Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years

By: S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery
Published by: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007

Anyone who has read my book reviews has learned one basic fact about me: as my mom would have it, I'm a contrarian. I prefer to believe that, rather than being contrary, I need to learn both sides of any issue, and will go to great lengths to be sure that I learn both the pros and the cons of what "everybody thinks."

A few months ago, I watched Al Gore's blockbuster, "An Inconvenient Truth." While watching an artful explanation of the correlation between increasing temperatures and increasing CO2 levels, both my son and I voiced this same observation: "proving a correlation does not prove cause and effect!" This observation was lost on our viewing companions, who found the stunning graphics, hyperbolic descriptions of impending doom, and smug assurances of the superior intelligence and discernment of believers, convincing.

So naturally, (as I said, I am a contrarian) I had to dig deeper into the subject. (For those of you who haven't the patience to read this type of book, you can find the movie"The Great Global Warming Swindle," by going here: http://www.greatglobalwarmingswindle.co.uk/. The movie presents much of the same information and evidence as the book.)

Digging for that "more information" is how I discovered this book, and while I wouldn't rely on it any more unquestioningly than I would the Al Gore epic, the book does raise a number of valid questions about the popular conclusion that we are headed toward mass incineration. And I was self-satisfied to learn that one of the major objections raised in the book was that the correlation between higher CO2 and higher temperatures cannot be interpreted as cause and effect - particularly, say the authors, when the rise in CO2 actually lags the rise in temperature by as many as 800 years.

There is a good reason for this, they say. The oceans will give up more CO2 to the atmosphere when they are warm, and less when they are cold. The oceans take a LONG time (hundreds of years) to heat up in response to a warming trend. After a prolonged warming, when the oceans finally warm a bit, too, they will put out more CO2, and that is the real reason for the seemingly co-incident curves of the temperature and CO2 level graphs as shown in Al's movie.

Well, let's back up a minute, here. Before I get too excited, I always want to know who is talking to me. In the case of Al Gore, I don't have a lot of confidence in his science as a)he is not a scientist, and b)he invented the Internet. More a showman than an academic, his presentation of the global warming possibility offers more story than science - though in his defense, that it what it takes today to get people interested in a subject. And whatever else may be true, he has certainly turned the eyes of the world to the question.

Who, then are S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery, the authors of the book?

Singer is a climate physicist, known for his work in climate, energy, and environmental issues. He is professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia, and currently serves as Distinguished Research Professor at George Mason University. He was the founding dean of the School of Environmental and Planetary Science at the University of Miami, first director of the U.S. National Weather Satellite Service, and served five years as vice chairman of the U.S. National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmospheres.

If you Google him, however, you will find websites that point out that some of his studies over his career have been funded by the tobacco industry, or the oil industry. Duly noted, but not damning.

Dennis T. Avery has been a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute since 1989, and prior to that was a senior analyst in the U.S. Department of State where he won the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement. He writes a weekly column on environmental issues, and has written a number of books.

Ok, so much for credentials. While he may be occasionally in the pay of Corporate America, Singer at least is a valid scientist; Avery appears to be a legitimate writer specializing in environmental issues.

Now, for the arguments.

Singer's basic argument is that the preponderance of the scientific evidence points to a regular pattern of natural Global Warming, as the title of the book puts it, every 1,500 years or so. This warming is based on the cycles of radiation output of the sun (there is a great deal of science regarding this which I won't try to go into in a book review). While the earth is in a warming phase, and while people are adding more CO2 to the atmosphere due to their various activities, he feels that drawing a causal conclusion between the CO2 added by human activity and the increase of earth's average temperature is just bad science.

The 1,500 year heating/cooling cycle Singer discusses has been shown to exist using such evidence as ice cores, seabed sediment cores, cave stalagmites, fossilized pollen, and archaeological evidence of historic humans moving their homes up and down mountainsides as earth's temperature warmed and cooled.

Moreover, Singer demonstrates that there have been several pronounced warming/cooling periods during recent (recorded) human history: The Roman Warming, the Dark Ages, The Medieval Warming, and the Little Ice Age. Each of these fits nicely into the 1,500 year cycling - but clearly cannot be related to the CO2-producing activities of humans (there being too few humans, and far too little CO2 producing activities in any of these historic periods).

