My interview with PBS Newshour, now online

Here’s the story/transcript from Spencer Michels, along with video that follows. I have not seen the piece that will be airing nationally yet, and I don’t know how much of me they use, but this just appeared on the PBS website.

One note: when they talk about “heat sync” they really meant to say heat sink. – Anthony

Conversation with global warming skeptic Anthony Watts  – Climate Change Skeptic Says Global Warming Crowd Oversells Its Message

From PBS:

It was about 105 degrees in Chico, Calif., about three hours north of Sacramento, when we arrived at the offices of one of the nation’s most read climate skeptics. Actually, Anthony Watts calls himself a pragmatic skeptic when it comes to global warming. Watts is a former television meteorologist, who has been studying climate change for years. He doesn’t claim to be a scientist; he attended Purdue. He’s the author of a blog, Watts Up with That?, which he calls the world’s most viewed site on global warming. For a story I was working on for the PBS NewsHour, Watts was recommended by the Heartland Institute, a conservative, Chicago-based non-profit that is one of the leading groups that doubt that climate change — if it exists — is attributable to human activities.

Watts doesn’t come across as a true believer or a fanatic. For one thing, he has built a business that caters to television stations and individuals who want accurate weather information and need displays to show their viewers. He has developed an array of high tech devices to disseminate weather data and put it on screens. He has several TV stations around the country as clients.

But Watts’ reputation doesn’t come from his business — IntelliWeather — but rather from his outspoken views on climate change. He says he’s been gathering data for years, and he’s analyzed it along with some academics. He used to think somewhat along the same lines as Richard Muller, the University of California physicist who recently declared he was no longer a skeptic on climate change. Muller had analyzed two centuries worth of temperature data and decided his former skepticism was misplaced: yes, the earth has been warming, and the reason is that humans are producing carbon dioxide that is hastening the warming the planet.

Watts doesn’t buy Muller’s analysis, since, he believes, it is based on faulty data. The big problem, as Watts sees it, is that the stations where temperatures are gathered are too close to urban developments where heat is soaked up and distorts the readings. So it looks like the earth is warming though it may not be, he says.

Read a transcript below.

SPENCER MICHELS: So let’s start out with the basic idea that there’s this debate in this country over global warming. There’s some people who call it a complete hoax and there are some people who completely embrace it and so forth. Where do you stand in that spectrum?

ANTHONY WATTS: Well, I at one time was very much embracing the whole concept that we had a real problem, we had to do something about it. Back in 1988 James Hanson actually was the impetus for that for me in his presentation before Congress. But as I learned more and more about the issue, I discovered that maybe it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be. Some of it is hype, but there’s also some data that has not been explored and there’s been some investigations that need to be done that haven’t been done. And so now I’m in the camp of we have some global warming. No doubt about it, but it may not be as bad as we originally thought because there are other contributing factors.

SPENCER MICHELS: What’s the thing that bothers you the most about people who say there’s lots of global warming?

ANTHONY WATTS: They want to change policy. They want to apply taxes and these kinds of things may not be the actual solution for making a change to our society.

SPENCER MICHELS: What are you saying? That they’re biased essentially or motivated by something else? What?

ANTHONY WATTS: [T]here’s a term that was used to describe this. It’s called noble cause corruption. And actually I was a victim of that at one time, where you’re so fervent you’re in your belief that you have to do something. You’re saving the planet, you’re making a difference, you’re making things better that you’re so focused on this goal of fixing it or changing it that you kind of forget to look along the path to make sure that you haven’t missed some things.

I started looking into the idea that weather stations have been slowly encroached upon by urbanization and sighting issues over the last century. Meaning that our urbanization affected the temperature. And this was something that was very clear if you looked at the temperature records. But what wasn’t clear is how it affected the trend of temperatures. And so that’s been something that I’ve been investigating. Anyone who’s ever stood next to a building in the summertime at night, a brick building that’s been out in the summer sun, you stand next to it at night you can feel the heat radiating off of it. That’s a heat sync effect. And over the last 100 years our country, in fact the world, has changed. We’ve gone from having mostly a rural agrarian society to one that is more urban and city based and as a result the infrastructure has increased. We’ve got more freeways, you know more airports, we’ve got more buildings. Got more streets, all these things. Those are all heat syncs. During the day, solar insulation hits these objects and these surfaces and it stores heat in these objects. At night it releases that heat. Now if you are measuring temperature in a city that went from having uh maybe 10% of um, non-permeable surface to you know maybe 90% over 100 years, that’s a heat sync effect and that should show up in the record. The problem is, is that it’s been such a slow subtle change over the last 100 years. It’s not easy to detect and that’s been the challenge and that’s what I’ve been working on.

