Great moments in activist climate science – NRDC's Dr. Laurie Johnson: 'CO2 makes your car hot'

nrdc_logo[1]People send me stuff. This makes Bill Nye’s recent CNN fail look almost forgivable.

My friend Lars Larson, who runs a nationally syndicated radio show out of Portland, OR sent me this audio clip today. I had to listen to it to believe his claim, because who would guess that a credentialed scientist who is lecturing a national audience on climate change issues could misunderstand the greenhouse effect so badly. Here is the audio clip, with Dr. Laurie Johnson of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Have a listen:

The relevant passage starts at about 8:20 into the interview.

She says:

When you get in your car in summer, your car is hot because it has greenhouse gases in it. That’s why its hot.

I’ll have to hand it to Lars Larson, because after the obligatory “hold on a second….” he proceeded to explain how the greenhouse effect works in an automobile, though he mispoke and said “shortwave” instead of “longwave”, but he had the physical premise right.

After explaining that, he asks:

Are you telling me my car heats up because there is more CO2 in the atmosphere?

Unfazed, she insists:

I’m telling you your car heats up because there are greenhouse gases in your car.

And, she goes on to say, after Lars uses the example of sunlight streaming through the open windows of his home, making it hotter, and asks:

Is my house filled with greenhouse gas as well?

She says:

Yes! It has carbon dioxide in it!

Lars retorts:

Are you telling me my house now gets hotter than it it would 20 years ago because there’s now more carbon dioxide in it?

Dr. Johnson responds with:

I don’t know the exact temperature of your house, what I’m going to say is that the scientists…

And then goes on to talk about how “the military is concerned about it”, “scientists everywhere are concerned about it”, “12,000 peer reviewed papers” (channeling Cook et al) and other consensus building statements.

She seemed totally oblivious to the fact that she had just been pwned.

What does real empirical science say about why your car is hot when exposed to sunlight? It says nothing about the role of CO2 (or other greenhouse gases) of course which have a negligible effect at this scale.

From the Georgia State University physics department:


Greenhouse Effect Example

Bright sunlight will effectively warm your car on a cold, clear day by the greenhouse effect. The longer infrared wavelengths radiated by sun-warmed objects do not pass readily through the glass. The entrapment of this energy warms the interior of the vehicle. The trapping of the hot air so that it cannot rise and lose the energy by convection also plays a major role.

Short wavelengths of visible light are readily transmitted through the transparent windshield. (Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see through it!)

Shorter wavelengths of ultraviolet light are largely blocked by glass since they have greater quantum energies which have absorption mechanisms in the glass. Even though you may be uncomfortably warm with bright sunlight streaming through, you will not be sunburned.



Of course, the role of convection gets immediately stunted when you roll all the windows down.

It is mind blowing that this PhD, doesn’t understand the basic elements of the greenhouse effect (as it applies to actual physical greenhouses, of which your automobile is a small working model) enough to realize when she’s made a major embarrassing blunder, yet persists to lecture the radio audience about the certainty of her position.

Maybe she should have taken some science to go along with that economics training. You’d think a learned individual would train themselves on the basics, apparently not.


For more on how automobiles heat up dangerously, please see the study by my friend Jan Null, who has quantified the effect and danger to children and pets. And remember, don’t leave kids and pets in the car, not even for a minute.

Hint: the hyperthermia danger isn’t from CO2.

Study of Excessive Temperatures in Enclosed Vehicles

Jan Null, CCM 1,2

June 2003

Every year dozens of children tragically die due to hyperthermia (heat stroke) after being left unattended in cars, trucks and vans.  Over the past five years in the United States 160 deaths of this type have been documented  (Kids and Cars and 4 R Kids SakeTM, 2003).  [For the current year see 2003 Hyperthermia Fatalities (Children in Vehicles)].  Hundreds of other children left in similar situations suffer great bodily harm and these numbers do not include similar consequences to infirm adults or animals.

More here:

(PDF version)

UPDATE: Dr. Johnson responds with an admission of error.

The approach of hurricane season has raised public interest in a recent NRDC analysis showing that the U.S. government spent nearly $100 billion in 2012 responding to damage related to climate change. As an NRDC economist, I helped make sure the analysis was sound.

In discussing th

is recently with Lars Larson, I got outside of my area of expertise and made a mistake. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are accelerating climate change, but cars get hot in summer when the sun warms the interior and closed windows trap the heat.

I regret that I misspoke. I apologize for any confusion I might have created. And I hope we can move forward, as a nation, with the action we need to reduce the industrial carbon pollution that is driving climate change and threatening our future.

