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Professor Fred Singer

Professor Fred Singer

The Global Warming Debate

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In the past few years there has been increasing concern about global climate change on the part of the media, politicians, and the public. It has been stimulated by the idea that human activities may influence global climate adversely and that action is required on the part of governments to do something about this problem.

My purpose here is to show that this concern is misplaced, that human activities are not influencing the global climate in a perceptible way, and that, in any case, very little can be done about global climate change. It is unstoppable; we should not even try to influence it. Climate will continue to change, as it always has in the past, both warming and cooling on different time scales and for different reasons, completely unrelated to any human action. I will also argue that –should it occur — a modest warming is on the whole beneficial.

There is however a serious problem. In the mistaken idea that something needs to be done, policies are arising that have the potential of distorting energy policies, severely damaging national economies, make us poorer, and hurting standards of living. Such a misdirection of resources will adversely affect human health and welfare in industrialized nations — and even more so in developing nations. It can lead to social tensions within nations and to conflict between nations. If it were not for this potential of inflicting serious economic damage, one might consider the present concern about climate change nothing more than just another fad or human aberration. But once it affects energy policy, it becomes essential to understand the issue to avoid inflicting any severe harm.

Global warming is natural

The most fundamental question of all is certainly scientific: Is the observed warming of the past 30 years due to natural causes or are human activities a contributing or even a main factor? At first glance, it is quite plausible that humans are warming the climate; after all, the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy releases large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Its level has been increasing steadily since the beginning of the industrial revolution and is now 35 percent higher than it was 200 years ago. Also, we know from direct measurements, that carbon dioxide is a “greenhouse (GH) gas” which strongly absorbs infrared (heat) radiation. So the idea of fossil-fuel burning causing an enhanced greenhouse effect needs to be taken seriously. The issue then becomes one of numbers. How important is this human greenhouse effect compared to natural factors that can warm the climate, much as they have been doing in the past without any human presence. For example, the geological record shows a persistent cycle of warming and cooling of about 1,500 years length, extending back at least a million years.

How to tell the cause of warming? One could ask the thermometers but they don’t talk. Many politicians simply appeal to an imagined “scientific consensus.” There are two things wrong with that. First, there is no scientific consensus: second, that is not how science works. Every scientific advance comes from a minority of scientists who do not go along with the majority view — sometimes just from a single person: think of Galileo or Einstein.

But aren’t glaciers melting, and isn’t sea ice shrinking? Yes, but that’s not proof for human-caused warming. Any kind of warming, whether natural or anthropogenic, will melt ice. To claim that melting glaciers prove a human effect is just bad logic.

What about the fact that carbon dioxide levels are increasing and so are temperatures? That’s an interesting correlation but doesn’t establish a cause-effect relation. During much of the last century the climate was cooling while CO2 levels were rising. And we should note that climate has not warmed in the past ten years — even though greenhouse gas levels have increased rapidly.

Many climate scientists, including those working on the report of the UN-sponsored IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] have pointed out that the greenhouse computer models all show a global temperature increase. But the two dozen or so major GH models in the world all give different warming rates, depending on the assumptions that are fed into the model. So any agreement with observed rates of increase could be fortuitous and is unconvincing.

Fortunately, there is a method that can be used to check on whether the observed warming is anthropogenic. It relies on comparing the observed pattern of warming with the one calculated from GH models. Essentially we try to see if the “fingerprints” match. The fingerprint is the pattern of warming, that is, the rate of warming at different latitudes and altitudes. Greenhouse warming should give increasing rates as one goes from the surface up into the atmosphere — peaking at about 10 kilometers, where the rate of increase is about a factor of two greater than the surface rate, and quite pronounced in all the models.

The observed pattern, however, does not show any increase at all; in fact, the data from balloon-borne radiosondes show a slight decrease over the equator. Evidently, the observed and calculated fingerprints don’t match, indicating that the human contribution to current warming is insignificant, too small to be discerned. The cause of warming must therefore be natural, either an internal oscillation of the atmosphere-ocean system, or an external effect, perhaps stemming from the Sun.

