Rush Limbaugh's best-selling books The Way Things Ought to Be and See, I Told You So
are full of statements on the environment that are misleading, distorted, and
factually incorrect. Indeed, Limbaugh's claims often fly in the face of carefully
considered scientific evidence, and put him in opposition to the views of the
most eminent scientific experts, as reflected in the conclusions of such esteemed
bodies as the National Academy of Sciences and the World Meteorological Organization.
Though Limbaugh likes to frame the debate as a contest between him and the
"environmental wackos", it is really Limbaugh's word against the overwhelming tide
of scientific knowledge.
Unfortunately, his fallacies have created a great deal of confusion
and have perpetuated the misunderstanding of a number of critical issues.
It is important that Limbaugh's disinformation campaign be confronted
directly and that the resulting misconceptions be cleared up.
Here we present several examples of erroneous statements from Limbaugh's books,
followed by the actual scientific facts. In each instance, we have included
sources in the scientific and professional literature, unlike Limbaugh,
who offers little or no evidence to back up his claims.
Chlorofluorocarbons and Ozone Depletion:
Limbaugh proposes that environmental "alarmists and prophets of
doom" have exaggerated the problem of ozone depletion, suggesting
that it has been limited to "occasional reduced levels of ozone over Antarctica." 1/
Substantially reduced levels of ozone have been measured over
most of the globe, including North America, Europe, and elsewhere.
In fact, scientists have observed a thinning of the ozone layer at all
latitudes outside the tropics. By 1991, the depletion over North America
averaged nearly 5 percent. 2/ Since 1991, ozone depletion
has further intensified. 3/
"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. . . . Conclusion:
mankind can't possibly equal the output of even one eruption from
Pinatubo, much less billion years' worth, so how can we destroy ozone?" 4/
Limbaugh's numbers are completely off-base. Volcanoes emit two
sorts of ozone-depleting compounds. One is hydrochloric acid, but
the amount of this chemical in the stratosphere, measured before
and after Pinatubo's eruption in 1991, was found to be largely unchanged. 5/
The other ozone-depleting chemical emitted by Pinatubo, sulfur
dioxide, is converted in the stratosphere into tiny particles which,
acting in combination with man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's),
temporarily increased the rate of ozone depletion by several
percentage points during 1992 and 1993. 6/ Nevertheless, nearly
all the particles resulting from the Mt. Pinatubo eruption have
already washed out of the atmosphere, unlike CFC's, which remain
in the stratosphere for as long as a century. 7/
Cumulatively speaking, Pinatubo's destructive effect on the ozone
layer has been about fifty times less than that of CFC's, rather than
a thousand times greater, as Limbaugh claims. Thus, his estimate
is off by a factor of fifty thousand.
What "environmental wackos . . . really want to do is attack our way
of life" in the effort to limit CFC's. "Their primary enemy: capitalism." 8/
Limbaugh ignores the fact that the conservative Reagan administration
signed onto the Montreal Protocol, the international agreement to
restrict CFC's, and that crucial support for the measure came
from some of the largest manufacturers of these chemicals,
who, like Ronald Reagan, are hardly enemies of capitalism.
Although many of these corporations initially resisted action when the
ozone problem was discovered, Dupont, Allied Signal, and
other domestic producers of CFC's have long favored strong
restrictions concerning their production and use. Indeed,
Dupont proposed a global ban of CFC's before European or
United States governments did. 9/
"In just one day in January , NASA measured the amount of
chlorine and another gas in the atmosphere of the Northern
Hemisphere and found an unusually high level compared to normal.
There were headlines for days about an ozone hole in the
atmosphere above North America.
Senator Al Gore . . . predicted that President Bush would soon
come around on all this because of the 'ozone hole over Kennebunkport,'
despite the fact there was no such thing. . . . Within a few weeks,
it was learned that most of the unusual measurements could be
attributed to Mount Pinatubo's eruption, a fact the agenda-oriented
scientific community attempted to ignore." 10/
Limbaugh's last statement is absolutely false. The measurements to which he
refers, of extremely high levels of chlorine monoxide, were made by NASA
only six months after Pinatubo's eruption and in a particular region of
the Arctic stratosphere that was at the time unaffected by the volcanic
emissions. Furthermore, large amounts of these chemicals were
measured throughout the month of January, not just on one day, as
Limbaugh asserts. 11/ As for the rest, the condition of the ozone
layer in January of 1992 was a great deal more complex than
Limbaugh's account would suggest. Indeed, many scientists
were disturbed by the high chlorine monoxide levels.
