Walt Cunningham: Restore climate science integrity, please!

"Self-esteem" is no substitute for common sense; indoctrination is no substitute for education!

  • Cunningham

 Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham knows a lot about science and the importance of getting it right. Walt has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics. He has also completed all coursework for a doctorate in that discipline, but those studies were interrupted by other commitments before completing thesis requirements. In addition, he is a graduate of the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program.

Walt put his science and technology background into real action as a Marine Corps fighter pilot and Apollo Lunar Module pilot. He has logged more than 4,500 hours of flying time of including more than 3,400 in jet aircraft, and more than 263 hours in space. (I’m not sure how many hours he has logged flying closer to Earth over Texas highways in his Corvette.) Walt was called upon to further apply his mission training and flight experiences as Chief of NASA’s Skylab Branch of the Astronaut Office.

Col. Cunningham, like many other scientifically and technologically experienced space program professionals, is an outspoken critic of pseudo-scientific climate alarmist claims. In this interview he explains why.

Larry Bell:  Walt, you kindly contributed an endorsement of my book commenting that, “Those of us fortunate enough to have traveled in space bet our lives on the competence, dedication, and integrity of the science and technology professionals who made our missions possible…In the last twenty years, I have watched the high standards of science being violated by a few influential climate scientists, including some at NASA, while special interest opportunists have abused our public trust.”

What issues stand out most as reasons for arriving at this conclusion?

Walt Cunningham:  Larry, I come from a background where responsible science and technology are the difference between life and death. The Apollo Program relied on quality data and objective interpretation to advance knowledge in areas of science and technology that had never before been explored. All of us had complete trust in the competence, integrity and accountability of those we worked with to create the systems and hardware we depended on in the most extreme environment. We did not allow the media to affect our conclusions; our conclusions influenced the media.

Over the years, NASA has slowly, but inexorably changed its culture and filled management positions with those compatible with the new culture. They absorbed their “new ways of thinking, new people, and new means.” They have contributed to a society that is becoming less and less capable of measuring up to the motivation, inspiration, challenge, risk acceptance and accomplishments of Apollo.

We didn’t expect our scientists and engineers to know everything, or that their hypotheses would always be right. Hypotheses are ideas to be challenged, and to ultimately be proven or disproven by empirical evidence.

During a 2008 CBS 60 Minutes interview, Al Gore, who was launching a major global warming crisis advertising campaign at the time, responded to a question by Leslie Stahl about skeptics by stating: “I think those people are in such a tiny, tiny minority now with their point of view. They’re almost like the ones who still believe that the Moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona and those who believe the world is flat.”

Having seen the Earth from orbit, I don’t expect you are one of those “flat- Earther” skeptics Gore referred to, are you?

Cunningham: No, Larry, I can emphatically vouch for the fact that the Earth is spherical. But, when it comes to global warming, the public-at-large really doesn’t know whom to believe anymore. And NASA has contributed to that confusion.

With lots of help from James Hansen and others at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), alarmist camps have been hammering us for years. The media is made up mostly of “true believers”. Politicians, in the absence of understanding and knowledge about climate science, have put themselves out on a limb from which it is difficult to retreat. Given the economic interests and the political powers involved, this dilemma will not go away quietly or anytime soon. In the court of public opinion, media and money play powerful roles.

The biggest problems I see with the sorry state of “climate science,” as the public comes to know it through the media, are the alarmist claims, unsupported by data and history, being presented as facts. When these claims cannot be validated by empirical data, they attempt to justify them by equally dishonest claims of proof by “consensus”. These alarmist claims create unwarranted fear in order to promote their political and profiteering agendas, while establishing regulatory policies that kill business and grow government – all at a terrific cost to taxpayers and energy consumers.

Without the science to back up their wild forecasts and claims, and the overwhelming evidence for natural temperature variation, alarmists try to exploit this unwarranted fear by resorting to the precautionary argument: “We must do something just in case we are responsible, because the consequences are too terrible if we are to blame and do nothing.”

