Funeral services were pending Monday for the long-time respected TV weatherman who founded the Weather Channel and later was one of the most public deniers of the “scam” of global warming.
John Coleman, 83, died over the weekend in Las Vegas where he had lived after two decades at KUSI-TV in San Diego.
Coleman, an early supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, was one of the staunchest of climate change skeptics. Coleman said that as a longtime professional member of the American Meteorological Society and a recipient of that group’s Broadcast Meteorologist of the Year award, he was qualified to offer expert opinion on the controversy.
“I’m just a dumb old skeptic — a denier as they call me — who ought to be jailed or put to death,” he said in an interview last August. “I understand how they feel (about global warming). But you know something? I know I’m right. So I don’t care.”
Coleman produced a documentary for KUSI-TV providing a factual basis for his denial of climate change. He was featured on Fox News and CNN explaining the reasons global warming is “silliness” and that assertions are just wrong that 97 percent of the scientific community believes human-driven climate change is real.
In addition to founding the Weather Channel, Coleman was the first weatherman of “Good Morning America,” and then was the weatherman in the nation’s largest TV markets on major stations in New York and Chicago before his final stint in San Diego.
Coleman said in that August interview that former Vice-President Al Gore started it — the “global warming silliness.” But Coleman also said he was “horrified” to see San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer channeling the ex-veep with a Climate Action Plan. It “just turns my stomach.”
“I think he saw money and power, and I don’t know what else he thought of it,” Coleman says of the Republican mayor. “I can’t believe he really [felt he] was going to save the city from some terrible fate.”
“San Diego’s not going to go underwater. Period,” he says. “Not in my lifetime or yours or our kids’ lifetime. When the Earth ends in 4 1/2 billion years, it probably still won’t have flooded.”
He also mocks “the damn tsunami warning route signs that they put up all over the city (of San Diego),” which he calls “about as silly as anything I’ve ever saw in my life. The chance of a significant tsunami hitting Southern California is about as great as a flying saucer landing tonight at Lindbergh Field. It’s just sheer nonsense.”
Coleman also knows how many people regard his decade-old public arguments. As sheer nonsense.
“I went to the opening of the Trump campaign headquarters in Nevada, and that sort of thing,” he says of the man who labels climate change a hoax. “I went to one of his rallies.”
Coleman aims to expose what he calls “Algorian” scientists fudging data and taking billions in government research grants for the sake of career advancement and economic comfort.
At KUSI-TV in San Diego, with financial backing from the Republican McKinnon family, Coleman hosted two hour-long documentaries critical of the notion of human-created climate change. He did many news pieces.
Coleman calls global warming a scientific issue, not a political one. “But since it had become a political issue, [Michael D. McKinnon] strongly supported my skeptical position on global warming,” he says. “If it hadn’t been for that, I probably would have retired much sooner. [KUSI] gave me a great platform from which to work.”
How did Coleman go from the clowning meteorologist of ABC’s “Eyewitness News” in Chicago to the Kay-YOOOOOUUUU-Es-Eye crusader against “the greatest scam in history”?
Several stories are told.
Charles Homan of Columbia Journalism Review said Coleman “snapped” while watching an Eagles-Cowboys football game one Sunday night when TV studio lights were cut as a “green” gesture.
Coleman also points to Gore’s Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth” of 2006. “I think the Al Gore movie probably stimulated me more than anything,” he now says. “I’m happy to see that his new movie seems to be less than spectacular success.”
But the seeds were planted decades before Coleman’s 2007 manifestos.
Coleman credited Joseph D’Aleo, his meteorological director at The Weather Channel and forecast assistant at “Good Morning America.”
“We started together in 1977, I guess,” he says. “He’s the one who has taught me about climate skepticism, about Algorian skepticism, and I learned it through him. And then I learned it through Willie Soon. It goes way, way back before 2007.”
In January 2010, responding to an “Other Side” broadcast on KUSI but not using Coleman’s name, research professor emeritus Richard Somerville of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography issued a 550-word, six-point “Response to Climate Change Denialism.”
In July 2014, John P. Reisman offered a line-by-line rebuttal to Coleman’s arguments in “The Amazing Story Behind the Global Warming Scam.”