This significant result emerges from data accumulated by the UN-IPCC itself, but analyzed and published by NIPCC, a non-governmental international panel on climate change – see graph below.

The full report is available at http://www.sepp.org/publications/NIPCC_final.pdf

It is surprising perhaps that few have noticed the evident disparity between the observed and calculated patterns and drawn the obvious conclusion that current climate models cannot simulate properly the processes of the real atmosphere and that the anthropogenic effect on climate predicted by models are still too small to be noticeable.

It is scientifically interesting to ask what are the natural factors that are influencing climate? This is a big subject about which much has been written. Natural factors include volcanic eruptions, continental drift and mountain building, changes in the Earth’s orbit — and, of course, solar variability. Different kinds of influences operate on different time scales. But on a time scale important for human experience.– typically decades — solar variability may be the most important.

Policy consequences

If this line of reasoning is correct – and we think it is – then the influence of greenhouse gases on climate is not important. Natural factors cannot be controlled; natural climate changes are unstoppable. All sorts of consequences follow from this simple conclusion.

· The control of CO2 emissions from fuel burning is pointless, expensive, and even counterproductive.

· No matter what kind of mitigation scheme is used, the control of CO2 emissions is also hugely expensive. Ditto for sequestration of CO2, And double ditto for the UN-Kyoto Protocol to limit GH gas emissions.

· The development of non-fossil fuel energy sources, like ethanol and hydrogen, is often counterproductive. Both of these fuels have to be manufactured, often with the investment of great amounts of ordinary energy. They provide little if any reduction in CO2 emission and, depending on their manufacture, little reduction in oil imports.

· Wind power and solar power are uneconomic and require huge subsidies. If one wants to have energy sources that do not emit CO2, then nuclear energy is readily available.

· Substituting natural gas for coal in electricity generation is uneconomic. Natural gas is better used as a home heating fuel and, in compressed form, as a substitute for oil in transportation.

· Extraterrestrial electric power generation, for example by a Solar Power Satellite system, becomes less attractive.

· None of this argues against energy conservation. On the contrary, conserving energy reduces waste, saves money, and lowers energy prices – irrespective of what one may think about climate change and global warming.

Why is there panic?

Why then this widespread belief in catastrophic climate change and the increasing public demand for government to do something about it? By now there are tens of thousands who are benefiting directly from the climate scare – at the expense of the ordinary consumer. Environmental organizations worldwide, like Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, etc., are consuming billions a year. Government subsidies in the United States are running at about that level. The various trading programs will soon be at the $100 billion a year level, with large fees paid to brokers — and even larger sums to those who operate the scams. In other words, many people have discovered they can benefit from climate scares; the longer we wait to expose them, the harder it will be to do something about these entrenched interests.

The world faces many difficult problems. We have societal problems like poverty, disease, lack of sanitation and clean water — and we have security problems arising from global terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Any of these problems are vastly more important than the imaginary one of anthropogenic global warming. It is a great shame that so many of our resources are being diverted from real problems to non-problems. Perhaps in ten or 20 years this will become apparent to everyone, particularly if the climate should stop increasing or even cool.

But the greatest danger may come from the expansion of government regulation and from the inevitable growth of bureaucracy, imbued with the zeal to control the behavior of the population in order to reduce emissions. There will have to be reporting, monitoring, inspection, sanctions, and endless lawsuits. It is the loss of freedom that concerns so many of us. And all because of an imaginary threat.

We can only hope that sanity will prevail against the onslaught of propaganda like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and the incessant misinformation generated by the media. Today, the imposed costs are still modest but not transparent, hidden in taxes and in charges for electricity and motor fuels. But I’m optimistic and believe that sound science and good sense will prevail before climate fears generate an economic catastrophe and threaten our constitutional rights.

*Watch Prof Singer on YouTube explaining how climate change is natural NOT man-made >>