Koch-funded climate change skeptic reverses course




Former climate change skeptic Richard A. Muller, in a New York Times op-ed, stepped back from his earlier dismissal of global warming. (Los Angeles Times / March 30, 2011)

By Neela Banerjee This post has been updated, as indicated below.

July 29, 2012, 12:28 p.m.


WASHINGTON – The verdict is in: Global warming is occurring and emissions of greenhouse gases caused by human activity are the main cause.

This, according to Richard A. Muller, professor of physics at UC Berkeley, MacArthur Fellow and co-founder of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. Never mind that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and hundreds of other climatologists around the world came to such conclusions years ago. The difference now is the source: Muller is a long-standing, colorful critic of prevailing climate science, and the Berkeley project was heavily funded by the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, which, along with its libertarian petrochemical billionaire founder Charles G. Koch, has a considerable history of backing groups that deny climate change.

In an opinion piece in Saturday’s New York Times titled “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic,” Muller writes: “Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

The Berkeley project’s research has shown, Muller says, “that the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.”

He calls his stance now “a total turnaround.”

[Updated, 4:17 p.m., July 29: Tonya Mullins, a spokeswoman for the Koch Foundation, said the support her foundation provided, along with others, had no bearing on the results of the research. “Our grants are designed to promote independent research; as such, recipients hold full control over their findings,” Mullins said in an email. “In this support, we strive to benefit society by promoting discovery and informing public policy.”]

Some leading climate scientists welcomed Muller’s comments, proof, they argued, that the science is so strong that even those inclined to reject it cannot once they examine it carefully.  Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said that Muller’s conversion might help shape the thinking of the “reasonable middle” of the population “who are genuinely confused and have been honestly taken in” by attacks on climate science.

On his Facebook page, Mann wrote: “There is a certain ironic satisfaction in seeing a study funded by the Koch Brothers – the greatest funders of climate change denial and disinformation on the planet – demonstrate what scientists have known with some degree of confidence for nearly two decades: that the globe is indeed warming, and that this warming can only be explained by human-caused increases in greenhouse gas concentrations. I applaud Muller and his colleagues for acting as any good scientists would, following where their analyses led them, without regard for the possible political repercussions.”

Muller’s conclusions, however, failed to sway the most ardent climate contrarians, like Marc Morano, a former top producer for Rush Limbaugh and communications director for the Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee who now runs the website climatedepot.com.  “Muller will be remembered as a befuddled professor who has yet to figure out how to separate climate science from his media antics. His latest claims provide no new insight into the climate science debate,” Morano said in an email.

Muller’s New York Times commentary follows research he did last year that confirmed the work of scientists who found the Earth’s temperature was rising. In the past, Muller had criticized which global temperatures were used in such research, contending that some monitoring stations provided inaccurate data.  Now, Berkeley’s research has weighed in on the causes of the temperature rise, testing arguments climate contrarians have used.

“What has caused the gradual but systematic rise of two and a half degrees?” Muller writes. “We tried fitting the shape to simple math functions (exponentials, polynomials), to solar activity and even to rising functions like world population. By far the best match was to the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured from atmospheric samples and air trapped in polar ice.”

Muller asserted that his findings were ‘stronger’ than those of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental  panel. Yet,  neither Berkeley’s research from last year or the new findings on causality have been published in peer-reviewed journals, which has raised criticism and concerns among climatologists and contrarians alike.

Benjamin D. Santer, a climate researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a lead author of the 1995 U.N. climate report, said he welcomed the involvement of another research group into “detection and attribution” of climate change and its causes. But he also said he found it troubling that Muller claimed such definitive results without his work undergoing peer-review.

“If you go into the public arena and claim to have generated evidence that is stronger than the IPCC, where is the detailed, scientific evidence? Has he used fundamental new data sets?” Santer said. “Publish the science and report on it after it’s done.”

He added: “I think you can do great harm to the broader debate. Imagine this scenario: that he makes these great claims and the papers aren’t published? This (op-ed) is in the spirit of publicity, not the spirit of science.”

Elizabeth Muller, co-founder and executive director of the Berkeley project and Richard Muller’s daughter, said the papers had been peer-reviewed, but not yet published. But because of the long lead-up to publication, the Berkeley team decided to place its papers online, in part to solicit comment from other scientists. She said all the papers, including the latest, would be on the BerkeleyEarth.org website by Sunday evening.

“I believe the findings in our papers are too important to wait for the year or longer that it could take to complete the journal review process,” Elizabeth Muller wrote in an email. “We believe in traditional peer review; we welcome feedback [from] the public and any scientists who are interested in taking the time to make thoughtful comments. Our papers have received scrutiny by dozens of top scientists, not just the two or three that typically are called upon by journalists.”


Romney “I Want MORE”!


Today Romney said that since he was, as he put it, a pioneer in outsourcing American jobs, he knows how to get jobs to come back to America.  He didn’t say how, or what his plan was, other than to cut taxes for people like himself. According to independent, non partisan sources,  Romney’s tax plan will cut taxes for the top 2 percent of the wealthy, but will cost the average taxpayer, i.e., the middle class, 2000 dollars.  He continues to refuse to release his tax returns, saying, “I paid taxes. Lots of taxes.” But we just have his word for that.  The Koch Bros have pledged half a billion dollars to defeat the President. They don’t do this because they love our country, they don’t. They have done this because they expect to make many more times that amount under a Romney administration. Remember, the super rich are NOT the job creators. Jobs in America are created by consumer spending.                                                                                                              In the 1930’s there was a gangster, played by Edward G.Robinson, who was asked, “What do you want, Rico?”He responded, “More. That’s it, I want more.”That should be Romney’s message as well, that is what his program consists of, more for people like himself.