On July 1, 2017, fact-checking site Snopes.com labeled as “False” the assertion — circulating after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accords — that “Weather Channel co-founder John Coleman provided evidence that convincingly refutes the concept of anthropogenic global warming.”
But Coleman said in August his TV turns were drying up.
He says a CBS production company contacted him about an interview for an hourlong TV show.
“And we talked and talked and everything was scheduled,” Coleman says. “And then two days before the shoot was to occur, they called and said, ‘Sorry, we have to cancel that. Thank you very much anyway.’
“Because?” Coleman asked.
“Well, you know,” came the reply.
Said Coleman: “That happens all the time.”
Coleman doubles down: “I understand that there are plenty of people who rip me to shreds, and you can find strong and powerful put-downs on every topic I’m talking about. … But the truth is that I know all about all that stuff, and I don’t give a rat’s ass, because I know I’m right.”
In the phone chat, Coleman was asked about “97 percent of climate scientists” citing manmade change.
Coleman shot back: “Do you believe that? That’s sheer nonsense.”
He called it a “totally contrived figure” that gained ultimate currency when it was “uttered by President Obama. … But it’s totally fabricated. The so-called research that came up with that 97 percent was done by people who were looking to produce that figure and had to manipulate everything they got.”
He said wattsupwiththat.com provides “eight or nine well-done articles that debunk the 97 percent.”
So where did the 97 percent come from?
Coleman’s says it’s just the share of scientists who agree the earth is warming, which even Coleman concedes.
“You’ve had Ice Ages and glacial periods, warm spells, one after another, cycling back and forth,” he says. “And certainly man didn’t cause any of them. They’re all natural events.”
He says the American Meteorological Society, in its most recent survey, “came up with about 47 percent skeptical, so 53 percent support (manmade climate change). And that’s after the society did everything they can to promote it. The society has been totally politicized. And still they can’t get all their members aboard.”
But contacted this week, AMS spokesman Tom Champoux provided links to several reports and blogs, including its 2016 survey of members which found “only 5 percent [of survey respondents] said that climate change was ‘largely or entirely’ due to natural events.”
“Mr. Coleman’s assertion that the 97 percent figure is ‘totally contrived’ and was ‘uttered by President Obama’ is in no way accurate,” said Champoux, who pointed to a British science nonprofit’s conclusion that “amongst 1,381 papers self-rated by their authors as stating a position on human-caused global warming, 97.2 percent endorsed the consensus.”
The AMS survey did find a 53 percent figure, however: “A total of 4,092 AMS members participated, with participants coming from the United States and internationally. The participation rate in the survey was 53.3 percent.”
Another evergreen Coleman critique is that billions of dollars of research grants go only to scientists who support the global warming theory: “You MUST take the Algorian side or you’re dead meat.”
He cites “the great Judith Curry,” an accomplished climate scientist who left her job at Georgia Tech “because she couldn’t handle it anymore” — reaction to her skeptical positions. He noted “my great friend Willie Soon at the Smithsonian Institute, whose life has been turned to hell because of his position.”
He says the power of money — $20 billion a year — buys opinion. “But even THAT has not produced a 97 percent consensus, so that consensus figure is a dead-in-the-ringer lie.”
But what about that fact Republicans control the pursestrings?
Coleman is ready.
“Have you heard the chant ‘Drain the swamp’? I don’t think the swamp is only Democrats and bureaucrats. … Lord help me, the Republican Congress is very unlikely to cut off funding projects of the Scripps Oceanographic Institute or Woods Hole or any of the others. The Republican Party, they’re a slimy fish swimming through the swamp.”
Coleman agrees that Trump would like to shut the spigot. But not because he has a strong position on climate science. It’s just for budget savings.
“But I’m also confident that his family … they’re going to have dinner with him at night: ‘Hey, Dad, we got to keep this money flowing.’ So I don’t know how successful it will be. But I know the two most powerful forces on earth are sex and money. And by God it’s really hard to shut off the money. And it’s really hard to not go for the sex.”
What about Sacramento’s cap-and-trade measure — passed with GOP help?
