Myth: Humans are not causing global warming.
Fact: The scientific consensus on global warming is overwhelming.
There is no dispute about the basic facts of this issue: carbon
dioxide is a greenhouse gas; the world's automobiles and power plants pour
nearly 6 billion tons of it into the air every year; and there are countless
indications that the planet is warming. Perhaps the most revealing is the
fact that average temperatures have been gradually rising, and the ten
hottest years on record since the 1860s have occurred since 1973.
In his book, See, I Told You So, Rush Limbaugh misquoted
a Gallup poll, claiming that 53% of scientists do not believe that global
warming is taking place, 30 percent say they don't know, and only 17 percent
are "devotees of this dubious theory." (1) Unfortunately, this
is a gross misrepresentation the original poll, which actually found that
66 percent of all scientists agree that global warming has occurred, 10
percent disagree, and the rest are undecided. Rush apparently got his incorrect
numbers from a second hand source (either George Will or the National
Review) without bothering to confirm them. He has continued to use
these false figures despite the fact that Gallup has issued a rare written
correction: "Most scientists involved in research in this area do
believe human-induced global warming is occurring now." (2)
The scientific consensus that human greenhouse gases are contributing
to global warming is quickly growing unanimous. Even the top critics in
science have been won over. Thomas Karl -- who has been described as "the
darling of global warming skeptics," and whose doubts about global
warming have been quoted by conservatives the world over -- has even been
swayed by the evidence. One could hardly imagine a clearer warning than
the one he gave recently:
The warming now has pretty much returned [after a brief
cooling off period caused by Mount Pinatubo, whose volcanic
soot temporarily dimmed the sun around the world]. If you were
to come back in, say, the year 2000, and if we have taken
another jump in temperature [like since 1980], then you are
going to see some very strong statements from me and my
The strong statements of scientists on this issue derive from the catastrophic
potential of even a small amount of global warming. The reason why the
planet Venus bakes under 900-degree heat is not because it is so close
to the sun, but it is trapped under greenhouse gases. Global warming is
a serious threat here on earth because it would cause more severe weather,
increase the range of deserts, melt the polar ice caps, cause a rise in
sea level (which, according to the fossil record, is a major cause of mass
extinctions), as well as expand the habitat of deadly tropical diseases.
The only scientific opposition to the global warming theory comes from
the expected places: scientific commissions funded largely by the fossil
fuel industry, which is responsible for creating the greenhouse gases in
the first place. This is highly reminiscent of the all the "scientific"
studies produced by the tobacco companies proving that cigarettes do not
cause cancer. In a like manner, the industry-backed Global Climate Coalition
has mounted a huge public relations campaign to prevent policies that limit
fossil fuel use. It issued a report called "Changing Weather? Facts
and Fallacies about Climate Change." It completely distorted an important
survey issued by Harvard climatologist David Keith, who demanded an immediate
retraction of the report. After receiving a blistering response from the
world's top climatologists, the Global Climate Coalition issued a watered-down
edition of the report, which made no mention of Keith's study. Obviously,
even industry-backed scientists are admitting to the evidence.
Although the evidence is not yet 100% certain, it is moving in that
direction. Top climatologist Stephen Schneider says, "Is there global
warming? I'm not 99% sure, but I am 90% sure." Klaus Hasselmann, of
the influential Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, says he
is 95% certain that the recent increases in global temperature are tied
to human-caused carbon dioxide. Much of the evidence is circumstantial,
but it is growing, and becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss. For
- The ten hottest years in recorded history (since the 1860's, when reliable
measurements began) have all occurred after 1973.
- Average annual temperatures have gradually been climbing.
- The polar caps are melting, and giant cracks are appearing in their
enormous ice shelves. An 800-square-mile ice shelf called the Wordie has
disappeared from Antarctica. A gigantic iceberg the size of Rhode Island
also broke off the Antarctic in January, 1995. If even a tenth of the ice
in Antarctica melts, it would raise sea levels 12 to 30 feet around the
- Forests are climbing farther north into the polar region, thanks to
warmer weather and receding glaciers. There has also been a proliferation
of plant life in Antarctica.
- Disease outbreaks have been increasing all over the world, due to the
fact that diseases thrive better in hotter weather.
- El Nino seems to be staying longer. (El Nino normally
arrives every three years; it is an upwelling of warm water from the deep
Pacific Ocean that rises up all along the Western American coast. It usually
has a profound effect on weather.) For the last ten years, El Nino
has been causing conditions from extreme drought to extreme rain on the
- Marine animals have been migrating to newer habitats. Creatures who
normally live in warm water have been expanding their habitat, whereas
creatures who live in cold water have been retreating farther north and
The chain of cause and effect here is so brutally simple that it is
difficult to see how the Global Climate Coalition can deny it. The fact
that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas is not in dispute. And the fact
that carbon dioxide is being poured into the atmosphere by hundreds of
millions of cars and hundreds of thousands of city power plants is also
not in dispute. In 1950, these sources poured 1.6 billion tons of carbon
into the air worldwide; by 1991, they were pumping about 6 billion tons
into the air. (5) And this has been accompanied by all the above signs
of a growing heat wave. It is a testimony to the greed of corporate special
interests that they would even try to rationalize these facts away.
The United States is by far the largest producer of carbon dioxide
in the world. It contributes 21 percent of all the greenhouse gases poured
into the atmosphere, ahead of the former Soviet Union, which comes in at
second place with 14 percent. To be sure, this is not a proud statistic
for capitalism -- at least in its more unregulated form.
Return to Overview
1. Rush Limbaugh, See, I Told You So, (New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1994), p. 180.
2. Steven Rendall, Jim Naureckas and Jeff Cohen, The Way Things
Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (New York: The New Press, 1995),
3. Except where otherwise noted, all facts and quotes in this essay
are from Charles Petit's article, "New Hints of Global Warming,"
San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, April 17, 1995, pp. A1, A6.
4. "Ice Cubes for Penguins," Newsweek, April 3, 1995,
5. Thomas A. Boden, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, cited by Lester
Brown et al. (eds.), Vital Signs 1994 (New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, 1994), p. 69.