SPENCER MICHELS: Well in a way you’re saying that the records aren’t accurate, the data isn’t accurate.

ANTHONY WATTS: I’m saying that the data might be biased by these influences to a percentage. Yes, we have some global warming, it’s clear the temperature has gone up in the last 100 years. But what percentage of that is from carbon dioxide? And what percentage of that is from changes in the local and measurement environment?

SPENCER MICHELS: I want to go back to what we were talking about a little bit earlier, the idea that there is, there are people who are sort of invested in promoting the fact that there is global warming. There’s money involved and grants. Is that what you were saying? Maybe explain that.

ANTHONY WATTS: Well global warming had become essentially a business in its own right. There are NGOs, there are organizations, there are whole divisions of universities that have set up to study this, this factor, and so there’s lots of money involved and then so I think that there’s a tendency to want to keep that going and not really look at what might be different.

SPENCER MICHELS: Now Dr. Muller at the University of California Berkeley had similar concerns. Went back and looked at the data, took much more data than anybody else had, and concluded, well maybe there was some problems, but basically the conclusions were right. There is global warming and it comes from carbon dioxide which is meant, made by man. Do you buy that?

ANTHONY WATTS: Unfortunately he has not succeeded in terms of how science views, you know, a successful inquiry. His papers have not passed peer review. They had some problems. Some of the problems I identified, others have identified problems as well, for example, he goes much further back, back to about 1750 in terms of temperature. Well from my own studies, I know that temperature really wasn’t validated and homogenized where everything’s measured the same way until the weather bureau came into being about in 1890. Prior to that thermometers were hung in and exposed to the atmosphere all kinds of different ways. Some were hung under the shade of trees, some were on the north side of houses, some were out in the open in the sun, and so the temperature fluctuations that we got from those readings prior to 1890 was quite broad and I don’t believe that provided representative signal because the exposure’s all wrong. And Dr. Muller did not take any of that into account.

SPENCER MICHELS: His conclusion though is that basically global warming exists and that the scientists, no matter what the problems were, were pretty much right on.

ANTHONY WATTS: I agree with him that global warming exists. However, the ability to attribute the percentage of global warming to CO2 versus other man-made influences is still an open question.

SPENCER MICHELS: I want to ask you a little bit about attitudes towards this among the public. We talked to a public opinion specialist at Stanford who says there’s been 80 percent belief in global warming and man-made global warming consistently over at least the last 15 years in this country. Do you buy his theory?

ANTHONY WATTS: Well I look at a number of opinion polls. You’ll find a lot of them on my blog and that we’ve covered. And depending on how you ask the question we’ll sometimes give you a different answer. My view is, is that the view of global warming peaked about at the time that Al Gore came out with his movie, An Inconvenient Truth. But ever since then other factors have kicked in. Climate Gate for example. And it has become less of an issue, in fact you hardly see politicians talking about it anymore, or pushing it as an issue. What’s been happening now it’s just become a regulation issue. It’s gotten away from the political arena and into the bureaucratic regulation arena. And so people I believe based on the polls I’ve seen, aren’t quite as believing as they used to be. And I think the trend is downward.

SPENCER MICHELS: What do you think is the upshot of your attitude toward this? Should the Congress, should the American public say, you know nothing’s been proven yet. We should wait. Or should we go ahead with trying to solve what many people consider a really scary problem?

ANTHONY WATTS: Hmm…You mentioned a really scary problem and I think that’s part of the issues. Some people don’t respond well to scare tactics and there have been some scare tactics used by some of the proponents on the other side of the issue. And that’s where the overselling of it comes in. But this is a slow problem and it requires a slow solution I believe. For example, our infrastructure for electricity and so forth and highways didn’t happen in 5 years or 10 years. It happened over a century. We can’t just rip all that up or change it in the space off five, 10 or 15 years because it’ll be catastrophic to our economy. We need a slow change solution, one that is a solution that changes over time at about the same rate as climate change. More efficient technologies, new technologies, the use of more nuclear for example. There’s a nuclear type of a reactor that’s more safe called a, a liquid thorium reactor that China is jumping on right now. And we should be looking into things like that.

SPENCER MICHELS: Has this issue, I know you think it’s been oversold and scare tactics have been used. Do you think it’s become too politicized?

