In the great, never-cooling debate over the causes and consequences of global warming, it’s always clear whose side Fred Singer is on: not Al Gore’s. Singer, who was born in Vienna in 1924, was a pioneer in the development of rocket and satellite technology and holds a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton. Now president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project research group (sepp.org), his latest book (with Dennis Avery) is “Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1,500 Years.” I talked with Singer on Oct. 27 by phone from his offices in Arlington, Va.:
Q: What did you think upon hearing of Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize? A: First of all, I was really not surprised. The peace prize is a political exercise. Remember that Yasser Arafat got the peace prize for, ha, contributing to lasting peace in the Middle East. It’s very interesting, the peace prize selection committee comes from the Norwegian Parliament, so they’re all politicians. The government is a very left-wing government right now. I spoke about it this morning, in fact, and said that if the government changes -- if the Progress Party, which is an anti-immigration party, gains majority control -- it might give a peace prize to Pat Buchanan. It’s purely political, unlike the other prizes, which are awarded by the Swedish academies and which are based on committees that know something about the subject.
Q: Have you seen Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”?
A: Yes. I saw a slide show at a presentation, which he made in Washington. I saw the movie and I read the book. They’re all the same amount of bunk. They’re all very, very well presented -- very skillfully presented from a technical point of view. But the science is really shoddy.
Q: A lot of people have seen the movie but they don’t really keep up on this global-warming debate, which is very complex and very nasty sometimes about which science is true and which isn’t.
A: It is nasty, but it shouldn’t be complex. The issue is very simple. The only really important issue is, is the warming we are experiencing now natural or is it man-made? That’s really the only issue. Everything else is commentary.
Q: Now the Gore camp will say global warming is man-made and they'll point to all kinds of things to prove that.
A: And they’re all wrong.
Q: Is there anything that they point to where you say, “Yes, that’s true but …?”
A: Yes. There are a lot of things they point to where I say, “Yes, but… .” For example, they say glaciers are melting. Yes, but. It doesn’t tell you what the cause is. You see, any kind of warming, from whatever cause, will melt ice. Whether it’s natural or man-made warming, the ice doesn’t care. It will melt when it gets warmer. This is a trick that they do. They play this trick many times over -- showing the consequences of global warming, which really don’t tell you what the cause is. And the only important question is, remember, “What is the cause? Is it natural or man-made?” If it’s natural, then there is nothing we can do about it. It’s unstoppable. We can’t change the sun or influence volcanism or anything of that sort. We’re not at that stage yet. It also means that all these schemes for controlling CO2 are useless, completely useless. It’s all bunk.
Q: When you say global warming is natural, what is your chief culprit?
A: The sun. The sun. Definitely. The evidence we have shows an extremely strong correlation with solar activity. The (Earth’s) temperature follows the solar activity and the correlation is very strong. The mechanism itself is still under some dispute, but we think in some way the sun influences cosmic rays, which in turn influences cloudiness.
Q: That doesn’t even count the heat output of the sun, which changes over time, doesn’t it?
A: Those are very small and are not enough to account for all the climate changes that we see. What is causing it is not just the heat of the sun, but emissions from the sun that we don’t see -- except with satellites and spacecraft -- the so-called solar winds and magnetic fields.
Q: What about the things like the wobble of the Earth on its axis and the Earth’s eccentric orbit around the Sun?
A: That’s also important, but on a different time scale. For each time scale there is a particular cause. The time scale I’m talking about when I talk about direct solar influences are of the order of decades. The time scales that involve wobbles and orbits of the Earth around the sun involve times scales of 10,000 or 100,000 years.
Q: Can you give a synopsis of “Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1,500 Years"?
A: Yes. Our book -- I co-authored it with Dennis Avery -- basically looks at published papers in the peer-reviewed literature by geologists and other paleo-scientists, oceanographers and so on, who have studied the climate records of the past. Every one of them shows this (roughly 1,500-year) cycle. It was first discovered in ice cores in Greenland. Then it was seen in ocean sediments in the Atlantic. And now it’s been found everywhere, including in stalagmites in caves. In all kinds of climate records that you wouldn’t think of that have been studied, you see this cycle. It shows warming and cooling -- that’s an oscillation -- a slight warming and a slight cooling. It’s not a big effect. But it could well account for the current warming. It can well account for the warming that occurred 1,000 years ago. It can well account also for what we call “The Little Ice Age,” which occurred roughly 500 years ago.
