That Time I Talked to Limbaugh about Climate Change

February 20, 2021

“Rush Limbaugh, more than any other individual, is responsible for shifting conservative opinion to deny the existence of global warming.”

 -John K. Wilson, author of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh’s Assault on Reason.

Climate denier, and fatally, tobacco denier, Rush Limbaugh, died this week from lung cancer.
Yeah, made me think back to that time I talked to him.

Some time later in the nineties, maybe ’97?
I had been following climate science for 20 years, and Jim Hansen’s work since 1981, and I understood, in a rudimentary way, what the mainstream science was telling us.
Scientists, as of 1995, had detected a “discernible” human influence warming the planet.
Hansen’s model had accurately predicted the planetary response from the Mt Pinabubo eruption, a major validation of the (by today’s standards) primitive climate models Hansen relied upon. Still lots to discuss, but it looked like this mechanism was real, and the process was happening.
I knew, as someone that grew up outside, on snow and water, that things were certainly changing in my upper-midwest neck of the woods.

On that particular day, Friends of the Earth had published a full page ad about climate change in USAToday, with a speculative “weather map” for the 2020s. It depicted a heat wave with a shocking temperature of 124 F in California.
(This past summer the temperature hit 130 in the desert, and an insane 110 F in LA, near the ocean.

Ridiculing the ad, Limbaugh launched into a climate denial rant, listing the most popular nonsense memes that we are all familiar with. And anyway, he said, even the most extreme eco-nuts were only talking about a few degrees rise in global temps, so obviously this ad was just more over-the-top scare tactics, he fumed.
Taking a breath, he invited “any environmentalist out there who can defend or explain this, to call in. I want to talk to you.”

Hunched over my keyboard, and listening as I struggled to nudge along a barely-alive communication business – I took up the challenge, and – incredibly – got through.
A voice asked me if I was indeed, the environmentalist Rush was asking for – I assured him that was me.
“Hold on for Rush” the voice said.

A few minutes went by, while I took some deep breaths and stretched.
Suddenly, the familiar voice was on the line.
“Ok, we have Peter from Midland, Michigan. Are you a greenie? an enviro?”

“Well, I often wear sandals, I hug trees when I’m climbing them, but not, you know, in a weird way.
And I’ve been known to order the tofu in my veggie stir fry.”
That was good enough.
“Alright, so explain this ad to me. The claim is made here that in the 2020s, we’ll see temperatures of 124 degrees Fahrenheit – but even Al Gore says the planet is only warming by a degree or so. So this is more scare tactics, right?”

“Well, actually, it’s one degree for the whole planet, which is a pretty big place. That means we’re trapping a lot of heat, but that heat is not equally distributed. Some places are going warm quite a bit, others not so much.”
“And, in extreme events, like heat waves, with all the additional energy in the atmosphere, you’re going to see events that are truly off the chart – that we have not seen before.”

“I see,” he said. “So the 1 degree is an average, not the same everywhere – there can be variations.”

He took a different tack.
“Well, so you’re telling people that they have to stop cooking, driving, watching TV, or freeze in the dark, to keep this from happening?”
“Actually, no, – there are clean ways to generate energy. There are hybrid and electric cars on drawing boards right now – that will be way cheaper to run, once we get them into mass production. Seems to me that replacing all the carbon belching cars in our garages, and the coal fired power plants, and rebuilding our electric grid, which we have to do anyway, because it’s obsolete and falling apart – would be a major jobs booster. Somebody has to do that work, and it would probably be the same people who build cars, power plants, and other vital products right now. I’m no economist, but that sounds like job security to me.”
“Best of all, the free market can lead this, because these are products that people actually want.”

Rush was somewhat flustered. I’m sure he was expecting me to run some kind of greenie caricature line like “can’t we all live naturally like our ancestors, nuts and berries, hunter gatherer, 40 acres and a mule” kind of thing. I was throwing him a curve.
Dealing with climate change would boost the economy, and make our lives better. I was already in love with the internet, and I, for one, was not going to give up my computer.

Nor did anyone have to.

He blustered a little more, but I knew enough about the topic, and communication 101, to stay on message.

He finally gave up, thanked me, and let me go.
I had to run to pick up my son at the dentist, and my daughter at school.
Someone told me later that they heard the spot, and that, after a commercial, Rush came back on with a hastily arranged fossil fuel shill to clean things up.

I was still at least a decade away from launching the video series “Climate Denial Crock of the Week” – I had to wait most of my life for YouTube to make that happen.
But it was my first taste of going head to head with climate deniers, and scoring some points for the good guys.
I realized that I liked it.


9 Responses to “That Time I Talked to Limbaugh about Climate Change”

  1. painedumonde Says:

    Too bad there was no mic for you to drop.

  2. mboli Says:

    Very cool story!
    I remember listening open-mouthed one day, also in the ’90s, while Limbaugh riffed on how unjust it was that Chinese pickup truck drivers could blow all sorts of great pollution but US drivers could not. In his telling, this was an inversion of the natural order of things.
    The theme seemed to be that that emissions controls on cars were emasculating the American driver.
    This wasn’t my first time listening to Limbaugh, I knew what to expect. But still it was a memorable moment.

  3. mbrysonb Says:

    It’s interesting that people like Limbaugh seem to know when they’ve lost the game (at least sometimes), but the only impact that had is that he decided bring on someone else to recite the lies they’re trying to spread. It’s as if it were just a game, and they know what team they’re supporting. The idea that there might really be terrible outcomes just never occurs to them–and even when those outcomes arrive, they just don’t care (see Gov. Abbot of TX blaming wind power for a disastrous failure of their electrical grid). Clearly a form of sociopathy…

  4. Paul Whyte Says:

    I think there is something to face about Climate Denial. They are sports fans.

    They are not deep thinkers. They are one team against another. Their team must win and they back them. The fan base of Fox News and the like are sports people who spend most of their lives excited and encouraged by the courage of team sports.

    It’s how their minds work. (don’t work!) The whole sports area is a mass of conflicting claims about rival teams. It’s how the games are played.

  5. sailrick Says:

    Hansen’s prediction of 124 F in LA was actually even closer. In the San Fernando Valley, which is part of Los Angeles, the temperature reached 121 F on that hottest day last summer.

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