Climate Change: Natural and Unstoppable

By S. Fred Singer Published in (New Delhi) Financial Chronicle, Sept 1, 2009
S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project. He completed his undergraduate studies in engineering at Ohio State University and earned his Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University. He was the founding dean of the School of Environmental and Planetary Sciences at the University of Miami, the founding director of the U.S. National Weather Satellite Service, and served for five years as vice chairman of the U.S. National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere. Dr. Singer has written or edited over a dozen books and monographs, including
Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years (2007), Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate (2008), and Climate Change Reconsidered (2009).

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 fear that human activities may affect global climate adversely and that therefore corrective action is required on the part of governments. Recent evidence suggests that this concern is misplaced. Human activities are not influencing the global climate in a perceptible way. Climate will continue to change, as it always has in the past, warming and cooling on different time scales and for different reasons, regardless of any human action. I would also argue that--should it occur--a modest warming would be on the whole beneficial.

This is not to say that we don’t face a serious problem. But the problem is not environmental but political: Because of the mistaken idea that governments can and must do something about climate, pressures are building that have the potential of distorting energy policies in a way to severely damage national economies, decrease standards of living, and increase poverty. This misdirection of resources will adversely affect human health and welfare in industrialized nations, but even more drastically in developing nations. Thus, it could very well lead to increased social tensions within nations and conflict between them.

If not for this economic and political damage, one might consider the present concern about climate change nothing more than just another environmentalist fad, like the ‘Nuclear Winter’ scare of the 1980s or the global cooling fears of the 1970s. Given that so much is at stake, however, it is essential for everyone to understand the issue better.

Man Made Warming?

The most fundamental question is scientific: Is the observed warming of the past 30 years due to natural causes or are human activities a contributing or even a major factor?

At first glance, it is quite plausible that humans could be responsible for warming the climate. After all, the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy releases large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The CO
2 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 CO2 is a “greenhouse gas” which strongly absorbs infrared (heat) radiation. So the idea that burning of fossil fuels causes an enhanced greenhouse effect needs to be taken seriously and examined.

But in seeking to understand recent warming, we must also consider the natural factors that have regularly warmed the climate prior to the industrial revolution and, indeed, prior to any human presence on the earth. After all, the geological record shows a persistent 1500-year cycle of warming and cooling, extending back at least one million years.

In identifying the burning of fossil fuels as the chief cause of warming, many politicians and environmental activists simply appeal to a so-called “scientific consensus.” There are two things wrong with this. First, there is no such consensus. For example, the widely touted “consensus” of 2500 scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an illusion: most of the panelists have no scientific qualifications, and many of those who do have objected to some part of the IPCC’s report. The Associated Press reported recently that only 52 climate scientists contributed to the IPCC’s “Summary for Policymakers.”

The second reason not to rely on a “consensus” in these matters is that this is not how science works. Indeed, every scientific advance comes from a minority of scientists who challenge the majority view. Sometimes this is just a single person: think of Galileo or Einstein. Science proceeds by the scientific method and draws conclusions based on evidence, not on a show of hands.

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

What about the fact that carbon dioxide levels are increasing at the same time temperatures are rising? That’s an interesting correlation; but as every scientist knows, correlation is not causation. During much of the last century the climate was
cooling while CO2 levels were rising. And we should note that the climate has not warmed since 1998, even though greenhouse gas levels have increased rapidly.