Singer also goes on to suggest that even if it were true that human-added CO2 were partially responsible for the current heating trend, the extreme reaction to this idea is prematurely alarming: each increment of CO2 increase produces less warming than the unit before it. "The amounts of CO2 already added to the atmosphere must already have used up much - and perhaps most - of CO2's forcing capability."

Singer is also skeptical about the true amount of recent global warming. The official temperature records he says, fail to take into account that most official thermometers are located in "urban heat islands." (For example, the Syracuse weather was commonly reported from the airport, where proximity to the urban area, and the tarmac itself, served to increase the temperature reading over the average of readings in the surrounding countryside.) "When meteorological experts," writes Singer, "reconstructed U.S. official temperatures 'without cities and crops' - using more accurate data from satellites and high-altitude weather balloons - about half of the recent "official" warming disappeared." (Author's emphasis.)

Singer also postulates that warming is, in and of itself, not necessarily a scary thing. He points out that during the Roman Warming, and later the Medieval Warming, people were healthier, better fed, and more prosperous than during the Dark Ages or Little Ice Age coolings (the Little Ice Age officially "ended" in 1850 or so).

The writers treat with the greatest fears of the havoc Global Warming is presumed to mean:

- Rising sea levels. "Judging from measurements made on corals, sea levels have been rising steadily since the peak of the last Ice Age about 18,000 years ago. The total rise since then has been four hundred feet." The average increase per century is about 7 inches (and that includes previous historic warming periods). In the past century, the data show an increase of about 6 inches, including during the strong warming between 1920 and 1970. He points out that more water in the oceans means more surface area which means more evaporation which means more rain and snowfall (including on the glaciers), which will add to the glacial snowmass. "Researchers say it would take another 7,000 years to melt the West Antarctic Ice Sheet - a small fraction of all the ice - and we're almost sure to get another ice age before then."

- Wild species will go extinct. The world's existing species, say the writers, have survived the abrupt global temperature shifts more 600 times in the past million years. They claim that rather than dying there will likely be more biodiversity in a given ecological niche. Animals are more likely to be limited in their range by cold than by warmth.

- More hunger and famine. High tech farming has governed the world's overall food production, say the authors, not climate. The tropics are already inadequate food producers, and both Canada and Russia, were they to become warmer, would likely increase their food production.

- More and worse storms. "There has been no increase in the frequency or severity of hurricanes, blizzards, cyclones, tornadoes, or any other kind of storms during the warming of the past 150 years." This can be explained scientifically: storms are driven by the temperature differential between the equator and the poles. Greenhouse warming is predicted to boost the temperatures at the poles more than at the equator, thereby moderating the temperature differential, and resulting in, you got it, fewer storms. "History and paleontology tell us the warmings have experienced better, more stable weather than the coolings."

- Global warming will trigger abrupt global cooling. Global warming could add increased meltwater to the oceans, say the Global Warming supporters, shutting down the Great Atlantic Conveyor, the huge ocean current that distributes heat from the equator to the poles. With the Gulf Stream also shut down, earth would quickly be covered in ice. When it happened once before (and only once) it was following an ice age, explains Singer, when trillions of tons of ice in the Canadian and Siberian ice sheets melted. Climate models say this can't happen again because there isn't enough ice left on earth to support it.

- Humans will die due to heat, insects, and disease. Freezing weather is statistically more dangerous than hot weather; and (for example) the world's biggest malaria outbreak was in Russia in the 1920s.

- Coral reefs will die out. Coral reefs live in symbiotic relationship with their algae. Coral reefs bleach when temperatures fluctuate - both warmer and colder. Corals essentially eject their current partners - those not suited to the warming/cooling temperatures, and find new ones more suited to the changed environment. "That is how they have survived for millions of climate-varied years."

In addition to the scientific arguments against both global warming itself, and the dangers posed by it, the book discusses why we are under the impression that the scientific community is lockstep behind this proposal.