For a very large depletion to occur, however, the Arctic stratosphere
would have had to remain cold for several more weeks, as it often
does that time of year. Instead, a sudden warming occurred the
following month, so the damage to the ozone layer never became
as severe as originally feared. If it had, the depletion might
well have reached 20 to 30 percent in the lower stratosphere,
rather than the 10 to 15 percent that was recorded. Indeed, such
large depletions could occur over parts of Northern Europe and
Canada during any winter, and may do so in the future. 12/
In his most recent book, See, I Told You So, Limbaugh returns to
the subject of ozone depletion. This time, he discusses the
implications of a possible prehistoric supernova that may have d
amaged the atmosphere:
"Scientists say a supernova 340,000 years ago disrupted 10
percent to 20 percent of the ozone layer, causing sunburn in
prehistoric man. Wait a minute - I thought only man could
destroy the ozone. . . . And if prehistoric man merely got a
sunburn, how is it that we are going to destroy the ozone layer
with our air conditioners and underarm deodorants and cause
everybody to get cancer? Obviously we're not...and we
can't ...and it's a hoax." 13/
The report of a prehistoric supernova exploding close enough to the
Earth to have possibly affected its ozone layer, thousands of years
ago, though of doubtful relevance to Limbaugh's argument, was
published in the British journal Nature and followed up by the New
York Times in 1993. As quoted in the Times, Dr. Neil Gehrels, one
of the authors of the report, clearly did not mean to minimize the
possibility that the ozone loss that may have resulted would have
damaged whatever forms of life were roaming the planet.
Indeed, he was reported as saying that the effects of such an ozone
depletion may well "have impaired the health of human beings and
other creatures..." 14/
"Even The Washington Post - that haven of liberal mythology - published
a front-page story on April 15, 1993, that dismissed most
of the fears about the so-called ozone hole... had this to
say: 'In fact, researchers say the problem appears to be heading
toward solution before they can find any solid evidence that
serious harm was or is being done.'" 15/
Limbaugh neglects to mention that the problem of ozone depletion
appears to be heading towards solution only as a result of international
agreements to restrict the production and use of CFC's. Thanks to
these agreements, the ozone layer should return to near-normal levels
around the year 2045. Before 1998, however, stratospheric ozone is
expected to become thinner every year, and the amount of ultraviolet
radiation reaching the Earth to increase, assuming other influences
remain constant. 16/
Although the consequences of increased ultraviolet exposure for
plants and marine life are just beginning to be explored, the
damage to humans from long-term exposure is well known.
In many parts of the globe, ozone depletion is likely to cause a
rise in rates of skin cancer, particularly non-melanoma
cancers, which, due to lifestyle factors, are already at record levels. 17/
"A few days later, the authoritative journal Science published a story headlined 'Ozone
Takes Nose Dive After the Eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.' It pointed out that the ozone l
ayer should show significant signs of recovery by 1994. But have you heard Algore
(sic) or any other ozone alarmist step up and admit that he or she
perpetuated (sic) a fraud on the American people?" 18/
Indeed, the ozone layer did not thin as much in 1994 as it did in 1993, due to
the washing out of emissions from Mount Pinatubo (see above).&nbs; Nevertheless,
as Science magazine pointed out in a recent issue, this improvement is only
temporary, since levels of "atmospheric chlorine will continue to increase
until controls on CFC emissions take hold late in this decade.
Pinatubo or no, things will get worse." 19/
Global Warming and the Greenhouse Effect
Global warming is another topic about which Limbaugh attempts to
mislead his readers, despite the international scientific consensus
on many aspects of this issue. This consensus is reflected in
the findings of the top researchers in the field, as published
in the peer- reviewed scientific literature, and the
conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
the international scientific panel assessing climate change, which
consists of a network of 2,500 experts worldwide. The IPCC has
issued two reports clearly stating and then reaffirming that the
Earth's climate will warm due to the buildup of man-made greenhouse gases. 20/
In 1992, the National Academy of Sciences published its own report,
concluding that "greenhouse warming poses a potential threat sufficient
to merit prompt responses." 21/
Instead of taking on the international scientific community directly,
however, Limbaugh chooses to attack Vice-President Al Gore, and his book Earth in the Balance.
"Algore's (sic) book is full of calculated disinformation.
For instance, he claims that 98 percent of scientists
believe global warming is taking place.