Those of us who challenge alarmist claims of accepted theory and “consensus” are referred to as “skeptics”, as if that’s a bad thing. Responsible scientists are supposed to be skeptical. Those who aren’t qualify as demagogues. In the days of Apollo, astronauts, engineers, flight controllers and managers were skeptical of anything that might impact landing a man on the Moon. That attitude led to success in one of the biggest challenges in history.

If you buy a phony conclusion, as Al Gore obviously did, the consequences can be terribly costly.

Bell:  It’s interesting to me that while NASA, particularly GISS, has contributed much to this misinformation and public confusion, there are also quite a number of NASA professionals, mostly retirees, who aren’t drinking the human-caused climate crisis Kool-Aid. Last year you and others lodged formal complaints to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Jr., regarding the dismal and embarrassing state of the agency’s climate science programs.

Cunningham: Many of NASA’s retirees have grown increasingly concerned that GISS, a NASA organization located in a midtown Manhattan office building, was allowing its science to be politicized, compromising their credibility. Our concern, beyond damage to the NASA’s exemplary reputation, was damage to their current or former scientists and employees, and even compromising the reputation of science itself.

We developed a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and obtained signatures from seven Apollo astronauts, several former Headquarters managers and Center directors, and 40 former management-level technical specialists. We asked that he restrain NASA from including unproven claims in public releases and on websites. Statements by NASA that man-made carbon dioxide was having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. It is clear that the science is NOT settled.

The unbridled advocacy of CO2 being the major cause of climate change is inconsistent with NASA’s history of conducting an objective assessment of all available scientific data prior to making decisions or public statements. They should be emphasizing to the media that human-caused global warming is a hypothesis, not a scientific fact.

Bell: And the second letter?

Cunningham: Well, NASA Chief Scientist, Dr. Waleed Abdalati, testified at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing that the sea level was projected to rise between 0.2 meter and 2 meters within the next 87 years. This was based upon the warmest temperature scenarios, derived of course, from highly theoretical computer models.

A group of NASA retirees responded with another letter charging that NASA in general, and GISS in particular, has failed to objectively assess all available data on climate change, while relying too heavily upon complex climate models that have not succeeded in predicting climate. The letter specifically asked that GISS, then headed by James Hansen, not incorporate unproven remarks in public releases and websites.

Thankfully, James Hansen has since resigned. He was an embarrassment and disgrace to the agency.

Bell:  So that behavior struck you as playing to a political Obama administration agenda?

Cunningham:  That would be a fair observation. We felt that NASA’s commitment to climate science should be consistent with the agency’s reputation for rigorous science. When they don’t have real facts, as in this case, they should be honest about what they actually do and don’t know.

Understanding global climate and what, if anything, humans can do to affect it are scientific questions that can be answered only by honest science and scientific data. Yet, global warming alarmists invariably try to make their case through rhetoric, dogma, opinion, and emotion. They like to cite their climate models, and the public buys it.

Shouldn’t we be emphasizing that models are not data, and that climate models have never successfully predicted anything? Models are built upon assumptions (opinions), and if the bases for the assumptions are wrong, the results can never accurately predict future behavior.

Anytime the “evidence” is debatable, we should push for open and honest public debate in an effort to get to the “truth.” Unfortunately, believers in human caused global warming avoid debate like the plague.

Bell:  Of course, your NASA colleagues, along with any other crisis skeptics outside the politically correct “climate establishment”, can be expected to have their debate credentials derided (not the “right stuff” in this case), and often their motives challenged as well. I’m aware that you have encountered that just as I have, along with several of our mutual friends.

Cunningham:  The human contribution to climate has to be put into context with the 18 to 20 highly complex, natural climate drivers constantly at work. Most of those who study climate are specialists in one special discipline or another. They are not “big picture” people who see and connect all of the dots. I’m a geophysicist, which provides the skills and understanding of important principles. I know how to collect and analyze technical/scientific data. And, while I don’t claim to be a “climate scientist,” I do follow the subject closely enough to recognize incongruities in data and logic.

