HOT TOPICS ▶ Climate Change     Undoing The New Deal     The Real Baltimore     Reality Asserts Itself     United Kingdom    

  March 14, 2017

Climate Scientist Slams Pruitt for Distorting Science of Global Warming

Dr. Alan Robock responds to EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's comments on carbon dioxide and explains CO2's role in the warming of the atmosphere
Members don't see ads. If you are a member, and you're seeing this appeal, click here


Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

Amongst "independent" media the only one which (so far) has served only insight and versatility. - Håkan
Log in and tell us why you support TRNN


Dr. Alan Robock is a distinguished professor of meteorology in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University. He's an editor of Review of Geophysics, the most widely read journal in the field. He was also in the faculty at the University of Maryland, where he served as a professor and state climatologist of Maryland from '91 to '97. He was a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded a Nobel prize in 2007. His current research focuses on geoengineering, climatic effects of nuclear weapons, soil moisture variations, the effects of volcanic eruptions on climate, and the impacts of climate change on human activities.


JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

In a move that shocked, and angered many around the world, Trump's EPA head Scott Pruitt, took aim at the scientific consensus over what's causing climate change. Recently telling CNBC that carbon dioxide is not a main contributor. Here's what he said.

NEWS ANCHOR: Do you believe that it's been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate? Do you believe that?

SCOTT PRUITT: No, I... No, I think that measuring with precision, human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So, no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming, that we see.

NEWS ANCHOR: Okay. All right...

SCOTT PRUITT: But we don't know that yet.

JAISAL NOOR: Now joining us to discuss this, is Dr. Alan Robock. He's a Distinguished Professor of Climate Science, in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University. Thanks so much for joining us.

ALAN ROBOCK: My pleasure.

JAISAL NOOR: So, we want to get into the science of this, but first, your response to Pruitt. He has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, and he's been a fierce opponent of environmental regulation, as the Oklahoma Attorney General.

ALAN ROBOCK: Well, he's absolutely wrong. He's not a scientist, like I am and like all my colleagues are. We've known that carbon dioxide traps energy, that it's a greenhouse gas, for a hundred years. And we've been able to measure that precisely, and we've been able to measure its effect on climate change. And most of the warming of the last 50 years is caused by the additional carbon dioxide, and a few other greenhouse gases, that humans have put into the atmosphere. There's no other way to explain the warming that we've seen.

JAISAL NOOR: We wanted to start with the basic chemistry. Talk about what carbon dioxide is, and what about the chemical structure of the molecule that makes it heat trapping, or in other words, a greenhouse gas?

ALAN ROBOCK: Carbon dioxide is a carbon atom, and two oxygen atoms, and they're in a row. When heat energy hits them, they start vibrating, and they can vibrate like this, they can move around, and they wiggle up and down. This vibration that is induced by their absorbing the energy from the heat, makes them move around faster, and they bounce into all the other molecules in the atmosphere –- mainly nitrogen and oxygen –- and warm them up. Then they can emit heat energy by slowing down their vibrations, and some of that emission goes out to outer space, and some of it comes back down to Earth.

That additional emission from carbon dioxide is what traps the heat, is what increases the amount of energy at the surface.

There's another important greenhouse gas, which is water. H2O. It also has three atoms in the molecule, and there's a lot more water in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, and water is actually the most important greenhouse gas. But, the concentration of water, in the atmosphere, is controlled by the atmosphere, by the climate system. If there's too much water, it rains. If it's too dry, evaporation puts more water into the atmosphere. So, the relative humidity tends to stay relatively constant.

When you warm the climate by trapping more heat with carbon dioxide, that puts more water in the atmosphere, and that makes it even warmer still. That's called a positive feedback. The relative humidity stays the same, but the amount of water; the absolute humidity goes up, because the temperature is warmer.

This is very well understood, and it's not controversial at all. There's no question about that.

JAISAL NOOR: Can you talk about how it's produced naturally, and why it's a by-product of fossil fuel consumption?

ALAN ROBOCK: Well, fossil fuel is coal, and oil, and natural gas. And those are called hydrocarbons. They're mainly made up of hydrogen and carbon. When you burn them, you mix oxygen with them, and that produces water –- H2O –- and carbon dioxide -- CO2. These two gases are the result of combustions. Every time you drive your car, every time you turn on gas to cook your food, it puts CO2 and water vapor into the atmosphere.

As I explained, the water is controlled by the atmosphere, but half of the CO2 remains for a long time, thousands of years, and builds up in the atmosphere, and we can measure that very precisely. We've been measuring it in Hawaii, at Mauna Loa, since 1957... 1959, I think. So, we have this long record of it going up, and up, and up, and up, and up.

JAISAL NOOR: What role does it play...? Sorry, go ahead.

ALAN ROBOCK: To further answer your question, you asked about the natural cycle. Of course, when it's spring now in the northern hemisphere -- and so all the flowers you're seeing outside, all the leaves, all the food that's about to be grown -- is carbon. It's being taken out of the atmosphere by photosynthesis, and that's driving down the concentration of CO2.