Laurie T. Johnson, Ph.D.
Chief Economist, Climate and Clean Air Program
Natural Resources Defense Council
1152 15th St NW Ste 300
Washington D.C., 20009


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It goes to show time and time again that level of education is not equal to intelligence. If I have a 100 IQ with a Bachelor’s degree. I will still have the same 100 IQ with a PhD.


Minor correction: NRDC stands for NATURAL Resources Defense Council (you have it as “national”).
Of course, that doesn’t change the utter ridiculousness of her statements.
REPLY: Fixed right away, thanks. Hard to remember which it was while I was laughing- Anthony


OMG!!Thanks for the laugh.. WTF how did Dr. Laurie Johnson of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Get a job and become a doctor. Her and Michael Mann should hook up..LOL

Foot in mouth disease!
Too funny. Thanks to your friend Lars for highlighting this gem.
This needs to be repeated and repeated. Ridicule is both powerful and satisfying, especially when the target is begging to be shot.
Kurt in Switzerland

Henry Bowman

Just because she is listed as “Dr.” Laurie Johnson does not make her a scientist in any way (economics is “social science”, and the term “social science” is an oxymoron). So, she is just another wacko with an opinion, which she freely shares.


Now the interesting part .. since the levels of “greenhouse gases” are roughly the same in summer and winter, why doesn’t get the inside of the car as hot in winter when the sun shined on it as in the summer? 😉


I have always wondered whether the industrial greenhouses that have co2 levels pumped up to 1000+ppm are any hotter than ones without.
Now for some lovely pictures and info about co2 generators for greenhouses, boy are they huge.


Of course so-called greenhouse gases don’t really act like a greenhouse, trapping heat. By reradiating energy in all directions, not just down, they merely slow the escape of heat from earth’s surface through the atmosphere back out to space.


I was only worried, now I’m scared.


Somehow I can’t believe 98% of scientists believe her explanation of the greehouse effect!
What an embarrassment!


Dr. Laurie Johnson.
Is it just me or does everyone think people who have not a clue as to what they are talking about (lib’rul Democrats, most assuredly, in this context) look like this?
Male or female.
I know it sounds like an ad hominem but, I’m serious! 😉


PhD simply means “Piled Higher and Deeper”. Seems appropriate. Just because someone is “book smart” doesn’t equate with intelligent.

Dave L

From Cipolla’s “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”:
#5 — A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

Ed Zuiderwijk

Come on, she’s an economist, just like Stern. That means they know about some things, only not about the things they are talking about.


so tell me again how many people believe in global warming……
…I’m just curious to know how many total idiots we have


The scary part is that the interviewer tried to give her an “out”, that never registered.


Has anybody sent her an email pointing out her foot-in-mouth errors?


The common error that really annoys me is that Venus is hot because of greenhouse gases, and that if we don’t change our waves (i.e. go green) the Earth will be the same.
Sunlight never even reaches the surface of Venus.


Maybe I should have been there to ask – then why doesn’t my car get hot in the winter when the sun is shining on all that CO2 in my same vehicle?

Gary Hladik

Somewhere, a village is missing its idiot.

Bloke down the pub

It should be mentioned of course that not all warmists are stupid just by being associated with this woman. The fact is, their stupidity is individual to each and every one.

She’s an economists, not a climate scientist. Well actually to be more accurate she is a propagandist not and economist.


My explanation of her statements is she was lying and she knew she was lying. Anything to further the agenda.

Kurt in Switzerland

I’d actually be interested to see what Laurie Johnson has to say about the economics of climate change mitigation policies. (So she got her talking points wrong: a particularly unfortunate thing if you’ve been collecting an NDRC paycheck for five years running, but hey – she’s an economist, not an atmospheric physicist).
Kurt in Switzerland


Thanks Dr Johnson! We now know we should all prepare for more floods, droughts and hurricanes inside our cars.

Gary Hladik

At about 11:30 she brings up Cook’s “12,000 peer-reviewed articles” of which “98%” (!) agree with the consensus. Obviously she doesn’t read WUWT:


It’s entirely possible for a PhD in economics to have studied no more physics than a typical high school student.

Jacques Peloquin

Quite a nice-looking woman.


She’s as bad as the skydragon slayers who insist that because CO2 has no effect in the 1-centimeter gap in a double-glazed window, it can have no effect in the atmosphere.

Mike Rossander

re: the two Summer/Winter comments above:
Sorry but that won’t help your argument. CO2 is the same but the glass is also the same. The truth is that your car DOES heat up during the winter.
You notice the effect in summer because as you get into the car, you’re going from “a bit hot” outside in your shorts to “my thighs are crisping on the seat and my lungs are scorching”. You just don’t notice the temperature difference as much when getting into your car in winter because you’re going from “darned cold” to “less cold” and probably insulated from feeling even that by your overcoat.
You also have a lot less sunlight to work with in winter so the greenhouse effect, while still present, is not as severe.