What about the fact that every major greenhouse computer model (there are two dozen or so) shows a large temperature increase due to increasing CO
2? Fortunately, there is a scientific way of testing these models to see whether current warming is due to a manmade greenhouse effect. It involves comparing the actually observed pattern of warming with the warming pattern calculated from the models. Essentially, we try to see if the “fingerprints” match—with fingerprints meaning the rates of warming at different latitudes and altitudes. Theoretically, in the tropics, greenhouse warming should register at increasingly high rates as one moves from the surface of the earth up into the atmosphere, peaking at about 10 kilometers (six miles) above the earth’s surface. At that point, the rate should be greater than at the surface by about a factor of nearly three and quite pronounced, according to all the models. In reality, however, there is no increase at all. In fact, the data from balloon-borne radiosondes show the very opposite: a slight decrease in warming rate over the equator. [BOX 1]

Natural Causes of Warming

A quite different question, but scientifically interesting, has to do with understanding the natural factors influencing climate. This is a big topic about which much has been written. Natural factors include continental drift and mountain-building, changes in the Earth’s orbit, volcanic eruptions, and solar variability. Different factors operate on different time scales. But on a time scale important for human experience—decades, let’s say—solar variability may be the most important.
[BOX 2]

Policy consequences

The scientific argument against the conclusions of the UN-IPCC is developed in detail in the 2008 and 2009 reports of the independent NIPCC (Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change), based on peer-reviewed publications in science journals. NIPCC demonstrates that the human-caused increase in the CO
2 level is largely irrelevant to climate change. But natural causes of climate change cannot be controlled by man. Several policy consequences follow from the simple fact that such changes are unstoppable: Regulation of CO2 emissions is pointless and even counterproductive, in that no matter what kind of mitigation scheme is used, such regulation is ineffective and hugely expensive. The development of non-fossil fuel energy sources, like ethanol and hydrogen, might also be counterproductive, given that they have to be manufactured, often with the investment of great amounts of ordinary energy. Nor do they offer much reduction in oil imports. Wind power and solar power become less attractive, being uneconomic and requiring huge subsidies. Substituting natural gas for coal in electricity generation makes less sense for the same reasons. Capture and sequestration of CO2 from power plants (or from the atmosphere) is pointless, costly, and requires large expenditures of energy.

None of this is intended to argue against energy conservation. On the contrary, conserving energy reduces waste, saves money, and lowers energy prices—irrespective of what one may believe about climate change and global warming.

Science vs. Hysteria

You will note that this has been a rational discussion. We asked the important question of whether there is any appreciable manmade warming today. We presented evidence that indicates there is not, thereby suggesting that attempts by governments to control greenhouse-gas emissions are pointless and unwise. Yet we have every industrialized nation (with the exception of the U.S. and Australia) signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, but exceeding emission targets. Now we have ongoing international demands for even more stringent controls to be agreed to in Copenhagen in December 2009 – to go into effect when Kyoto expires in 2012. The emission reductions proposed are so unrealistic that there is little expectation of any binding international agreement. At their August 2009 meeting in Italy, the G-8 leaders abandoned their quest to impose emission limits and instead agreed to keep the global climate from warming beyond 2 degC! Shades of King Canute commanding the tides to stop rising.

It is worth noting that tens of thousands of interested persons benefit directly from the climate scare—at the expense of the ordinary consumer. Environmental organizations globally, like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Fund, have raked in billions of dollars. Multi-billion government subsidies for useless mitigation schemes are large and growing in many nations. Emission trading programs will soon reach the $100 billion a year level, with large fees paid to brokers and those who operate these scams. In other words, many people have discovered they can benefit from climate scares and have formed an entrenched interest.
[BOX 3] Of course, there are also many sincere believers in an impending global warming catastrophe, spurred on in their fears by the growing number of one-sided books and movies.

The irony is that a slightly warmer climate with more carbon dioxide is in many ways beneficial rather than damaging. Economic studies have demonstrated that a modest warming and higher CO
2 levels will increase GNP and raise standards of living—primarily by improving agriculture and forestry. It’s a well-known fact that CO2 is plant food and essential to the growth of crops and trees—and ultimately essential to the well-being of animals and humans.

To repeat a point made at the beginning: Climate has been changing cyclically for at least a million years and shown huge variations over geological time. Human beings have adapted well, and will continue to do so.


The nations of the world face many difficult problems. Most have societal problems like poverty, disease, lack of sanitation, and shortage of clean water. There are grave security problems arising from global terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Any of these are vastly more important than the imaginary problem of manmade 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 warming (as it has for ten years now) or even begin to cool.