ANTHONY WATTS: Oh, it’s definitely become too politicized. In fact, some of the scientists who are the leaders in the issue have become for lack of a better word, political tools on the issue.

SPENCER MICHELS: One final question, do you consider yourself a skeptic when it comes to global warming?

ANTHONY WATTS: I would call myself a pragmatic skeptic. Yes, we need to make some changes on our energy technology but more efficient technology’s a good thing. For example, I have solar power on my own, you know, I have done energy reductions in my office and in my home to make things more efficient. So I think those are good things. Those are good messages that we should be embracing. But at the same time I think that some of the issues have been oversold, may have been oversold, because they allow for more regulation to take place. And so the people that like more regulation use global warming as a tool, as a means to an end. And so as a result, we might be getting more regulation and more taxes that really aren’t rooted in science, but more in politics.


This article appears online here

Related:  I’ll be on the PBS Newshour tonight

UPDATE: If it caused this guy to be mad at PBS, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. 😉



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“…weather stations have been slowly encroached upon by urbanization and sighting issues over the last century…”

That would be “siting” issues.


damn fine job sir


Wow. Surprisingly fair.

WOW! I guess you are much more POLITE than I would be Anthony. I would have taken the questions and done the old “Rabbi’s arguement” method and answered a lot of them with questions themselves. On the order of, “Do you know that by asking this question with these words your are trying to “set up” the answer?”, “Can you recognize ‘loaded language’ in what you have just asked me?”, “Can you ask the same question without trying to bias the answer, or use loaded language?” and last, “Would you like some help to learn how to ask proper objective questions.”
I may also ask questions about the “conclusions” he attributed to Mueller, and point out that he (obviously) was not completely familiar with the work…and with the flaws and errors in it.
Might help to point out that despite the MEDIA’s protestations, Mueller never has been a AWG “skeptic” in any way, shape or form.
Just some thoughts about dealing with the MEDIA.


I know you were trying to be polite, but I would have commented on the claim that Dr. Muller stopped being a skeptic because of the results of his work. Quotes are available that show he was never a skeptic.


Nicely done, Anthony. Very professional. My only criticism is that you seem to have left out natural variability as a possible reason for the increase in temperatures that we’ve apparently experienced. The impression given that it results either from CO2 or UHI effects.
REPLY: Note this isn’t the entire interview, this is condensed. – Anthony

Well done Anthony; it seems they did do a pretty fair edit on it, assuming it was edited?
REPLY: It was condensed a bit, but I don’t see anything yet that was misrepresented by editing. The piece that airs tonight might be different though. – Anthony

What’s Stephen J Gould doing in your office?


Very good interview. And I agree, it’s surprising that they did not try to paint you as the leader of a bunch of crackpots.


good interview. and though we didn’t see the unedited version, the edited version seems quite fair.
I also think (though you may have said this in the unedited version), that Mueller’s position of ‘the scientists were largely correct on the temperature record’ is reasonable whereas his attribution of that warming to CO2 was a) outside his remit b) not provable from his work

Great, Anthony. Thanks for all of your time and effort over the years.


ANTHONY WATTS: I agree with him that global warming exists. However, the ability to attribute the percentage of global warming to CO2 versus other man-made influences is still an open question.
That the ‘good’ quote, no editing required.
A different answer might have included Natural Variability or Solar Activity or the past 15 years.
” attribute the percentage of global warming to CO2 versus other man-made influences”
It is one or the other, that is what you said.
In the end you said it is real and is caused by humans one way or another.
That is why people use lawyers in court.
Oh well, keep running for the football.


Stunner! I lost my bet.
If that’s what we’ll see on TV tonight, you got a fair shake, Anthony.
P.S. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the transcript. Both my hearing aids are due for a tuneup – starting to miss a lot again – and I have trouble with TV/Radio audio. I love it when I get a transcript.
P.P.S. Did I remember to say thank you? :o)

Ya know, you are an incredibly effective communicator Mr Watts. Sure, being a TV weatherman likely makes you somewhat more at ease in front of a camera than most, but you really have a sincerity about you that is infectious. You come across as very credible and trustworthy. That clearly comes from being comfortable in you skin and convinced of your reasoning. Heck, you convinced me years ago!
Thanks for doing the interview! You do us all a tremendous service sir.