A response to one of my articles on climate change acknowledged my education in physics and then concluded with, “Nothing in your bio leads anyone to believe that you are remotely any sort of an authority on climatology.”

To paraphrase one response to our NASA letters: “Why should we pay attention to what you say? You’re just a dumb astronaut.”

The aerospace culture is comprised of technically sophisticated, problem-solving professionals who work together to connect the dots so that what they create can be verified to work. The people who signed those letters to Administrator Bolden are those kinds of individuals. Many of us conducted the science, designed and managed the manufacture of enabling hardware and software systems, tested their reliability, launched them, and flew colleagues to another body in our solar system a quarter of a million miles away and safely back again.

Bell:  It’s not as if our government isn’t already throwing enough money at a contrived climate crisis. The National Research Council just released a report based upon a 2-year-long study that concluded that President Obama’s sweeping new Green energy subsidy program costing tens of billions to combat “climate change” is virtually useless. This new spending is on top of an estimated $48 billion spent in just the past two years.

Arguments to justify this ongoing waste depend upon data from compliant fright factories like NASA’s GISS. But what is a legitimate role for NASA in the climate science arena?

Cunningham:  NASA should be at the forefront in the collection of scientific evidence and debunking the current hysteria over human-caused [anthropogenic] global warming [AGW]. Unfortunately, it is becoming just another agency caught up in the politics of global warming, or worse, politicized science.  Advocacy and support for the White House agenda is replacing objective evaluation of data, while scientific data are being ignored in favor of emotions and politics.

The conflict over AGW has deteriorated into a religious war — a war between true believers in a human-caused global warming problem and nonbelievers; between those who accept AGW on faith, and those who consider themselves more sensible and better informed. “True believers” are beyond being interested in evidence; it is impossible to reason a person out of positions they have not been reasoned into.

Much of this may be due to today’s lowered educational standards in scientific literacy, skepticism and critical thinking. Many people today are unable to distinguish between science and non-science, leaving them vulnerable to the emotional appeal of human caused global warming. Unfortunately, most students today are fed a lot more hype about self-esteem and global warming than real information about history and science. Let’s finally recognize that “self-esteem” is no substitute for common sense, and “indoctrination” is no substitute for education.

With the right leadership, with the right science, and with the right commitment to excellence and integrity, we will go much farther. And, it’s high time to do so.

Bell:  Walt, I think that says it all. Thanks for not only walking the talk, but for flying the dream as well.

Walt cunningham science not settled

Click to share on Facebook


About the Author: Larry Bell

Larry Bell

CFACT Advisor Larry Bell heads the graduate program in space architecture at the University of Houston. He founded and directs the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture. He is also the author of "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax."

  • Dan Pangburn

    Technologically competent science has discovered:

    Any credible change to the level of non-condensing
    greenhouse gases doesn’t have, has never had and will never have significant
    effect on average global temperature.

    GW ended before 2001. http://endofgw.blogspot.com/

    AGW never was. http://climatechange90.blogspot.com/2013/05/natural-climate-change-has-been.html

    Average global temperature is extremely sensitive to low
    altitude cloud area change http://lowaltitudeclouds.blogspot.com/

    What the IPCC won’t tell you http://consensusmistakes.blogspot.com/

  • Adrian Vance

    CO2 is a “trace gas” in air, insignificant by definition. It absorbs 1/7th as much IR, heat energy, from sunlight as water vapor which has 188 times as many molecules capturing 1200 times as much heat making 99.9% of all “global warming.” CO2 does only 0.1% of it. For this we should destroy our economy?

    Carbon combustion generates 80% of our energy. Control and taxing of carbon would give the elected ruling class more power and money than anything since the Magna Carta of 1215 AD.

    See The Two Minute Conservative via Google or: http://adrianvance.blogspot.com and when you speak ladies will swoon and liberal gentlemen will weep.

    • NwD

      I don’t think you understand the effect ‘trace’ gases/elements/compounds can have. O3 makes up 0.000004% of the atmosphere, but you wouldn’t dismiss the ozone layer as being insignificant, would you?