Bubbe Elizabeth the Second

When did the Queen of England, star of the Olympic opening ceremony, become a Jewish grandmother?

Queen Elizabeth II speaks during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Most 86-year-old women, whatever their ethnic persuasion, do not arrive at important events via helicopter parachute, escorted by a hot piece like Daniel Craig; many of them can’t even stand up in the shower anymore. But everything else, from the ongepotchket peach lace dress to the passive-aggressive “oy, mein back” shuffle to the seats to that face, seemingly caught constantly in mid-kvetch, saying “For this you made me come out in the middle of the night, sitting outside in the rain like a dog?” Not a trace of her former impersonal friendliness, of smiling Gentile stoicism, remained. At the Olympic opening ceremony, somewhere in between the coal miners performing a Dickensian rendition of the “Stool Boom” number from Waiting for Guffman and the interpretive dance salute to the National Health Service, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, became the whole world’s bitchy Jewish bubbe. I half expected her to take an ancient sucking candy from that famous purse of hers and unwrap it loudly during the moment of silence “for everyone” that the IOC creepily rammed into the ceremony at the last minute.

Was she like this all along? The question of any stray Jewish heritage within the British Royal Family has been explored mainly by the British Israelite movement—for the most part a cheerful and benign group of loonies who since the time of Queen Victoria have held that the Ten Lost Tribes somehow found their way to the sceptered isles, where they became the progenitors of the British people, making the Windsors direct-line descendants of King David—and the usual bunch of anti-Semitic Internet crazies who believe that everyone in a position of power today is somehow a secret Rothschild taking part in a crypto-Zionist Judeo-Bolshevist conspiracy to control the world.

Whether it’s the Jewish question of her own family, or indeed, in any other capacity, the queen’s personal views on the Chosen People are, as on all other matters, a mystery. The princess royal “regrets to say that she has never been to Israel”—as it was written to me in the letter I received from her male secretary (early feminist click moment, there) when I wrote to her for a school project at my Jewish Day School in approximately 1988 in a manner so politely chagrined I was ashamed I had asked. Prince Philip has been to the Jewish state, albeit in an unofficial capacity, when his mother Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark was honored as one of the Righteous of Nations, and of all the many, many, many groups, ethnic or otherwise, upon which he has aired, shall we say, impolitic remarks over his equally numerous years in the public eye, Jews have, almost shockingly, not been among them.

On the other hand, well, let’s just say it’s not missing any fingers. Prince Harry’s youthful swastika-wearing may have been a genuinely innocent, and well-atoned-for, joke gone wrong, but the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s habitual Heil Hitler’s certainly were not. And even the cuddly Queen Mother, the Lots O’ Huggin’ Bear of the British aristocracy, had, typically of her time and class, plenty of not-so-nice things to say about the Jews behind closed doors. More recently, the late Princess Margaret became so discombobulated at a dinner party by comedian and U.K. national treasure Stephen Fry’s admission of matrilineal descent that she allegedly started screaming: “He’s a Jew! He’s a Jew!” to the assembled guests. Although, to be fair, the issue was a touchy subject for Margaret; the most memorable note of several her vengeful ex-husband Lord Snowdon apparently left around the house for her to find in the waning days of their marriage read: “You look like a Jewish manicurist and I hate you.”

It’s an observation not totally out of left field. When you look at pictures of the aged Princess Margaret, sans tiara and imperial sash, she does look not unlike your mother’s cousin Frieda who started doing nails after her divorce from that schmuck with the dry cleaner. Similarly, if there’s a more classic example of the archetypal nebbish than the young Prince Charles, I have yet to see him. Of course, one could argue that rather than Jewish, they just look German, perhaps lending some credence to Kafka’s famous assertion that these two groups are far more inextricably linked than either is entirely comfortable with, but that’s a whole rabbit-hole of head-measuring pseudo-science I don’t even want to get into.

The point is the queen, and her increasing forays into Judaic grumpiness of late: the shpilkes at the opening ceremony, the hissy fit with Annie Leibowitz, the open disapproval for the “creepiness” of the headless mannequin wearing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress that someone put right in the middle of her living room. Has she been hanging out with Camilla’s friend Joan Rivers lately? Or is she just really, really old? Which itself begs the question: Do Jews act like old people or do old people all act like Jews? Are we just born without the self-censoring part of the brain that takes other people eight decades and/or a massive stroke to attain, or is there something in the pool water at the indoor aquatic aerobics classes? Which came first, the suffering or the refusal to do it in silence?

As for Her Madge, if at the closing ceremony she starts complaining about the angle of the chair back and would it kill them to get her a cold glass of water, but not too cold, because oy, it bothers her dentures, I guess we’ll see if the Bubbification of the Sovereign is complete. In the meantime, pass the sucking candy and G-d save the Queen.

Rachel Shukert, a Tablet Magazine columnist on pop culture, is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going to be Great. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.