Very well done, Anthony!
Although I thought it was amusing that throughout the transcript, whenever you said “heat sink” it was written as “heat sync” … This suggests that perhaps their background research might have been somewhat lacking.
In light of which, you did even better, IMHO.
REPLY: It may also be an artifact of an transcriptionist unfamiliar with science or of a speech to text recognition system – Anthony

Adrian Smits

You probably made the other interviewees look extreme with the sensible and pragmatic approach you used. Bravo and we’ll done!


I lived in Oakland for 22 years and regularly watched Spencer Michaels. I don’t think there is much danger that the story will be slanted or unduly biased toward the warmist side of the equation. He’s simply a damn good journalist. I never felt he was overtly political. His main goal was always to present as much pertinent and balanced information as the time would allow. He was lucky to have the PBS format to work in, since it gave him more time than most news outlets to develop a story.
But, you never know. The issue has become very “hot button.”

Leon Brozyna

Ought to let PBS know that it’s heat sink, not sync.

Excellent. You avoid hostility or attacking anyone which would make you look like an extremist. You put forth your most treasured issue in a straightforward manner. At the beginning the questions seemed designed to provoke a passionate, self justified response. But you kept your cool. There are so many facets to the skeptic view that sometimes get manic trying to explain everything to people and I think that comes off wrong. In this case you stayed on target and delivered your message. Nice work.

Brilliant interview, well done.

Nice to meet the man behind the blog – you did a very commendable piece, thanks Anthony


I take all I said back, and stand corrected, except for the part where I said that PBS and NPR should be defunded.
You were treated fair, and I was wrong.

Another transcription mistake: Insolation, not “insulation.”

Ian H

insulation —> insolation

Dave Dardinger

He doesn’t claim to be a scientist; he attended Purdue.

Hey! I resemble that remark. Insult by semicolon indeed!


OF course, I am curious. Is that the clip they sent you, or is that the clip they broad cast?
REPLY: That’s the clip they posted on the PBS website – Anthony

David Ball

PBS have just had a “lead in” on your peice. “A change of heart for a GLOBAL WARMING SKEPTIC” i.e. Richard Muller. I’m going to puke.

John West

Excellent job! This is exactly what we need right now. The CAGW crowd need to keep themselves perceived as being in the “sphere of consensus” while painting us as being in the “sphere of deviance” (those that don’t even deserve to be heard) in order to keep the MSM in their pocket. Your voice (POV) even being aired is acknowledging the issue is (at least possibly) in the “sphere of legitimate debate” and especially with such a reasonable disposition being displayed should go a long way in providing skeptics with at least a piece of the donut. I take this as a major step forward. BRAVO!


Very good job! I look forward to seeing this air and actually watching it.


philwynk says:
September 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm
“weather stations have been slowly encroached upon by urbanization and sighting issues over the last century”
That would be “siting” issues.

PBS transcript. Tell them but don’t mention sync.

Luther Wu

All this time I’ve been thinking you looked kinda like Willis Eschenbach.


People Never look like one expects them to…..
Great work, Anthony!

Luther Wu

“He doesn’t claim to be a scientist; he attended Purdue.”
Ok, I’ve finally stopped laughing.
REPLY: It’s a famous engineering school, go Boilermakers – Anthony

Good job, Anthony, on representing the views of your blogging partners.

Bill Parsons

My only criticism is that you seem to have left out natural variability as a possible reason for the increase in temperatures that we’ve apparently experienced.

Agree. “Natural causes needed to be mentioned. Other than that, you Nailed It!! Your moderate tone was quite appealing. What you said no doubt rankled Mr. Michaels, who has been called off his usual beat of exalting school reform, but judging by the tenor of News Hour reporting over the years, this really is a watershed moment. It’s a program I’ve watched since it was the MacNeil Lehrer New Hour (20 years), and they have been on a virtual crusade for global warming for at least the last 6-8 years. This represents a shift – assuming they air it.
Thanks for all your efforts, and for this representation of reality .

“ANTHONY WATTS: I agree with him [Muller] that global warming exists. However, the ability to attribute the percentage of global warming to CO2 versus other man-made influences is still an open question.”
I think you did a great job overall Anthony, but this is where I’d have mentioned natural variation. This reply makes it sound like all the warming is down to humans, and we’re just arguing over which aspect of our activity is to blame. I know you had the way we do measurement in mind, but don’t forget mama nature.
Anyhow, very articulate, well measured, and you didn’t sound a bit like a rabid conspiracy theorist.

David Ball

Anthony comes off very well. Great job Anthony.

David Ball

Muller seemed “extreme”. Perhaps that explains your interviewers comment.

