Why Rush Limbaugh is Wrong

(c) 2007 by Barton Paul Levenson

Pointing out made-up "facts" (i.e., lies) and mistakes in Rush Limbaugh's many books and broadcasts is like shooting fish in a barrel. Anyone can do it. But apparently most people don't, because millions of people keep citing Mr. Limbaugh as if he knew what he was talking about. Here's one of his screeds:

Limbaugh on Global Warming

The first money quote is:

For years Iíve pointed out that global warming is bogus. Itís contradicted by the most technologically advanced data [showing] no warming trend over the last 60 years.

Well, no, Mr. Limbaugh, it isn't. Here's some of the technologically advanced data that shows that there damn well is a warming trend. Thanks to Shardrukar at AOL for finding these particular sources on the web:

In the same article, Mr. Limbaugh says:

We've had ice ages on this planet, in case you don't know that, and we've had ice ages long before man was ever industrial, before we started burning all these fossil fuels and so forth. I have not abandoned my belief that whatever is going on is not caused by us.

Contrast this statement with the one above. Mr. Limbaugh apparently believes 1) that global warming is not happening, AND 2) that it's happening, but we're not causing it. It's a frequent theme of his that humanity, for some reason, can't significantly affect the natural environment:

[Global warming is] malarkey... The idea that we [human beings] have any power over nature is absolute absurdity.
-The Rush Limbaugh Show, 9/09/2004.

God created this magnificent planet and its climate and environment and all that. The idea that we can destroy it is just absurd.
-The Rush Limbaugh Show, 5/26/2007.

The statement that human technology's influence is too small to affect nature is, of course, a quantitative statement. Mr. Limbaugh never posts any quantitative comparison to show that humanity's influence is too small (aside from his classic boner, cited below, about volcanoes). Let's put some quantitative flesh on those qualitative bones.

Start with the volcanoes. Mr. Limbaugh's classic quote on the subject actually dealt with ozone depletion, not global warming:

Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines spewed forth more than a thousand times the amount of ozone-depleting chemicals in one eruption than all the fluorocarbons manufactured by wicked, diabolical and insensitive corporations in history.... Mankind can't possibly equal the output of even one eruption from Pinatubo, much less 4 billion years' worth of them, so how can we destroy ozone?"
--The Way Things Ought to Be (Pocket Books, 1993, paperback ed., pp. 155-157)

Here, of course, he misses the fact that chlorine emitted by volcanoes is water-soluble and rains out quickly, while chlorine in CFCs is insoluble and survives to be lofted into the stratosphere by atmospheric turbulence. But ignore that. The volcano quote has mutated through the blogosphere and is now usually applied to global warming -- "one volcano puts out more carbon dioxide than all human technology," or sometimes, "than all human technology since the Industrial Revolution began."

Well, let's check that. According to the US Energy Information Agency, human technology put 26.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air in 2004, up from 21.3 billion in 1993 when Mr. Limbaugh's book was published. According to the US Geological Survey, volcanoes put about 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year. One of the scientists who determined this figure, T.M. Gerlach, was kind enough to correspond with me about this, and he now says that figure is probably an underestimate -- the actual figure might be closer to 200 million metric tons per year.

26.9 billion   2.69 x 1010
------------ = ----------- = about 135
200 million    2 x 108

So human technological emissions of carbon dioxide dwarf volcanic emissions by a factor of about 135 to 1. I'd say that was a pretty substantial effect, so it's patently obvious that human technology can influence nature.

What kind of mystical belief says that there's some kind of magical barrier protecting nature from anything a technological species can throw at it? Natural laws work the same for artificial substances as for natural ones. Energy is still conserved, mass is still conserved in non-nuclear reactions, and greenhouse gases in a planetary atmosphere still warm a planet's surface. And that's why Rush Limbaugh is wrong about global warming.

Note added 7/13/2009: I just ran across an even funnier (i.e. stupider) remark of Limbaugh's about global warming. Al Franken, in his wonderfully funny book, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot (1996, available on amazon.com here), quotes a 1992 Limbaugh statement: "Even if the polar ice caps melted, there would be no rise in ocean levels... After all, if you have a glass of water with ice cubes in it, as the ice melts, it simply turns to liquid and the water level in the glass remains the same."

And the north polar cap is, indeed, just floating ice. The south polar cap, however, is on top of the continent of Antarctica, and there's another gigantic ice plain on top of Greenland. If they both melt completely, the water will all run downhill. Sea level will rise by about 246 feet.

Page created:08/03/2007
Last modified:  02/09/2011