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 /
  • Weatherman's Hot Air

    image by Jason Raish /

  • Hot Air from a Weatherman
  • Weatherman's Hot Air

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.

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