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ClimateMovie fact check corner

10 Apr 2024 | Science Notes

If you haven’t seen Martin Durkin’s new documentary CLIMATE the MOVIE: The Cold Truth you should. There’s a lot of excellent material in it, even though in some places it lapses into hoax language we reject. We don’t believe that climate change is a big hoax, as some of the experts in the movie seem to think. The people pushing alarmism really do believe in it. We think they’re mistaken, not that they’ve concocted a conspiracy to spread a hoax. Which is not to excuse them; misplaced zealotry is more dangerous than deliberate deceit and does not diminish culpability. Consider Communism, for instance. But with that caveat entered, we turn to the facts presented in the movie because, ironically, ferocious battles have been fought online in which critics allege that the people in the movie accusing alarmists of peddling a hoax are themselves peddling a hoax. To unravel this unedifying kindergarten spectacle, we’re going to spend a few weeks examining some of the actual claims and the underlying data. This week we start with the claim that over the past 500 million years the world has mostly been warmer than at present, and sometimes a lot warmer. Fact check: true. Obviously, overwhelmingly, indisputably so.

In the movie Dr. Steven Koonin, distinguished physicist, former senior Obama administration science advisor and author of the outstanding book Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, said:

“If you go back maybe 200 million years it was maybe 13 degrees warmer than it is now. So, on a geological perspective, this is not at all unprecedented....We’re relatively cold. Maybe not quite the coldest it’s been in 500 million years, but pretty close to it.”

BTW for a sense of the often ugly tone of alarmist criticism of climate dissenters, note that the Wikipedia entry on Koonin mentions the book and promptly sneers “Critics accused him of cherry picking data, muddying the waters surrounding the science of climate change, and having no experience in climate science.” What, after all, would a mere physicist know about molecules in the atmosphere absorbing and releasing radiation? Hey, wait a minute…

The movie also quotes Dr. Matthew Wielicki (who has a PhD in geochemistry, which critics also often sneer is irrelevant to climate, since all it does is let him understand how the planet and its weather have changed over time) that:

“We are in a remarkably cool period if we look over the last 550 million years. In fact, only one other time period in that last 550 million years was the temperature as cool as it is now... If we just look at the last 65 million years – so this is after the dinosaurs go extinct, mammals really start taking over, and our evolutionary ancestors start to live on the land. Any time period within the last 65 million years was warmer than it is essentially today.”

So is it true? The question here is not whether, even if the planet has almost always been much warmer than it is today, it might be a problem if it fairly rapidly returned to its typical condition. It’s just whether there is nothing unusual about the planet being warm. And on that point, here is the record from that hotbed of climate non-denialism, the US government’s climate.gov website:

This reconstruction shows a somewhat longer cool period before the Age of Dinosaurs than some others. But even so you can see the big picture they agree on plainly, including that during the interval from 200 to 250 million years ago global temperatures peaked at over 90F or 32C, compared to under 60F (16C) today. So Koonin was not quite right. The world was much more than 13 degrees Fahrenheit warmer that far back.

Regarding Wielicki’s point, there was an interval before the Triassic, from about 260 to 360 million years ago in this reconstruction, when the Earth was intermittently as cold as it has been recently. But even then it fluctuated frequently and dramatically upward toward the no-polar-ice line. And generally the world has spent most of the past 500 million years, since the emergence of complex multicellular life, being too warm to sustain ice caps even in polar regions. It is current conditions that are unusual. (If you care, before the Cambrian it was way hotter still, including in the Hadean when the “land” surface was molten superheated lava.)

As for the past 65 million years, the same website shows the following record:

Clearly that record shows that most of the interval was warmer than today. However there have been times in the last few million years, the “Pleistocene Epoch” or “ice age” that we’re still in, but in a mercifully warmer “interglacial”, that were colder than today, which conflicts slightly with what Wielicki said. He’s right about everything more than 2.5 million years ago but not about the repeated glaciations since the temperature plunged for natural reasons then continually fluctuated for natural reasons.

If you check out the climate.gov page, under “What’s the hottest Earth’s ever been?” you’ll be able to see these charts for yourself, though not before enduring a finger-wagging lecture from the site curators who are concerned that people might be using the information to claim that manmade global warming isn’t a crisis. Not that they’re politicizing the science or anything, you understand. Still:

“Over the years, we have heard from readers who tell us that they have seen this article being cited by people who deny the reality or seriousness of human-caused global warming. To make it harder for anyone to mischaracterize this article, we are adding this note”.

Which includes tut-tutting like “The fact that Earth has been hotter in the past than it is today doesn’t prove that recent global warming is natural” and also “It is partly through figuring out what caused the periods like the ones described in this article that we came to understand that carbon dioxide sets the thermostat of Earth’s climate” although to nitpick, if you look at long-term reconstructions of CO2 as well as temperature they do not in fact correlate.