One of the most powerful statements lending credibility to the theory of Global Warming was the IPCC's (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 1996 report, which claimed to have a huge number of significant scientists as signatories.

These signatories reviewed the report in 1995, and the report was subsequently published in 1996. The published report, however, left out some significant information which had been in the 1995 draft, and added non-approved information.

Among the added paragraphs:

"There is evidence of an emerging pattern of climate response to forcing by greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols... from the geographical, seasonal and vertical patterns of temperature change...These results point toward a human influence on global change."

And this: "The body of statistical evidence in Chapter 8, when examined in the context of our physical understanding of the climate system, now points to a discernible human influence on global climate."

Taken out (again, after the panel review) were these telling paragraphs:

"None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed (climate) changes to the specific cause of increases in greenhouse gases."

"While some of the pattern-based studies discussed here have claimed detection of a significant climate change, no study to date has positively attributed all or part (of the climate change observed) to (man-made) causes. Nor has any study quantified the magnitude of a greenhouse gas effect or aerosol effect in the observed data - an issue of primary relevance to policy makers."

"Any claims of positive detection and attribution of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced."

"While none of these studies has specifically considered the attribution issue, they often draw some attribution conclusions, for which there is little justification."

"When will an anthropogenic effect on climate be identified? It is not surprising that the best answer to this question is, 'We do not know.'"

The authors also devote some important space to a discussion of the apparent consensus of eminent scientists that the Global Warming scenario - complete with its disastrous results - is a given. The authors say, "It is sheer fantasy to suggest that a huge majority of scientists with expertise in global climate change endorse an alarming interpretation of the recent climate data.

"In fact, the footnoted studies in this book include hundreds of climate science authors whose work argues against the alarmist view of climate change."

The book is detailed, enlightening, and compelling. (From that standpoint, it's not an easy book to read!) The least compelling thing about it is its warning that undertaking radical controls on emissions would be a form of economic suicide, for both advanced nations (who would have to reduce their fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions so severely as to implode their economies) and developing nations (who would be forbidden to take advantage of many modern technologies in order to stay within the limits that experts say will have some effect on the Global Warming trend).

The only reason this part of the book is not as thought-provoking as the rest is that it is the one section that could be associated with a self-serving agenda: if there is no danger, we can continue life as we know it with no interruption in service. Besides, claim the authors, we simply don't have the means to reduce our consumption adequately to make any kind of dent in a warming trend that is going on with us or without us - our impact, for good or ill, is negligible.

The more important conclusion one can reach from reading a book like this - and if I were teaching today, I would insist that my students either see both Gore's movie and read this book, or do neither - is that we should calmly investigate all of the science involved, and that we understand the cost of any impact we hope to make on a global level (if, for example, we are worried about people dying, we have only to recall the deaths in Europe during a heat wave a few years back. If we stop burning fossil fuels, we stop cooling homes, and we will lose people not only to heat, but to the cold as well if we reduce the burning of fossil fuels to heat our homes).

The only approach we can responsibly take is one of educated balance. We must listen to all the facts, even the ones we find - for whatever reason - inconvenient, and then make a reasoned judgment about what we should and can do to influence the outcome. Hysteria never helps.


Angee said…
First of all, I really liked the tone of your post and I think this is how the issue should be approached. It's not black or white, as there are many factors that cause global warming.

Some of them are natural: there is a natural cycle and the climate variates, there also is pollution which is human made (though is not such as important as the IPCC sais it is), there is too much energy consumption (still, not as severe as the IPCC sais), but there also are the oceans, which should be payed attention to.

I am very interested in the final aspect and I have read about possible cause of the oceans being more and more affected by naval activiy on www.1ocean-1climate.com and also an attempt to explain the 20th century climate on www.arctic-warming.com.

I have posted here and there my impressions on the issue and many people laughed, as for them pollution was the buggest climate change factor, because it was the only one that they faced daily.
Nancy Roberts said…
Thanks for your comment. It's difficult to find anyone even willing to discuss a book like this, let alone the subject on its own merits. We just don't want to spend the time and mental energy to really explore a subject, do we?

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