Steam rises from a the coal-fired power plant in Germany (file image)
A video shows an atmospheric expert extolling the positive impact of higher CO2 levels.

Selective editing distorts expert’s climate change views

Nik Dirga January 25, 2023

A respected US academic has downplayed the impact of global warming and suggested it may benefit civilisation.


Misleading. The video is edited to omit a key disclaimer that he was being intentionally contrarian as part of a broader discussion on the dangers of climate change.

A video shared on social media allegedly shows a respected US academic downplaying the impact of global warming and suggesting high levels of carbon dioxide are actually good for the planet.

The Instagram video (screenshot here) from a 2008 climate change forum is real. However, it omits the crucial preceding explanation that he was purposely taking a “contrarian” view on the dangers of global warming during a panel discussion.

Owen Brian Toon, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder,  makes his views on the dangers of climate change very clear at several other points during the discussion. These are omitted from the Instagram clip.

In the edited clip, he says: “In most of the history of the earth it’s been a lot warmer than it is now and a lot warmer than it could be in the next century.

“The time of the dinosaurs there were no polar caps, the ocean was 300 feet deeper, and animals and agriculture were really happy. There were plenty of animals on the planet, there were lots of crops … you know, plants will have a longer growing season in a warmer climate. CO2’s going to make a longer growing season. It’ll be easier to plant crops in some places, plants eat carbon dioxide … the earth has been in this state of much warmer climate before, it’s its normal state.”

A screenshot of the Instagram post.
 The video purports to show Professor Owen Brian Toon exulting the benefits of global warming. 

The post features the hashtags #Climate Scam, #Truth and #BrianToon with comments below it including “now, now, you are destroying the Narrative of the left” and “climate control is a hoax”.

It comes from an Australian Instagram page which has shared several videos on similar topics, such as here, here and here. The misleading clip is also being shared on Twitter.

Professor Toon told AAP FactCheck the clip shared on social media had taken his statement out of context during a broader discussion on climate change.

The video comes from a panel discussion in April 2008 at the University of Colorado Boulder called “How Serious is Climate Change“, part of the university’s Humanities Salon series.

In the unedited video, Prof Toon begins his statement by saying “just for fun, one could be a contrarian here” in the segment titled “a contrarian viewpoint” – a caveat omitted from the clip used on social media.

Prof Toon said the video used on Instagram totally distorted his beliefs.

“My comments in this quote have been taken out of context,” he told AAP FactCheck in an email.

“I am not a climate contrarian. …The earth is rapidly warming, and if we don’t soon act to reduce the amount of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases, our children will regret it and blame us for being so selfish.”

A keyboard and office items on a desk (file image)
 The video has been purposely edited to claim an academic believes climate change isn’t a problem. 

During the full university talk, which is available in chapters on YouTube, Prof Toon makes clear his views on climate change, such as discussing how low-lying Pacific islands or nations such as Bangladesh are affected by sea level rises, and how the long life of carbon dioxide affects the climate.

Prof Toon has contributed to research investigating man-made climate change for decades, working with NASA on climate science projects. He has published extensively on atmospheric contributions to climate change.

“We are not adapted to hot climates and some places on earth, like those that are already pretty hot such as the middle east, will become intolerable in the next century,” Prof Toon told AAP FactCheck.

“These changes will lead to mass migrations such as we have never seen and possibly cause warfare.”

Prof Toon has spoken frequently about the seriousness of man-made climate change, such as on a 2021 YouTube series in which he is interviewed on “The reality of climate change”, noting humanity is “affecting the atmosphere and every other part of the ecosystem on the earth”.

In a 2017 podcast he states: “This is not really a question anymore about whether climate change is occurring or not. It certainly is occurring. It isn’t a matter of belief, it’s a matter of fact. You can measure all these things and see that the climate is changing. It’s not a belief issue.”

The Verdict

The claim that a respected US academic has downplayed the impact of global warming and suggested it may benefit civilisation is misleading.

The video has been edited to omit a preceding disclaimer that the comments made during a climate change forum in 2008 were “just for fun” and “contrarian”.

Prof Toon told AAP FactCheck his words had been taken out of context.

Misleading – The claim is accurate in parts but information has also been presented incorrectly, out of context or omitted.

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