However a Gallup poll of scientists involved in global climate
research shows that 53 percent do not believe that global
warming has occurred, 30 percent say they don't know, and only 17
percent are devotees of this dubious theory." 22/
These numbers, apparently lifted from a George Will syndicated
column of September 3, 1992, 23/ are supposed to reflect the
findings of a Gallup poll taken in late 1991 to ascertain
the opinions of research scientists concerning global
warming. Even though polling is of doubtful relevance
for determining the scientific truth of any proposition,
it should be pointed out that nowhere in the actual
poll results are there figures that resemble those
cited by Will or Limbaugh.
Instead, the Gallup poll found that a substantial majority of the
scientists polled, 66 percent, believed that human-induced global
warming was already occurring.
Only 10 percent disagreed, and the remainder were undecided.
Moreover, the 98 percent figure appears in the context of Al Gore's
book to refer to the percentage of scientists who believe that
human-induced global warming is a legitimate threat, not, as
Limbaugh frames it, to the number of those who argue that it is
already in effect. In fact, the Gallup poll seems to bear out Gore's
estimate as well, finding that only 2 percent of the scientists polled
believed that there was no chance that substantial, human-caused
warming will occur over the next fifty to one hundred years. 24/
"Algore told the Washington Times on May 19, 1993: 'That
increased accumulations of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2,
cause global warming, there is no longer any serious debate.
There are a few naysayers far outside the consensus who try to
dispute that. They are not really taken seriously by the mainstream
scientific community.' Yet we saw in the last chapter that there is
nothing resembling a consensus on this issue among scientists who
have some expertise in this area. In fact, a majority clearly does
not believe global warming has occurred." 25/
See the preceding item. Furthermore, even the most publicized
and vehement of scientific naysayers, such as Pat Michaels of the
University of Virginia, agree that increased accumulation of carbon
dioxide will eventually cause global warming. What they disagree
about is how much warming will occur over what period of time. 26/
"...back at the time of the first Earth Day, the big concern wasn't
global warming, it was global cooling. . . . the view of
most environmentalists for years after." 27/
Although the Earth has warmed by about one degree Fahrenheit
over the past hundred years, this warming has not occurred
uniformly. In particular, during the period from 1940 to
1970, the Northern Hemisphere stopped warming and may have
even cooled slightly. 28/
This hiatus in the long-term trend contributed to
concerns that the Earth was about to cool significantly,
possibly due to the increased amount of soot and other
particulates in the atmosphere.
However, warming resumed again in the 1970's and the nine
warmest years on record have all occurred since 1980. 29/ Recent
calculations indicate that the greenhouse effect will outrun the
effects of particulate cooling in the future, although the
accumulation of particulates in the atmosphere may slow the overall
rate of warming. 30/
"A fact you never hear the environmentalist wacko crowd
acknowledge is that 96 percent of the so-called
'greenhouse' gases are not created by man, but by nature." 31/
This is an obvious straw man set up by Limbaugh. It is true that the
greenhouse effect is, by and large, a natural phenomenon, produced
by gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide and
water vapor that have warmed the Earth for eons, making its
climate moderate enough to support life as we know it. Without
these gases, Earth would be forty to sixty degrees colder,
essentially a frigid desert. 32/
However, in nature these gases usually remain in balance, leading
to a stable climate, while the greenhouse gases added by humans
over the last two hundred years have accumulated to the point that
the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, for example, is
now more than 25 percent above what it had been for the previous
10,000 years. (Scientists have direct evidence of this data, from
measurements of air bubbles trapped in polar ice cores.) 33/ The
scientific consensus is that the accumulation of carbon dioxide and
other gases due to human activity will alter the climate substantially,
warming the globe by three to eight degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. 34/
Forests and the Spotted Owl
One of the most contentious of current political debates
concerns the old-growth forests in the Northwest. Limbaugh
addresses this issue in See, I Told You So by citing mostly
irrelevant statistics on tree growth in the United States as a whole:
"Would it surprise you to learn, for instance, that America's forests
are much healthier today in the 1990s than they were at the turn of
the century? In fact, you could say that in the last seventy years
America's forests have been reborn. There are 730 million acres of
forest land in our country today, and the growth on those acres is
denser than at any time. . . . New England has more forested acres
than it did in the mid-1800s. Vermont is twice as forested as it was
then. Almost half of the densely populated northeastern United
States is covered by forest. Why? How could this be? If we are
ravaging our land, as the environmentalists suggest, why are there
more trees around -- more forests?" 35/
Here, it seems, Limbaugh cannot see the forests for all those trees.
It is true that due to the abandonment of farming, there has been a
regeneration of forests in the northeastern United States over the
past century, although not with all the species they originally contained.
