A Free-Market Energy Blog

David Legates Makes Sense to Me (climate ‘contrarian’ on the firing line)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- March 26, 2015

U. of Delaware Refuses to Disclose Funding Sources of Its Climate Contrarian,” read the headline from Inside Climate News. “Citing academic freedom, the president and provost decline a congressional request for funding disclosures surrounding the work of Professor David Legates.”

That would seem to be good news … until the next paragraph ominously refers to Legates as “a known climate contrarian” (known, no less). The piece continues:

Legates previously served as Delaware’s state climatologist, a role he said he was fired from in 2011 after refusing to resign. Three years earlier he was asked by then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner to stop using his official title while espousing climate denial. “Your views on climate change, as I understand them, are not aligned with those of my administration,” Minner wrote to Legates at the time.

Politics … Governor Minner, a Democrat, was aligned with the ‘alarmist’ wing of the climate debate. But to the writer, Minner’s intervention was okay because … dissent from the political orthodoxy is not right.

In any case, the President of the University of Delaware, Patrick Harker, squashed the request thus:

Academic freedom is the freedom of the faculty to teach and speak out as the fruits of their research and scholarship dictate, even though their conclusions may be unpopular or contrary to public opinion.

Contrary to public opinion“? Climate alarmists and their followers (including university presidents) should reconsider that assertion. As the last election showed, climate doom and higher energy prices as a policy response do not play well with the electorate. And the news this week was a new Gallup Poll that was summarized by Politico: “Americans shrug off environmental issues as partisan divide deepens.” And the Washington Times: Alarmism cools: Only 32 percent of Americans still worry about global warming, Gallup says. Another headline: Poll: America’s Fear Of Global Warming Drops To 1980s Levels.

Legates Statements

“Legates has a long history of climate denial,” stated Inside Climate News. Three of his ‘denier’ statements are then provided:

“The sun is the key ingredient to climate…. 99.9% of the energy on the earth that goes into the climate system comes from the sun.”

This, actually, is settled science. Consult the textbook of your choice. “Essentially all energy that enters the earth’s atmosphere comes from the sun since the upward conduction of heat from the earth’s interior (due to radioactive decay) is negligible,” reads Physics of Climate, by Jose Peixoto and Abraham Oort (New York: American Institute of Physics, 1992), p. 91.

“Climate is not a constant. We go through periods where it’s much warmer, where it’s much colder. We go through periods where it’s wetter and dryer. The one thing we can say about climate in the future is that it will change.”

Compare Legates’s statement to that of James Hansen:

“Climate is always changing. Climate would fluctuate without any change of [man-made] climate forcing. The chaotic aspect of climate is an innate characteristic.”

– Hansen, “How Sensitive Is the World’s Climate?”, National Geographic Research & Exploration 9(2), 1993, p. 143.

And finally, Inside Climate News writes: “Legates says that the science speaks for itself, and that what matters is that the data supports the outcome. There is not the question raised: Who funds you? he said. ‘That whole discussion is really immaterial.'”

Regarding funding, the same shoe fits the alarmists. The predominant climate funder is the federal government, not private foundations, corporations, and think tanks, separately or combined. And under Obama, the federal government is very much in the business of promoting one side of the debate–and academia and government agencies are very keen in keeping their place high among government priorities. “Climate is a problem” is a gravy train for a lot of researchers, financially and in terms of self-esteem.

Peer pressure is another corrupter of science, particularly one as unsettled as the physical processes behind climate change (the basis of models and prediction). Make no mistake: taking a contrary position is a recipe for being ostracized in the climate debate, as Georgia Tech climatologist Judith Curry has documented in her own case.

A word of caution for the Truth Squad of climate consensus comes from none other than James Hansen:

“Injection of environmental and political perspectives in midstream of the science discussion cannot help the process of inquiry. I believe that persons with relevant scientific expertise should concentrate, with pride, on cool objective analysis, providing information to the public and decision-makers when it is found, but leaving the moral implications for later common consideration, or at most for summary inferential discussion.”

– James Hansen, 1998: book review of Sir John Houghton’s Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry, 30, 409-412 at 410.