Never mind. Apparently you’re not supposed to think that just because most of Earth’s history has been much warmer than today doesn’t mean climate can vary on its own, heavens no, nor that the slight retreat we have experienced from the severe cold that characterized most of the past two and a half million years and whose return would doom civilization and much if not most life on Earth is anything other than an existential crisis. And that’s official.

Still, why not check the facts for yourself?

9 comments on “ClimateMovie fact check corner”

  1. Excellent! This reminds me of the quote by Legasov from the movie Chernobyl, "When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember that the truth is there (paraphrased because the actual quote just says "it")...but it is still there....Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt has to be repaid. Thank you CDN for keeping the truth alive!

  2. Climate change is not a hoax,but many involved in these Green Schemes do not care so much about the environment,as they do about raking in more
    Green into their bank accounts.Like windmill and solar panel manufacturers,often in hostile foreign lands.For others like governments,it's about having
    more control over populations.Telling you what kind of car you can drive,how you can heat your home,even how you can cook your food!And once again
    climate change is normal,natural,variable,and even cyclical.And far from being well understood.

  3. As in most ideologies, those of the climate catastrophe perspective will have differing motivations. One of the most insightful takes on this I have read is in the 2012 book by Robert Zubrin, "Merchants of Despair". A description of various toxic historical movements rooted in the hyper constrained vision of the world as promoted by Thomas Malthus. To paraphrase Thomas Sowell, there is nothing more dangerous than a self-annointed intellectual with a bad idea.

  4. Tell me you truly believe Michael Mann actually believes his own nonsense. He knows he's wrong, he's just riding the gravy train while it lasts. And meanwhile he's destroying so much and so many people that are in his way. That man is a hoaxer and one of many. There are also gullible fools that just follow, but it's the hoaxers that keep the propaganda up and that call for opposition to be silenced hoping that their lies won't be uncovered.

  5. I know from watching many CDN Readout videos that you do not believe climate change to be a hoax. Perhaps a better word would be "fraud" which of course is deceiving someone for financial gain. This term would apply to the scientists who misrepresent the data to enhance their careers, the media who beat the narrative drum, the corporations who sell "green energy" and "green vehicles" and the politicians who lie to the public to stay in office.

  6. The movie was awful
    Anyone who recommends it is a fool
    In the first 30 minutes it tries to convince viewers that CO2 does nothing and that CO2 changes always follow temperature changes, so could not possibly cause global warming.. Both implications are false
    The movie does not discuss what is known about CO2 from lab spectroscopy
    The movie does not discuss the controversial water vapor positive feedback amplification theory. The movie repeatedly uses climate history (local rough estimates called proxy reconstructions) that incluse NO manmade CO2 emissions, to jump to conclusions about the climate effects of manmade CO2 emissions
    The movie closes with character attacks on scientists making money from climate scaremongering, rather than refuting their climate predictions of doom, that have been wrong since 1979.
    This movie is the biggest disappointment for me in the 26 years I have been trying to refute CAGW scaremongering
    Most disappointing is how conservatives got so excited about a movie filled with disinformation an character attacks. Skeptical Science presented 25 climate myths from the movie. I considered all of them and believe two thirds were correct.
    This movie was a gift to leftist fact checkers Conservatives can not refute leftists climate myths by throwing down conservative climate myths. But many conservatives do that.
    Humans increased CO2 +50%
    Winters are warmer
    The planet is greening
    Every scary climate prediction has been wrong since 1979
    Is that too complicated for a movie?
    Richard Greene
    Bingham Farms, MI
    Over 90% of articles here are good, but not this one

  7. It is completely uncontroversial that the world has been much warmer in the past on a scale of millions of years and completely irrelevant to very quick changes in the present day.
    It reflects very badly on the film that it even bothered to mention it.

  8. But wouldn’t a warming ocean emit more CO2? I don’t think he’s the only person to claim the warming came before the CO2 with graphs to prove it.
    @mark Frank Has it not been shown that CO2 levels have been much higher before now? I don’t understand how rapid changes in CO2 will cause rapid warming when over millions of years levels of 5 or more times of the same gas wouldn’t eventually get to create the same effect. In other words how does the rapid increase in abundance of this gas affect the physics that change the behaviour of those chemicals?
    About the water vapour thing; does that preclude us using Hydrogen fuel cells which emit only water vapour?
    Is it correct that over billions of years, primitive ocean species evolved to build shells of calcium carbonate for protection by sequestering from the water, the carbon and calcium that eventually formed limestone rock that forms much of our geology around the world? Did that process not result in CO2 levels dropping to 180 PPM that almost wiped out all plants ability to breathe? And if that is so, aren’t we directly responsible for the rapid greening of the planet (I’m led to believe this has increased by 15% over the last 50 years)? Forgive my ignorance I’m truly keen to understand

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