Instead, environmentalists' primary concern during the last decade
has been the rampant destruction of old-growth forests, particularly
in the Northwest, where ancient trees were being cut down at an
unprecedented rate, leaving only about 11 to 14 percent of the
original forests still standing. 36/
"What the environmentalists are saying, in effect, is that some
trees are better than others. Trees that have been planted by man
are not as worthy or valuable as those that grow in 'virgin' forests.
What is a virgin forest anyway? Most trees live for only a couple of
hundred years and then die. No tree lives forever." 37/
Virgin forests are forests untouched by humans. In the
Northwest, they are mostly old-growth forests, featuring towering
stands of trees, 200 to over 1,000 years old. 38/ These trees are
known to harbor a number of endangered or threatened species,
among them (but not limited to) the Northern spotted owl. Which
brings us to Limbaugh's next point:
"It reminds me of the researchers who recently ventured into the
forests of California. Do you know what they found? No, not
Algore. They found spotted owls. It seems the place is teeming
with spotted owls - even though they're supposed to be an
endangered species." 39/
Fewer than two thousand pairs of the Northern spotted owl are
thought to survive in California forests -- a number that could hardly
be described as "teeming". 40/ Even more importantly, at a meeting
of experts called by the U.S. government in December 1993 at Fort
Collins, Colorado, virtually every biologist who presented data
concluded that the total numbers of the owl are still in decline.
Moreover, the population loss rate appears to be accelerating. 41/
On the whole, Limbaugh dealt with this issue more honestly in his
first book, The Way Things Ought to Be, when he asserted, "If the
owl can't adapt to the superiority of humans, screw it. . . ." 42/
Although he attacks his opponents in the scientific community
for being driven by ideology, it is Rush Limbaugh who clearly allows
his political biases to distort the truth about a whole range of
important scientific issues.
All in all, the words he uses to describe Al Gore's book could more
appropriately be applied to his own. Limbaugh's most recent work,
just like the previous one, is "nothing more than a hysterical,
pseudo-scientific tract designed to cut off calm, reasoned
discussion of environmental issues and simply push the nation
toward irrational, irreversible, misguided (not to mention expensive)
public policies." If the words of Rush Limbaugh on scientific
subjects prove anything, it should be "to discredit; from any
serious participation in our nation's debate over the environment." 43/
The American public deserves better: to have its intelligence
respected, not abused.
Limbaugh, Rush. The Way Things Ought To Be. (New York,NY: Pocket Books, 1992, p. 155.
World Meteorological Organization, Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion, 1991, pp. 2, 16.
World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations
Environment Programme, Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 1994, Executive Summary, pp. 2, 11.
The 1994 Assessment cited anthropogenic chlorine and bromine compounds such as CFC's as
the cause of polar ozone depletion and described the cause of the long-term
downward trend in ozone at other locations as follows: "... recent scientific
findings strengthen the conclusion of the previous assessment [Endnote 2]
that the weight of scientific evidence suggests that the observed
middle- and high- atitude ozone losses are largely due to anthropogenic chlorine and bromine compounds."
The Way, pp. 155-56.
Wallace, L. and W. Livingston. "The Effect of the Pinatubo
Cloud on Hydrogen Chloride and Hydrogen Fluoride."
Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 19, June 1992, p. 1209.
Kerr, R.A. "Ozone Takes a Nose Dive After The Eruption of Mt. Pinatubo."
Science, vol. 260, April 1993, pp. 490-91;
Gleason, J.F., et al. "Record Low Global Ozone in 1992."
Science, vol 260, April 1993, pp. 523-26; and Hoffman, D.J.,
et al. "Ozone loss in the lower stratosphere over the United States in 1992-93:
Evidence for hetero- geneous chemistry on the Pinatubo aerosol."
Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 21, January 1994, pp. 65-68.
D'Altorio, A., et al. "Continuous Lidar Measurements of Stratospheric
Aerosols and Ozone After Pinatubo Eruption
Part II: Time Evolution of Ozone Profiles and of Aerosol roperties."
Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 20, December 1993, pp. 2869-72; and WMO Assessment 1994,
The Way, p. 156.
Benedick, Richard. Ozone Diplomacy. (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press), 1991, pp. 31-32.
The Way, pp. 156-57.
Browell, E.V., et al. "Ozone and Aerosol Changes During the
1991-1992 Airborne Arctic Stratospheric Expedition." Science,
Vol. 261, August 1993, pp. 1155-58; and Toohey, D.W., et al.
"The Seasonal Evolution of Reactive Chlorine in the Northern
Hemisphere Stratosphere." Science, vol 261, August 1993, pp. 1134-35.