Q: When people talk about the ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica growing or shrinking or melting completely, what should we know about that?
A: Well, the ice sheets of Greenland have not melted in historic time at all, even though it was much warmer 1,000 years ago and very much warmer 5,000 years ago. The ice sheets on Antarctica haven’t melted for millions of years, because it’s really quite cold there. There is always some melting that takes place during the summer, of course, when the sun shines directly on the ice. But in the precipitation that falls -- the rain and snow that falls -- soon turns to ice and grows the ice sheet back again.
Q: Is the quote-unquote “scientific consensus” that Al Gore and his acolytes are always speaking of growing stronger or weaker?
A: Let me put it this way: Many scientists, unfortunately, support the idea that the human influence on climate is very strong compared to natural influences. We don’t. We see the evidence differently. But most scientists disagree with Gore on specifics. For instance, on sea level rise: The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control), which is the U.N.’s climate advisory body, has come out with its report and predicts a sea level rise on the order of a foot and a half per century. Al Gore has a 20-foot rise. So he’s way out of line compared to the mainstream science.
Q: People like you, who think that global warming is not a crisis that demands instant or dramatic government action, are regularly accused of being tools of the oil, gas and coal industries. How do you defend yourself from that charge?
A: Ha, ha. Well, there are various ways. In the first place, I’ve held these views for a very long time. And secondly, I’m not a tool of the oil industry. In fact, when you think about oil -- let’s take Exxon for an example -- what the global warmists are trying to do is to demonize coal. Why? Because coal emits more carbon dioxide than oil or gas. Well, if they do that -- if they prevent the use of coal -- it figures that it makes oil and gas more valuable. It drives up the price. Exxon has huge reserves of oil and gas. So, in a sense, Exxon should benefit from global-warming alarmism. I don’t know if people have thought about that. It’s not been commonly discussed that all these holders of oil and gas reserves benefit financially any time the global warmists prevent the use of coal.
Q: The global warming community thinks we’re going to turn to wind and solar and ocean-wave energy to replace fossil fuels.
A: None of that is economic. It will produce some energy at a great cost. Put it this way: If it were economic, it would have been done by now. The only way you can do wind and solar is with large government subsidies. And you ask yourself, “Why should we all subsidize with our tax dollars something which is basically uneconomic?”
Q: Here’s my McCarthy Era question: Do you now or did you ever get money or grants or whatever from energy companies?
A: Sure. I’d love to get more, but they only did it once, I think. It was unsolicited, unannounced, and I cashed the check immediately. I’ve been wishing for more, ha, ha, but they haven’t given me any more. Now, don’t forget that what they’ve given me amounts to a tiny fraction of 1 percent of our total cumulative budget (at SEPP.org). And don’t forget that the energy companies give hundreds of millions of dollars -- which is at least 10,000 times as much as we’re getting -- to researchers everywhere who are working to show that global warming exists and is human-caused.
Q: Do you have any explanation why the Al Gore camp has won the global warming argument in the mainstream media?
A: That’s not really my field. I’m not sure they’ve won the argument in the media. I’m sure there are still many people in the media who are skeptical of Al Gore’s arguments -- and they should be.
Q: Should they be skeptical of your arguments as well?
A: Some are skeptical of my arguments, yes, of course. That’s because they haven’t looked into it. In other words, I’m very convinced that when I talk to somebody one-on-one and show them the evidence, they will agree with me.
Q: As you’ve watched this global-warming debate evolve, are you optimistic that good science, honest science, will trump politics?
A: Yes, I’m optimistic because eventually it must do that. The problem is the word “eventually.” In the meantime, a great deal of damage can be done to our economy as various schemes are being put forward to control CO2 emissions -- essentially to control the use of energy.