“Just pure and total embarrassing nonsense,” Coleman says, “And another darn good reason not to live in California. If I have to get a passport to come see my son in Palm Springs in the future, so be it. That state has gotten so silly. Oh my God, I’m so glad I don’t live there.”
He calls efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions “an insult to the average American family,” whose energy costs already rise $2,500 a year “because of the threat of so-called global warming. And that cap-and-trade will take it up to probably $4,800 a year.”
“That takes phones away from the kids, or they don’t get new tablets so they can do their homework right. Or the college fund is down. Or clothes or vacations. It hurts that family very deeply. And these politicians who live on the top edge don’t have any understanding or feeling for the average people. And it drives … me … nuts,” he says, pausing between words for emphasis.
Does Coleman regard La Jolla’s prestigious Scripps Institution of Oceanography — a groundbreaker in climate studies — as doing fake science?
“I think that they are dead wrong,” Coleman says. “I think the Keeling Curve is excellent science — the measurement of carbon [dioxide] in the atmosphere through the years and the development of that good steady flow of data. That’s a very good scientific piece of work.”
But the rest of Scripps’ studies?
“Just pathetic,” he says. “And it drives me nuts. A fine institution just went … where the money is. Without that money, hundreds of people would have to be let go.”
He asks: “Have you looked at my video where I tell about that dispute between [Scripps and UCSD legend] Roger Revelle and [his Harvard student] Al Gore? I gather it didn’t impress you. I’m convinced that it’s correct [that climate scientist Revelle didn’t urge action on human-caused global warming]. By the way, that has over a million views on YouTube.”
(Revelle’s daughter Carolyn said Coleman and others took his remarks out of context.)
A spokeswoman for Scripps — once ranked No. 1 in the nation for earth and environmental sciences by the journal Nature — said Somerville’s post still holds up seven years later, and she also noted that “while Mr. Coleman was at KUSI he was invited here many times to see the research in action and talk to scientists. He never came.”
Mayor Faulconer’s office did not respond to a request for comment at the time of last August’s interview.
“I think that the mayor of San Diego took climate change seriously and has moved to address it is because it’s been clear from polling, elections, growing climate marches and activism, and other indicators, that the people of San Diego increasingly support moving to clean energy and addressing the climate crisis,” she said Wednesday via email. “And when the people lead, the elected officials who represent them follow.”
On Coleman’s rejection of a waterlogged San Diego: “While Mr. Coleman may be in denial about it, coastal flooding due to sea level rise is already a problem in our coastal areas like Imperial Beach, Mission Beach and Carlsbad, with some areas expected to flood regularly at high tide in the next few decades.”
Disenhouse says Miami and New Orleans are a preview — “facing flooding from high tides even on sunny days on a regular basis right now.”
In 2015, she noted, SanDiego350 drew a chalk line in Mission Beach’s retail area to show where high tide would reach if trends continue until 2050.
Disenhouse defended efforts to wean the economy from fossil fuels.
“California’s economy has been growing as it has reduced its energy use per person and begun to bring down greenhouse gas emissions,” she says. “In fact, the renewable energy sector has been hugely successful in California, one of the fastest growing job sectors.”
But here Coleman concurs.
“I love solar power,” he says. “But what does that have to do with climate change? Not a dibble-dee-do-dot.”
He says people assume that that if he’s a climate skeptic or opposed to cap-and-trade that he’s against solar or wind power or environmentalism, “or I want to fill the oceans with plastic or something.”
Coleman insists: “I am an environmentalist through and through. So don’t give me any of that. My son has solar on his house. And pays $16 a month for power in Palm Springs, and I’m excited about the future of graphene.”
He says a day will come when homes are coated with graphene paint and homeowners “disconnect the power line.” Same with the car.
“The age of fossil fuels and the electric grid will come to an end,” Coleman says. “Not in my lifetime, but possibly in yours. Time will tell and it’s all wonderful. Our life is good today not because a bunch of politicians have made laws and regulations and try to tell us how to live. Our lives are good today because of science.”
— Ken Stone of MyNewsLA.com authored the original August, 2017 story on which much of this story is based.