Newman, P., et al. "Stratospheric Meteorological Conditions in the Arctic
Stratospheric Expedition." Science, vol. 261,
August 1993, pp. 1143-45; Anderson, J.A. and O.B. Toon.
"Airborne Arctic Stratospheric Expedition II: An Overview."
Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 20, November 1993, pp. 2499-2502.
Limbaugh, Rush. See, I Told You So (New York, NY: Pocket Books) 1993, p. 178.
The New York Times, February 25, 1993, Section D, p. 23.
See, pp. 178-79.
WMO, Assessment 1994, p. 11; "Quicker Ozone Recovery Forecast," in Random Samples,
C. Holden, editor. Science, vol. 265, September 1994, p. 1806.
Changes in cloudiness or air pollution may also enhance or diminish
ultraviolet radiation reaching Earth in different ways at different locations.
United Nations Environment Programms. Environmental
Effects of Ozone Depletion. November 1991, pp. 15-24.
See, p. 179.
"Ozone Has Recovered From Pinatubo's Jold," Random
Samples, R. Stone, editor. Science, vol. 264, May 1994, p.
WMO, Assessment 1994, p. 11.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change: The IPCC
Scientific Assessment. (New York, NY:
Cambridge University Press), 1990, p. xi.;
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate change 1992:
The Supplementary Report to The IPCC Scientific Assessment.
(New York, NY: Cammbridge University Press), 1992, p. 5.
It is worth reproducing the original IPCC statement on this
point from the 1990 report -- "We are certain of the following:
there is a natural greenhouse effect which already keeps the Earth
warmer than it would otherwise be. Emissions resulting from human activities are
substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse
gases: carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrous oxide.
These increases will enhance the greenhouse effect, resulting
on average in an additional warming of the Earth's surface.
The main greenhouse gas, water vapor, will increase in response to global warming
and further enhance it."
These conclusions were reaffirmed in the IPCC's 1992 report.
National Academy of Sciences. Policy Implications ofGreenhouse Warming.
(Washington, DC; National Academy Press) 1992, p. 68.
See, pp. 162-63.
Will, G.F. "Al Gore's Green Guilt." The Washington Post, eptember 3, 1992.
Will's erroneous summary of this poll has been quoted so many times that
it has become gospel for the proponents of the environmental backlash.
The Gallup Organization. A Gallup Study of Scientists'Opinions and Understanding of Global Climate Change.
November 1991, pp. 5, 8.
Available from the Center for Science, Technology Media,
6900 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD.
See, p. 179.
Michaels, P.J. and D.E. Stooksbury. "Global Warming: A Reduced Threat?"
Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, vol. 10, October 1992, p. 1563.
See, pp. 180-81.
IPCC, 1990, p. 213.
Wilson, H. and J. Hansen. Update of GISS Global Temperature Analysis Through 1993 (New York, NY:
Goddard Institute for Space Studies) 1994;
Hansen, J. and S. Lebedeff.
"Global Surface Air Temperatures: Update Through 1987."
Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 15, April 1988, pp.323-26.
Kerr, R.A. "Pollutant Haze Cools the Greenhouse."
Science,vol. 255, February 1992, pp. 682-83;
Wigley, T.M.L. and S.C.B. Raper.
"Implications for climate and sea level of revised IPCC emissions scenarios."
Nature, vol. 357, May 1992, pp. 293-300.
See, pp. 179-80.
IPCC, 1990, p. xxxvii.
Raynaud, D., et al. "The Ice Record of Greenhouse Gases."
Science, vol. 259, February 1993, pp. 926-34.
IPCC, 1990, pp. xxii, xxv; IPCC, 1992, p. 18.
See, p. 175.
Wilcove, D. and J.T. Olson. "The ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest" in Perspectives on
Biodiversity, eds. C.S.
Potter, et al. (Washington, DC; American Association for the Advancement of
Science Press) 1993, pp. 177-85.
See, p. 176.
U.S. Forest Service, Old-Growth Definition Task Group, 1986.
See, p. 177.
Gutierrez, R.J. "Changes in the Distribution and Abundance of Spotted Owls
during the Past Century." Studies in Avian Biology, vol. 15, 1994, pp. 293-300.
Burnham, K.P., et al. "Estimation of Vital Rates of the Northern Spotted Owl."
Summary of the Fort Collins Spotted Owl Demographic Workshop,
January 12, 1994; available from Colorado Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit,
Fort Collins, CO.
The Way, p. 161-62,
;See, p. 162.
Copyright 1994 -- The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)
TO OUR ENVIRONMENT