A Global Lukewarmer

The peer-reviewed literature–and cutting-edge Internet analysis that is checking, correcting, and accelerating the journal article process–is supporting lower estimates of climate sensitivity to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Judith Curry has documented this well.

And that puts David Legates right in the mainstream of nonpoliticized, realistic climate research. As a global lukewarmer, his view is hardly radical and, in fact, commonsensical. In his words:

“At the outset, let us define what the debate is not about.  The debate is not about whether our climate is changing; indeed, it always has changed on timescales ranging from decades to millennia.  It is not about whether humans can influence the Earth’s climate; they certainly do.  It is not about whether global air temperatures have risen over the past 160 years; they have.  The real questions that define this debate are:

(1) To what extent are humans responsible for the climate change we see?

(2) What are the future consequences of climate change, from both natural and anthropogenic sources?

(3) How should we respond?”

– Legates, “A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor” (2014), p. 9.


In an earlier, more scientific, less emotional time, climate scientist James Hansen had fatherly words for the David Legates of the research community. Two quotations of note:

“Skepticism thus plays an essential role in scientific research, and, far from trying to silence skeptics, science invites their contributions,” stated James Hansen. “So, too, the global warming debate benefits from traditional scientific skepticism.”

– James Hansen, “The Global Warming Debate,” January 17, 1999, p. 1.

” The prospects for having a modest climate change impact instead of a disastrous one are quite good, I think.”

– James Hansen, quoted in Andrew Revkin, “Study Proposes New Strategy to Stem Global Warming,” New York Times, August 19, 2000, p. A12.

Increasingly strained ‘consensus science’ should be on the firing line, not the skeptics of ‘settled’ science, much less the ‘settled’ science behind climate alarmism and government activism. David Legates is on a roll!

[1] The author, Sabrina Shankman, is profiled here.


  1. Ed Reid  

    No rational person denies that there is a climate.

    No educated person denies that climate changes.

    Few educated persons deny the potential for anthropogenic influence on climate.

    Many educated persons are skeptical regarding the predominance of anthropogenic influences.

    Many educated persons are skeptical regarding claims of impending climate catastrophe.

    Much of current climate reporting and political rhetoric intentionally elides the difference between climate
    change, anthropogenically-induced climate change and potential catastrophic anthropogenically-induced climate change.
    It is an emotional appeal to the uneducated and uninformed, of whom our educational system assures an ample supply.


  2. Charles G. Battig  

    “Scepticism is the first step towards truth.” Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

    Variant: A thing is not proved just because no one has ever questioned it. What has never been gone into impartially has never been properly gone into. Hence skepticism is the first step toward truth. It must be applied generally, because it is the touchstone. (Wikipedia)

    From one of those 18th century “dead white guys” so out of fashion with the current progressives.


  3. Frank  

    There is no truth about climate change when it is discussed without quantitative information (including confidence intervals). Begin with estimates of both transient (relevant to the 21st century) and equilibrium (later centuries) climate sensitivity: degC of warming per effective doubling of CO2 and with the amount of time needed for CO2 to double – 200 years at the current rate of increase of 2 ppm/yr and 100 years if current sinks saturate. Since we currently emit the equivalent of a 4 ppm increase in CO2 every year, but only an additional 2 ppm per year remain in the atmosphere, we can stability CO2 levels with a 50% cut in emissions.

    Now explain why climate models make predictions that differ from this simple analysis.


  4. Denis Ables  

    We know there have been earlier warming periods during this interglacial. There is considerable evidence that the MWP was a global event, and as warm, likely warmer than now. There is data from 6,000 boreholes taken around the globe which demonstrate a relative temperature trend which proves the MWP was not just regional. There are hundreds of peer reviewed studies (all available via links to co2science.org) confirming that temperatures during the MWP were reflected from study ocations around the globe. Temperature studies also show that earlier warming periods during this interglacial, before the MWP,were even warmer.

    The IPCC, the supposed “expert”, acknowledges much of this by recently claiming that our current warming is a record going by (very likely) 800 years and (likely) 1200 years. The “likely” terms have unscientific probabilities attached, which are defined by the associated descriptors. The IPCC reluctantly recognizes the possibility that the MWP may have been warmer, but apparently chooses to ignore studies indicating warmings before MWP were even warmer.