We can only trust that reason will prevail in the face of an onslaught of propaganda like Al Gore’s
An Inconvenient Truth and despite the incessant misinformation generated by the media. Today, the imposed costs are still modest, and mostly hidden in taxes and in charges for electricity and motor fuels. If the scaremongers have their way, these costs would become enormous. But I believe that sound science and good sense will prevail in the face of irrational and scientifically baseless climate fears.
BOX 1 Why the disparity between observed and modeled temperatures?

**[ The fact that the observed and predicted patterns of warming don’t match indicates that the manmade greenhouse contribution to current temperature change is insignificant. This fact emerges from data and graphs collected in the Climate Change Science Program Report 1.1, published by the U.S. government in April 2006 and available at It is remarkable and puzzling that few have noticed the obvious disparity between the observed and predicted patterns of warming and drawn the obvious scientific conclusion.

But why do greenhouse computer models predict temperature trends that are so much larger than those observed? The answer lies in the proper evaluation of “feedback” within the models. Remember that in addition to CO
2, the atmosphere contains water vapor, the most powerful atmospheric greenhouse gas. Every one of the climate models calculates a significant positive feedback from water vapor—i.e., a feedback that amplifies the effect of the CO2 increase by an average factor of two or three. But it is quite possible that in the real atmosphere water vapor feedback is negative rather than positive and thereby reduces the effect of increased CO2.

There are several ways this might occur: For example, when increased CO
2 produces a warming of the ocean, a higher rate of evaporation might lead to more humidity and cloudiness. These low clouds reflect incoming solar radiation back into space and thereby cool the earth. Climate researchers have also discovered other possible feedbacks and are busy evaluating which ones enhance the effect of increasing CO2 and which diminish it.]**

BOX-2 Solar activity, not human activity, controls climate changes

**[The solar influence can manifest itself in different ways: fluctuations of the solar irradiance (total energy), which has been measured in satellites and related to the sunspot cycle; the variability of the ultraviolet portion of the solar spectrum, which in turn affects the amount of ozone in the stratosphere; and variations in the solar wind that modulate the intensity of cosmic rays (which upon impact into the earth’s atmosphere produce cloud condensation nuclei, affecting cloudiness, and thus climate). Scientists have been able to trace the influence of the sun on past climate using proxy data (since thermometers are relatively modern).

A conventional proxy for temperature is the ratio of the heavy isotope of oxygen, Oxygen-18, to the most common form, Oxygen-16. A paper published in
Nature in 2001 describes the Oxygen-18 data (reflecting temperature) from a stalagmite in a cave in Oman, covering a period of over 3,000 years. It also shows corresponding Carbon-14 data, which are directly related to the intensity of cosmic rays striking the earth’s atmosphere. One sees there a remarkably detailed correlation–almost on a year-by-year basis. While such research cannot establish the detailed mechanism of climate change, the causal connection is quite clear: Since the stalagmite temperature cannot affect the sun, it is the sun that affects climate.]**

BOX 3 Schemes to avoid painful emission cuts have on impact on the global climate

***[It seems that even advocates of emission-control policies are not really serious about them. A feature of the Kyoto Protocol called the Clean Development Mechanism allows a CO2 emitter—e.g., an energy user in Europe —to support a fanciful CO2 reduction scheme in developing nations in exchange for the right to keep on emitting CO2 unabated. These so-called “offsets” are supposed to reduce the “carbon footprint” of the energy user; but they lend themselves to misuse and fraud. Another scheme, “emission trading” among countries that have ratified Kyoto, allows for the sale of certificates of unused emission quotas. In many cases, the initial quota was simply given away by governments to power companies and other entities, which in turn collected a windfall fee from consumers. All of this has become a huge financial racket that makes the UN’s ‘Oil for Food’ scandal in Iraq seem minor by comparison. Even more fraudulent, these schemes do not reduce global CO2 emissions—not even in theory.]***