In the fall, when these things decay, the CO2 goes up, so there's a seasonal cycle. And the seasonal cycle of the carbon, puts about 100 petagrams of carbon into the atmosphere every year, and takes 100 out. Humans put about 9 in per year. So, we have 109 going in, but only about 104 comes out, so about 5 petagrams every year stays in the atmosphere. It's not taken up by the ocean. It's not taken up by more vegetation, and that's what's causing global warming.

JAISAL NOOR: Pruitt also talked about how CO2 levels are measured. Can you explain this to us as well?

ALAN ROBOCK: Well, we have chemical reactions. We suck the CO2 in, the air in, and we measure its concentration. And this is well-known chemistry. It's been done for a long, long time, and as I said, it's been done at Mauna Loa for more than 50 years. And so, it's very precise, and there are three other baseline observatories that the U.S. government operates, one in Point Barrow, Alaska, one in Guam, and one at the South Pole. And they've been measuring it, and then we take flask samples and take them to laboratories and measure them.

So, the amount around the world, is very well known, and it goes up and down at different latitudes, different amounts in the southern hemisphere. There's not much land in the mid-latitudes, so the seasonal cycle is weaker, and it's inverted. The amount in the northern hemisphere is higher than in the southern hemisphere, because most of the sources, most of the emissions are in the northern hemisphere.

And so, we can measure the difference, and they're both going up, but there's a difference, and the difference tells us how long it takes the atmosphere to mix, how long it takes the carbon dioxide, put it in the northern hemisphere, it drifts down into the southern hemisphere.

This is all very well known. There's no controversy about it at all.

JAISAL NOOR: And finally, you know, by challenging this, the consensus, Pruitt is able to justify removing some of the regulations that were enacted under the Obama administration. What impact could this have for the future of the planet?

ALAN ROBOCK: Now, there's three fundamental questions about this. One is, how will the climate change, if we continue to put greenhouse gases in? The other is, how will it affect us? And the third is, what we should do about it.

As a scientist I can answer the first two. Clearly, putting more greenhouse gases in causes global warming. How it will affect us, there are winners and losers. There are people that are now doing shipping through the Arctic Ocean. They're winners. There are people that continue to sell fossil fuels. They are continuing to make a profit. Most of the impacts, however, are negative, averaged over the planet. Sea level is rising and there'll be stronger storms. There'll be more floods and droughts, and there'll be impacts on our food and water supply.

What we should do about it is a value judgment. As a scientist, I can't tell you what to do about it. Everybody makes their own decision, based on their own values, based on their own investments, and so forth. And so, there are people that continue to make a lot of money with business as usual. Continuing to sell products that dump CO2 into the atmosphere, using it as a sewer, and not paying any sewer charges. And they make money from it. So, they want to continue doing that –- so the people that sell you coal, and oil, and natural gas.

They have a lot of money, and they give a lot of money to politicians, and that's where we are.

JAISAL NOOR: All right. Dr. Alan Robock, thank you so much for joining us.

ALAN ROBOCK: My pleasure.

JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.




Our automatic spam filter blocks comments with multiple links and multiple users using the same IP address. Please make thoughtful comments with minimal links using only one user name. If you think your comment has been mistakenly removed please email us at

latest stories

Bernie Sanders - Medicare for All National Town Hall
Will Trump Really Challenge World Economic Forum's Neoliberal Agenda?
Trial Reveals Widespread Corruption in Baltimore Police Department
Turkish Attack on Kurds Opens New Front, and Alignments, in Syrian War
Inside the Trump Administration's War on UNRWA and Palestinian Refugees
Pence Speech Fuels Conflict Between Israel and Palestine
Congressman Ro Khanna challenges US interventionism and wars in Yemen, Syria, Libya
Activists Push For Water Affordability In Baltimore
TRNN Replay: Will Honduras Get New Presidential Elections?
Community Members Sound Off On Troubled Baltimore School System
Despite School Closings, Chicago Mayor Pushes For New $95 Million Police Academy
Apple: The Biggest Tax Cheaters in History Repatriate Profits Under Trump's Tax Bill
Women March in Defiance of Trump
Cape Town Water Wars: A Literal Shitstorm
Massive Oil Spill in East China Sea Is the Size of Paris
Rather Than Address Crime, Baltimore Officials Try to Relocate It
TRNN Replay: Reality Asserts Itself - Troy LaRaviere
Real Media: Former British Diplomat Turned Anarchist
Laura Flanders Show: Star Power for People Power
Consumer Protection Moves to Throw the Weakest Under the Bus
Baltimore Spends Billions on Corporate Subsidies but Can't Heat Its Schools
Can a New Baltimore Police Commissioner Fix a Corrupt Department?
Trump Keeps US in Syria and Sets Off New War
Korean Olympic Unity Gives US War Plans a 'Bloody Nose'
Set Up By FBI Informant, NODAPL Activist Pleads Guilty
Prosecutors Push on Against 59 Protesters Despite Defeat
Mayor Announces New Baltimore City Community Grants Program
The US is Arming and Assisting Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, While Congress Debates Prohibition
After Hawaii Scare, Trump Worsens Nuclear Danger
Baltimore Mayor Fires Police Commissioner Kevin Davis,, The Real News Network, Real News Network, The Real News, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of Independent World Television inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and The Real News Network.

All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network. Click here for more

Problems with this site? Please let us know

Web Design, Web Development and Managed Hosting