    Bizarre weather events have basically been disassociated from any linkage to the increased co2 level.

    So, we know it’s been warmer, and that we’re contributing to co2 increase, about 2ppmv per year. But, the computer models, even after several “tweakings” still project higher temperatures than what is subsequently experienced. That may be because the models all ASSUME that water vapor is the real culprit, causing 2 to 3 times the temperature increase as is caused by increasing co2 level. Butt nobody even understands climate feedbacks, and the open atmosphere does not qualify as an actual greenhouse because (1) there is no convection from within a greehouse, and (2) satellites measurements show heat escaping to space.

    We know that, at least so far, undesirable weather events have actually become less severe and less frequent. We know that plant life thrives in the higher co2 levels, needing less water and providing more oxygen. We also know that lifeforms not unlike our own can easily survive in much higher levels of co2. A crowded gym with poor venting can exceed 1,000 ppmv (our atmosphere is now at about 400ppmv, and 600 ppmv is projected for the year 2100).
    Submarine crews have no problem for months in environments of 5,000+ ppmv.

    co2 level has been higher for most of our planet’s existence. There is a strong correlation over geologic periods showing temperature variation happening first, followed hundreds of years later by similar co2 variation. This correlation, by itself, eliminates the possibility that there is any evidence showing co2 level here on earth has ever had any impact on global temperature.

    It’s safe to conclude that, if co2 increase is a problem we will have time to deal with it.


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  6. Charles R. Anderson  

    The effects of CO2 and other infra-red active gases are greatly exaggerated in the standard physics model claimed as the basis for catastrophic man-made global warming. The Earth surface emission is wrongly assumed to be the same as it would be if the surface were not wet and there were no atmosphere, that is in accordance with emission of an ideal surface into vacuum. Because it is not the case and some of the energy that at a vacuum interface would all be radiated as infrared is instead lost as evaporated water and air heated by collisions with the surface, the standard theory violates the Law of Conservation of Energy.

    Consequently, surface infrared emissions are greatly exaggerated. Back-radiation from the atmosphere to the surface is hugely exaggerated. These errors gain apparent support from measurements of infrared radiation from the surface and the atmosphere made with temperature thermometers, which do a fine job of measuring the temperatures. The transported energy, however, is an artifact caused by cold detectors which measure a flow of radiation energy to a cold volume that is present only because the detector is present.

    The actual energy flow between the Earth’s surface and the colder air well above the surface is much less and it only flows from the warm surface upward. What is more, because the radiation mean free path for those infrared frequencies which can be absorbed by water vapor are very short and those absorbed by CO2 are also short, the temperature differentials are small. Consequently, the radiant heat transfer from the surface to heights 10 and 50 meters above the surface are small. Upon absorption by a water molecule or a CO2 molecule, most of that energy is transferred due to the extremely high collision rate in the lower troposphere to non-infrared radiating molecules. The few CO2 molecules equilibrate in temperature with the many nitrogen and oxygen molecules around them. Those will radiate some energy upward to other CO2 molecules or to water vapor molecules which will absorb the energy and equilibrate most of it with the molecules surrounding them. Thus, water vapor and CO2 molecules speed up the transport of energy from warmer air at lower altitudes to cooler air at higher altitudes somewhat. Both CO2 and water molecules also absorb some of the incoming solar insolation before that radiation ever reaches the Earth’s surface, which is effectively a surface cooling effect.

    The net effect of CO2 on the surface temperature is very small. The very small warming effect is countered by small cooling effects. To date, none of these effects have been accurately measured. The measurements claimed to be the basis for a substantial and catastrophic warming effect due to CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are wrongly interpreted. The climate computer models, despite claims of scientific consensus, produce laughably disparate results. Almost none of those computer model predictions are consistent with the Earth surface temperature and the lower troposphere satellite measurements over the last 18 years. It could not be more clear that the so-called consensus viewpoint is a poorly defined consensus and one which is empirically proven to be wrong. This result is not surprising, because the theory that vague viewpoint is based upon is terribly and fundamentally wrong.


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