something of a genius—by the time NBC Universal bought it in 2008, it had 85 million viewers and a $3.5 billion price tag.

Those were the first two acts of Coleman’s career. On a Sunday night in early November 2007, he sat down at his home computer and started to write the 967 words that would launch the third. “It is the greatest scam in history,” he began. “I am amazed, appalled, and highly offended by it. Global Warming: It is a SCAM.”

What had set him off was a football game. The Eagles were playing the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, and as a gesture of environmental awareness—it was “Green Is Universal” week at NBC Universal—the studio lights were cut for portions of the pregame and halftime shows. Coleman, who had been growing increasingly skeptical about global warming for more than a decade, finally snapped. “I couldn’t take it anymore,” he told me. “I did a Howard Beale.”

Skepticism is, of course, the core value of scientific inquiry. But the essay that Coleman wrote, which was published on the website ICECAP, would have more properly been termed rejectionism. Coleman wasn’t arguing against the integrity of a particular conclusion based on careful original research. Instead, he went after the motives of the scientists. Climate researchers, he wrote, “look askance at the rest of us, certain of their superiority. They respect government and disrespect business, particularly big business. They are environmentalists above all else.”

The Drudge Report picked up Coleman’s essay, and within days its author was a cause célèbre on right-wing talk radio and cable television, beaming into Glenn Beck’s CNN show via satellite to elaborate on the scientists’ conspiracy. “They all have an agenda,” Coleman told Beck, “an environmental and political agenda that says, ‘Let’s pile on here, we’re all going to make a lot of money, we’re going to get research grants, we’re going to get awards, we’re going to become famous.’ ”

Soon Coleman was on the conference circuit, a newly minted member of the loose-knit confederation of professional skeptics. His interviews and speeches that have been posted to YouTube have, in some cases, been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

r cree
4/24/2010 10:26:01 PM

Okay, this will be the last comment--I think :))). In the same Wired magazine issue May 2010, there was an article on page 20 about the limits of science. I think that a lot of the public may be sensing with their intuition that something is not right---and certainly not right to spend trillions on issues that are not well defined. Some of it is distrust of all institutions that have repeatedly lied to them. But I think that the public distrust goes beyond the manipulation of data for political and ego ends. I think, after reading Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science, in this Wired article that a lot of people believe that science and scientists pretend that everything is a clock with very precise and defineable parameters and controls, when the world is really more like a cloud. I think that is the underlying assumption that separates the believers and nonbelievers in global warming. As Popper said, clouds are an epistemic mess, "highly irregular, disorderly and more or less unpredictable." No matter how sophisticated the machines and how much data scientists may develop, we are deluding ourselves into believing we really understand nature. That seems to be the core to this whole global warming debate. Can the scientists really acknowledge their limits or are the public going to have to act like morons to make the scientists see the limits of their understanding?

r cree
4/24/2010 9:55:06 PM

I realize that I am making a lot of comments, but I have been involved in environmental matters and health issues related to environmental matters for over 30 years. And unfortunately, I have seen a lot of psuedoscience and bad science remain in the literature--even after better data and science has been developed. In this comment, I wanted to talk about the statistics and the data. I have a friend who is an economitrician who studied as a doctoral student under Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago. After years of statistical work for universities, government and stock brokers, my friend retired and took his statistical programs with him into retirment. Recently, my economic friend has been reworking his statistical programs for the 2003 Fortran standards and he found that his textbook examples of statistics for his Ph.D. students had assumptions that were invalid from precision error, to variables that probably indicated state variables that substantially effected the data use in the statistical equations. Now, I am the first to admit that I don't understand the details of what my learned friend is saying, but it makes me wonder if the scientists really understand the statistics that they are using or how the data and variable may be coming from different states due to geological or solar cycles that we don't understand yet--but misinterpret as gloal warming.

r cree
4/24/2010 9:41:19 PM

In the May 2010 issue of Wired magazine, they had a story about the new Department of Energy secretary Chu. He had a very pragmatic view on global warming. Between China and the U.S., both countries produced 40% of the greenhouse gases made by man. Can't do much about all those cows passing gas and those termites gassing in the Amazon :))), but for these 2 large economies, if they agreed to reductions, it would do more to reduce green house gases and be done without all the rest of the world being involved. Given cooperative green development projects between the U.S. and China, I believe that significant reduction will be achieved between these two large economic powers and the rest of the world will follow. So I think that something will be done---even if the data and the science may be questionable at this time to the rest of us who will have to pay for science being wrong--there is a pragmatic beginning with China and U.S. taking the lead.