      • Adrian Vance

        There is no “ozone layer” or “shield.” Ozone is a very insignificant trace gas that is a product of hard UV absorption by O2 molecules per Uv + O2 = 2 [O] with the atomic oxygen lasting 1 five millionth second until each hits a nitrogen to make one of the five oxides of nitrogen two of which are brown in color and constitute the smog of Los Angeles, common to that basin since geologic antiquity. The deeper you go into the atmosphere the more [O] or O3, a mythical molecule, would you find.

        All of the “ozone shield” stuff has been written for people who know nothing, but can write big checks so corrupt scientists can thrive on grant money to write nonsense papers no one can understand because they are all lies.

        The equation for which Molina and Rowland got a Nobel prize and $1 million has never been seen in nature nor could they make it happen in a lab. Molina is at MIT today trying to make it work, but it never will because the thermodynamics are wrong, backwards! He is trying to push a very large rock up a very tall hill with a draft mouse.

        • NwD

          Oh, ok. Sure. Of course you’d deny any evidence that would prove you wrong. How much mental gymnastics do you have to perform to continue lying to yourself? Here’s some basics http://www.ozonelayer.noaa.gov/science/basics.htm


          Half-life of ozone:
          Also, its half-life doesn’t matter so much when O3 is continuously produced by O2 being exposed to UV.

          • Adrian Vance

            Both of these pieces are clearly nonsensical. If ozone is a “rare species” then how does it form an effective “shield?” Gases cannot form surfaces; only liquids and solids do that.

            No one has ever proven the existence of an [O3} radical and where molecular collisions occur at about 5 megahertz an atomic oxygen would last about one-five-millionth second and the probability is more than five to one that it will strike and combine with a nitrogen molecule with “p” electron bonding which would produce a stable product.

            Every physical chemist knows most the NASA atmospheric chemistry releases are nonsense written for the general public and the elected ruling class as they have the checkbooks. Apparently you like getting ripped of by guys in white coats. I do not.

            • Vangel

              I think that this is part of the problem; since many people are ignorant of science they accept many of the releases without question, even when they are totally wrong. This is a dark time for science and all the clocks are striking thirteen.

              • Adrian Vance

                I grew up on a college campus as both my parents were college professors. Most academics feel downtrodden, underpaid and pitible in spite of only workiing nine hours per week as they spend the rest of their time on “research” which their euphemism for “looking for something to steal.”

                Man-caused global warming fits the ego of the green gangs, i.e. that they can affect the planet when they are quite insignificant. Add that carbon combustion makes 80% of all our energy and that control and taxing of it would give the elected ruling class more money and power than they have acquired in one move since the signing of the Magna Carta of 1215 AD.

              • WnD

                The problem is that people on forums want to be heard but not learn.

      • 4TimesAYear

        We can’t have catastrophic sea level rise with the way our planet
        currently functions. It’s impossible because the hemispheres have opposing winter/summer seasons which keep the planet in balance. “Global warming” is an oxymoron.

        • Vangel

          Actually, it is a meaningless term. Nobody has explained to me why I need to worry about something called the average annual temperature of the planet. It seems to me that when ‘climate scientists’ talk about such nonsense they make the same error that economists make when they talk of aggregates. No wonder neither group has any models that have any predictive skills.

        • WnD

          What you said makes literally no sense.

          • 4TimesAYear

            “Makes no sense”? Are you kidding? The ice and snow is always frozen at one end of the planet or the other. It is impossible for it to all melt at the same time the way it currently functions.

            • Vangel

              You are missing the alarmist claims. They are saying that ice will melt from Antarctica because the number of melt days will increase substantially and the melting will be faster than the increased accumulation of snow due to a wetter atmosphere. The problem is that even the IPCC cannot see how Antarctica melts substantially even in ten thousand years but the alarmists are assuming the ‘worst’, only looking at the negative effects of a warmer climate, and bringing up everything forward by tens of thousands of years.