I’m impressed that they are apparently seeking ANY kind of detailed skeptic opinion. As I reported over at JunkScience on July 13th, the scorecard at that time was “PBS NewsHour global warming coverage: IPCC/NOAA Scientists -18; Skeptic Scientists – 0”

Eugene WR Gallun

If we are to claim that reason is on our side then we must appear to be reasonable people. Really excellant.
Eugene WR Gallun


I am suprised, and I think it is a mistake, that you do not query the hundreds of thousands of millions of pounds/dollars/euros/other currencies that are being spent RIGHT NOW to counter CO2 emissions. Immunisation, housing, food, entrepeneurial help, loans. The world economy is teetering. There might be a duty to point out the waste currently happening with regards to anti-CO2 spending ?

Bill Parsons

Dave Dardinger says:
September 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm
He doesn’t claim to be a scientist; he attended Purdue.
Hey! I resemble that remark. Insult by semicolon indeed!

I didn’t get this either – thought Purdue was a top-notch school for math, science and engineering. Is a Stanford association required for believability?

Phil Ford

I’m impressed, Mr Watts – you were calm, reasonable, informed and erudite. Well done, sir; a marvelous ambassador for common sense and healthy climate skepticism. Looks like the TV folk didn’t even try ‘stitching you up’ (as we say here in Britain) – amazingly, you were even allowed to make your replied uninterrupted and the your interviewer even came across as quite a reasonable chap. Thanks for posting this video.

David Ball

Anthony Watts= rational, measured
Richard Muller= irrational,alarmist
Wow. Love to see the reaction from the other side. Extreme vitriol in 3,..2,….

Very professional job Anthony!
Now for the constructive criticism.
You should have had your websites addresses plastered all over that room for people to see.
Well, perhaps at least on the monitor that was over your right shoulder the whole time 🙂


The PBS piece just aired here on the East coast and it was the usual mix of fact and misrepresentation of fact. The term “denier” was in the first couple of sentences. Mostly it dealt with the political aspects, rather than the veracity of the science. Anthony was more precise than Muller, who is not as careful when he speaks. Strange for a physicist to be sloppy, IMO. I wish the point that CO2 and sunspots both correlate to global temperature, but causation of temps by either or both still lacks definitive proof.


If this were Australia, you would have been portrayed as the Devil himself.
Well done!


well done anthony tho Gary’s comment that ‘denier’ was used up front on the aired version comes as no surprise.
as for CAGW being “oversold”, some new examples:
18 Sept: BigPondNews: Environments to ‘disappear’ – CSIRO
Australia’s environment will look very different in 2070 as a result of climate change, a new report by the CSIRO predicts…
Australia’s national science agency suggests the species-by-species approach will be more difficult to manage with a dramatic rise in the number of species vulnerable to extinction.
It could be a matter of ‘conserve the stage not the actors’.
‘Many of the environments our plants and animals currently exist in will disappear from the continent,’ lead researcher Dr Michael Dunlop said in a statement.
‘Our grandchildren are likely to experience landscapes that are very different to the ones we have known.’
18 Sept: News Ltd: Malcolm Holland: CSIRO study projects climate change effects across Australia
(OPENING PARA)CLIMATE change will alter the Australian landscape so dramatically and so quickly that our grandchildren could live in a very different country, according to a landmark CSIRO study…
(FINAL PARA) Wary of past criticism, the CSIRO says it is confident in the accuracy of the complex computer models it used.
17 Sept: BusinessWeek: Brian K. Sullivan: August 330th Month Above 20th-Century Average Temperature
August 2012 was the fourth-warmest August globally since 1880 and the 330th consecutive month in which temperatures worldwide were above the 20th-century average, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center said.
The average temperature on land and over the ocean was 61.2 degrees Fahrenheit (16.2 Celsius), 1.1 degree above the century’s average, the agency said today…
The last time the global temperature was below the 20th century’s average was February 1985, and the last time there was a cooler-than-average August was 1976, said the agency, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the Arctic, the six smallest amounts of sea ice have been recorded in the past six years…

Paul Westhaver

I read the transcript then watched (listened) to the interview EXCEPT when Anthony dismissively grimaced at the “scary” usage. I looked then. That was worth seeing.
Put up a like to the whole piece when you get a chance. I’m in Canada…..we still have black and white TV.


I know for a Fact that I was one of the first, if not The first, to comment at the PBS site. However they are still holding my (polite!) comment in moderation, while allowing the first comment to go to an alarmist. Meh.
REPLY: Get a screen cap – Anthony