r cree
4/24/2010 9:33:54 PM

Only a moron would doubt global warming. Those damned meteorologists are stupid and don't understand statistics. The public is stupid about science. It is amazing to me that the people that you want to convince, you have to insult or socially manipulate to make your point--sounds like the science is weak if you have to verbally abuse your opponents. Seems like science does not need to be this aggressive, unless the scientists really don't trust their own data. Obviously, a lot of the public distrusts the data and the people manipulating the data. Unfortunately, the public has experienced directly the manipulation of data by governments--do we have to recall the Weapons of Mass Destruction arguement for invading Iraq to know that data can be manipulated for political ends--that manipulation of data cost us a trillion dollars. I would think that true science would not have this rhetoric. When I talked with an EPA official a number of years ago, he said that global warming data and science was developing, but the case for eliminating Fluorocarbons was very convincing. As a result, we saw companies, governments around the world phase out the Fluorocarbons for more environmentally benign products. If the data and science was so good, like the Fluorocarbon data, I would think that everyone would be convinced to do something---but obviously, it isn't. Maybe that is why there are so many morons around :))).

stephen leboeuf_2
4/23/2010 7:48:54 PM

The climate may be changing but I do not myself believe that it is 100% man made. The man made is the scam. The climate is in a cycle that is in the Natural Course of the Earth Sun Cycle.We will heat up regardless of what we do because it is happening and has happened many times over the billions of years the earth has been around. It will keep happening over and over and over until the Sun Supernovas and the earth in the immortal words of Klaatu from the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still " Will Be Reduced To A Burned Out Cinder " Live with it!! Thanks

r cree
4/23/2010 7:22:43 PM

After seeing the huge effects of a relative small eruption of a volcano in Iceland on air traffic in Europe, what happens if a large caldera erupts spewing millions of tons of ash into the upper atmosphere cooling the entire planet many degrees---maybe even creating a mini ice age like happened in Europe in the 1700's. Since this global warming issue is going to cost my son and grandchildren trillions of dollars---we all better agree that the science is not psuedoscience, but real and the assumptions and statistics have not be manipulated to support the desired conclusions. After seeing the hysteria created in science on environmental matters like asbestos fiber health research and scientists willingness to distort data and results to get on the TV news in the 1970's, I think reading Edith Effrom's book, The Apocalyptics: Cancer and the Big Lie from the 1980's would give pause to anyone who thinks that science is infallible and not politically or egotisically motivated.

jeffery biss
4/23/2010 6:09:23 PM

Sorry, dorrie, but the issue of climate change/global warming is not the same as for the existence of god. The existence of god cannot be proven or disproven, regardless of whether one believes or doesn't. However, science is a process that depends on evidence supporting a theory. While there is no evidence whatsoever about the existence of god, there is supporting the theory of anthropogenic global warming. That not every scientist accepts this isn't a problem but part of the scientific process, as science is always an on-going effort.

4/23/2010 4:39:10 PM

CJ you have to know i am not waiting for "the rapture"...i'm talking about when a person says "i don't believe in god" they STILL in this day and age, frequently are treated with disdain and condescension by some of those who do (believe in god) and the believers reason for it is that well, you know, it's obvious, can't you see it right under your nose? anyone who doesn't believe in 'god" when he so OBVIOUSLY exists, must be blind, deluded, possesed by the devil, you name it. same thing climate change, well, you know very well it's a media event..."everyone" believes it, and where else do they get their sure information and proof from? from movies (documentaries), from news reports, from advertising, from tv programs, on and on. NOT from reading scientific research comparing the data...only scientists and a few experts do that, and there are many scientists and a few experts who say "au contraire" and who also say that "climate change" happens, but naturally, not because of Bad Humans (interestingly, Bad Humans crop up more than frequently in stories about "god" too). well, your "average" consumer thinks "green"...why? well because the ads tell him or her to do so, that's why. did you know that the glaciers in alaska began to recede before we used fossil fuels? the most recent recession began before widespread use of fossil fuels. How can this be? (since you don't pick up on irony too quickly, last question is ironic).

4/23/2010 1:18:48 PM

Coleman is clearly jaded...only a moron would not believe there is significant climate change/global warming going on. Our planet is dying, slowly but surely, and it might be too late to save it. Dorrie, as for you, nobody has proven to me there is a God and I am sure you don't care 2 cents about global warming/climate change because you are too busy waiting on the friggin' rapture. I believe the main reason it is not publicly touted more, is that the media does not want to create widespread panic.

4/23/2010 12:07:14 PM

interesting that in this online article the sidebar ad is one that asks people to read about "the God who Wasn't there" which "irreverently lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed" ... is climate change the new thing to be at best pitied for if you're an "unbeliever"?

4/23/2010 12:02:43 PM

interesting that in this online article the sidebar ad is one that asks people to read about "the God who Wasn't there" which "irreverently lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed" ... is climate change the new thing to be at best pitied for if you're an "unbeliever"?

4/23/2010 11:59:55 AM

interesting that in this online article the sidebar ad is one that asks people to read about "the God who Wasn't there" which "irreverently lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed" ... is climate change the new thing to be at best pitied for if you're an "unbeliever"?

4/19/2010 9:15:15 PM