              Trouble is that the public isn’t buying what they have to sell. Note that even the Hollywood scare movies do not include a hot earth but somehow involve a scenario in which the warming creates what people are naturally scared of, a much colder planet. Does this look like warming to you?


              • WnD

                You’re right. Man, we should just dump as much CO2 into the atmosphere as possible just to prove the ‘alarmists’ wrong. I want to see the ice melt, so when the sea levels don’t rise, we can finally prove it’ll just evaporate into space because our planet is in homeostasis. I can’t believe these climate scientists have the gall to extrapolate data from past climate changes with rises in CO2, to predict its magnitude of effect today. We’re not building toy models LOLOL

                • Vangel

                  Man, we should just dump as much CO2 into the atmosphere as possible just to prove the ‘alarmists’ wrong.

                  You are free to cut back as I have. Not everyone is like Leonardo Decaprio or Al Gore and flies all over the world every year. I don’t know about you but when I am in the mood for a burger I make one. I am not like Harrison Ford and fly my airplane to my favourite burger joint several hundred miles away.

                  And the alarmists are already proven to be wrong. CO2 is not a threat to human beings or the planet. If you look at the ice core data you see that it is the effect, not the cause. (CO2 levels change after the temperature trend changes, not before.)

                  As for the ice melting, note that sea levels during the previous interglacials were 5-6 meters higher than today.

                  I watched The Day After Tomorrow. Hilariously bad science. All those scientists who made the movie were all trying to say that the melted ice from antarctica came back down in a rain cloud over new york.

                  I think that you missed the point. Hollywood does not care for accuracy because it is in the business of selling movie tickets. The trouble is that audiences are not scared of warmer temperatures. After all, old people do not go to the Yukon when they retire. They go to Arizona or Florida instead. They like it warm and have little trouble with using A/C for two or three hours a day when it gets too hot. While it may be a bit expensive it certainly beats running a furnace 14/7 for three months per year. And note that in the movie people escaped the glacial ice cover and moved far south where it was warm.

                  That whole dynamic is ultimately a problem for the cry wolf crowd. In the end it is hard to scare people by telling them that temperatures will go up a bit. Note that the predicted IPCC change is not particularly high and would mean a much better climate for most Americans, particularly when you figure out that most of the increase comes from higher lows, primarily in winter.

            • WnD

              You just admitted yourself that it’s only “The way it currently functions.” now. You don’t think they will be like that forever. So you must have some idea that a balance between systems must be maintained for things to occur forever. What things affect the balance that affect the climate and/or the poles?

              • 4TimesAYear

                It would take something to knock the planet out of its orbit to change the way it functions now. Our planet is very well balanced. Only 50% is exposed to the sun at any given time and we have opposing seasons so only one hemisphere is warming at a time. Sorry you can’t see the balance in that.

                • WnD

                  Your science is pretty poor man. I mean poor in the sense that you’re telling me something that has no scientific basis whatsoever. Even historically, saying that it’d take something to knock us out of orbit is factually incorrect. Global climate has changed dramatically in the past due to different lingering, compounding, persistent and catastrophic events that played out or continued to have an effect over centuries. Look up Siberian Traps (extinction caused by gases in the air, what?!) for instance. Look for the part where it talks about extinction. How about the climate changes brought about by the tectonic plates changing? Chicxulub? Man has changed local climates in the past (easter island), ruining his own settlements and civilizations. What have the past global extinctions have in common? The world was affected globally by an event, or series of coincidences that overwhelmed the current biosphere. Today man is global. As is our effect. We are in essence a force of nature, and are responsible with what we do with a planet some of us want to pretend is eternal in time and size.

                  • Vangel

                    “Man has changed local climates in the past (easter island), ruining his own settlements and civilizations.”

                    Is this true? The climate of Easter Island was never changed by man. As for the environment of Easter Island, it was improved by man. The soil was poor in minerals so the inhabitants crushed rock as used it as mulch to help the cultivation of plants. While the island’s trees were destroyed, mostly by rats, the human population was stable until after the Europeans arrived on the island. Most of the erosion and the population decline began after europeans started sheep farming, part of the population was removed and sold into slavery and another part died as it was exposed to diseases for which there was no natural immunity.