I’ve been trying to say something witty for about 10 minutes now but whenever I try the only thing that comes out of me is random noises. I have no words fitting for this. None whatsoever.


“When you get in your car in summer, your car is hot because it has greenhouse gases in it. That’s why its hot.” – Laurie Johnson, Idiot.



Luther Wu

‘We don’t have enough data to really know what’s going on…” – Dr. Laurie Johnson
With that statement Dr. Johnson, we invite you to spend some time at as you enhance your knowledge and understanding of climate science.
Be warned, though- this will require a great deal of courage on your part because you will confront the truth, which is far different than what you think is truth.

Reg Nelson

I’m surprised she didn’t say something like this:
“Greenhouse gasses in cars and houses, led to the development of air conditioning. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, when CO2 levels were much lower, A/C was not required. If Venus had air conditioning it would not be in the predicament that is.”


I’m Sorry this is a kind as I can be to a numbskull who makes a great living from the overtaxed citizens, producing flawed logic and crappy science.
Dr. Laurie Johnson PhD is so out to lunch on a green spoon fed diet of global warming mythology that there is simply no redemption for her EVER!
The car is hot from radiation from the sun. On a cloudy day the car stays cool. Even if you injected 10,000 parts / million of CO2 into the car, it would still be the same temperature!
Shes is willfully dumb, as thick as 2 short plank and half as useful!


Would I be right in thinking that, as she has a PhD and works somewhere in the field of climate change, she’s probably counted amongst the consensus of “experts”?


Maybe she’s confused about the car’s cabin and the exhaust system?
Anyway, do a Google scholar search and you’ll find much of her scholarly work has been about the economics of regulation, not the physics of CO2.

Tom G(ologist)

I can’t wait to pass by these people standing outside in the dole queue.


NOW I know why my car doesn’t heat up nearly as much if I leave the windows slightly open – it’s because the CO2 leaks out 😉


The NRDC people suffer from a common ailment that impacts educated specialists, arrogant ignorance. As soon as they exceed the boundaries of their speciality, arrogant ignorance morfs into stupidity.

Joe says:
May 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm
Would I be right in thinking that, as she has a PhD and works somewhere in the field of climate change, she’s probably counted amongst the consensus of “experts”?

Yep, as long as the phrase “climate change” was in her paper & it was peer reviewed.
This is one of the main (but unnoticed) flaws in the “consensus” surveys: They aren’t restricted to papers dealing with the physics and chemistry of “attribution,” but include those on impacts and mitigation, which simply assume (perhaps just for the sake of argument) that AGW or CAGW is true.

Tom in Florida

Jacques Peloquin says:
May 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm
“Quite a nice-looking woman.”
Perhaps the CO2 concentration in front of your screen is well over 10,000 ppm.

Luther Wu

Tom in Florida says:
May 23, 2013 at 1:30 pm
Jacques Peloquin says:
May 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm
“Quite a nice-looking woman.”
Perhaps the CO2 concentration in front of your screen is well over 10,000 ppm.
People gone to hell fer less

This only goes to show that having a PhD does in no way impair one’s ability to manifest oneself as a total idiot. Doing so on the radio within earshot of an audience only serves to make the idiocy even worse. This woman demonstrates clearly that it is highly dubious to claim there is any correlation at all between a PhD and common sense (why is she talking about a subject in which she has no proper education or background?).
In cases like this, it is sad to see a PhD educated mind being squandered so pitifully. Sigh.

Chris R.

Dr. Laurie Johnson should walk slowly to the nearest mental hospital
and give herself up. She has clearly wigged out.

Luther Wu

Dang Tom, I forgot my sarc tag.


greenhouse gases must disappear at night because my car is cold.
Seems to me that to make the Greenhouse gasses work you need the Sun.


Many of the warmists believe sort of the same thing as Dr. Laurie. The media has for instance only very seldomly mentioned the postulated water vapor positive feedback; warmist scientists like Dessler have over and over again used the misleading term heat-trapping gases. The CO2AGW cult lives through disinformation of its own followers and tries to shield them from other information; the BBC and the German UBA try to do all they can to ostracize and silence skeptics – because we give real information. Cults can only thrive as long as they control what information their followers get.
And this is why it is so enormously entertaining to talk to warmists. They are so surprised, baffled and speechless when they hear for the first time in their lives, say, about the Medieval Warm Period. The poor little things.

Myron Mesecke

One of the hottest vehicles we owned was an WHITE 84 T-Bird with tinted windows and light blue interior. The slope of all the windows allowed more sunlight to enter and heat the interior. One of the coolest vehicles we owned was a DARK blue Jeep Cherokee with un-tinted windows and medium gray interior. The upright glass on it kept more of the sunlight from entering and heating the interior.