                    “What have the past global extinctions have in common?”

                    They are natural. There is an explosion of species and some begin to die off over time. Note that we have not seen many species go extinct in the past few hundred years except on small islands where the introduction of new predators such as rats and cats managed to kill off many of the species that were not adapted to deal with the threat.

                    • WnD

                      So. Changed your mind about climate upheaval yet?

    • Yoikes

      This is what I love about “climate change” nuts. CO2 is small and water vapor is large in “warming”, so hey, let’s strangle our civilization with oppressive taxation to supposedly “control” CO2, but then let’s have all hydrogen vehicles, which produce what? Water vapor! As usual, these liberal “scientists” come up with a “solution” to a “problem” and their solution will increase “global warming” at a much more accelerated rate than they already say is genocide!! Morons!!

      • NwD

        The only thing that’ll strangle our civilization is scientifically illiterate and underinformed people like you.

        • http://www.cfact.org CFACT Ed

          A “scientifically illiterate and underinformed” Apollo Astronaut? Not very likely.

  • tomwys

    Thanks for some focussed questions and insightful answers by one of the real heros of our Magnificent Space Program when it deserved that title.

    Forbes readers clearly have the ability to use their keen judgement and sort through the (mis)information available. Thank you Larry and Walt for providing a framework for doing so.

    The letters referred to can be found under “NASA & UN Letters” on


  • Eckenhuijsen Smit

    What Walt Cunningham was telling, I am writing already for years on end!
    So let’s get rid of all those lying bastards, beginning with the impeachment of Barry Hussein Obama!

  • NikFromNYC

    “GISS, a NASA organization located in a midtown Manhattan office building”

    Actually it’s on the top corner of the far uptown residential building that has touristy Tom’s Diner just below it, about four blocks from where notorious skeptic -=NikFromNYC=- lives, all just down Broadway from Columbia University and just above the Upper West Side. Hansen’s charlatans say they are associated with Columbia even though none of the hard science graduate students I knew had ever heard of their little off campus office. Their creepy trashing of my alma mater with junk science helped inspire a series of infographics, such as Astronaut Eye Candy:


  • spawn44

    A copy of this should be required reading by EPA and all the other government agencies that have been infiltrated by RADICAL ENVIRONMENT DEMOCRATIC DRONES,

  • mememine

    If science agreed openly that a climate crisis WILL happen “eventually” instead of “might” happen “possibly” the planet would be saved as what denier would deny; “inevitable” and “unavoidable” ? Scientists have kids that are doomed as well so you can’t brand this as the saintly “science” you pray to. This is a CO2 death threat to YOUR kids so spare us the science worship. Science has condemned billions of helpless children to the greenhouse gas ovens of unstoppable warming. We demand certainty otherwise CO2 mitigation is impossible.

  • JackBlair

    Why is NASA even involved in the climate science biz? As a matter of course NASA compiles massive climate data – this is crucial information. But any determinations about climate change based on that data can be made by someone else (NOAA, perhaps). The job at hand is to continue the human conquest of space.

    NASA is wasting time, money, and resources by bogging down in these types of issues. We’ll never land a man on Mars if this keeps up.

  • Dr Norman Page

    Walter tells it exactly as it is. It is a tragedy that the NASA Baconian science ethos which took us to the moon has been replaced by a ethos of politically correct advocacy for a basically faith based belief in the AGW meme.
    It is clear that the IPCC climate models are useless for predicting future climate trends The IPCC models, apart from being structurally incorrect ,are inherently incapable of producing meaningful results because of the problem of setting the initial conditions of the multiple variables with sufficient precision and with a sufficient density of data sampling in time and space to be computable in something less than millions of years.
    For a forecast of the coming cooling based on pattern recognition in the temperature data and possible driver data. See The series of posts at http://climatesense.norpag.blogspot.com

    • WnD

      Are you a Doctor of Silly Walks?