Senate: Insist that the Science "Be There" on Global Warming

Senate: Insist that the Science "Be There" on Global Warming
October 1, 1997

Dr. S. Fred Singer is president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project in Fairfax, Virginia. A distinguished research professor at George Mason University and the Institute for Space Science Technology, Singer has served as chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Transportation, deputy assistant administrator for policy at the Environmental Protection Agency, and deputy assistant of secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior. He was the first director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service and developed some of the techniques for remote sensing of the atmosphere.

A frequent commentator on television and radio, Dr. Singer's writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and New York Times. He has written several books, including Global Warming: Unfinished Business, The Greenhouse Gas Debate Continued, Global Climate Change, The Universe and its Origin, and The Ocean in Human Affairs. Dr. Singer earned a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University. He recently spoke with Environment News managing editor Bonner Conner about global warming and the upcoming meeting of the nations in Kyoto, Japan.

Cohen: Administration officials and others urging the U.S. to sign and ratify a global warming treaty say there is a "consensus" among scientists that the world will warm at an alarming rate, and that appropriate measures need to be taken. Is there, in fact, such a consensus?

Singer: There certainly is no consensus among climate scientists that the world will warm at an alarming rate, although many non-specialists might hold that opinion. Actual surveys of the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union, the competent professional organizations, have demonstrated that a majority does not accept the "alarming rate" warming. Even many scientists who worked on the UN-IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report believe that there might be some warming, but certainly are not expressing any alarm.

Cohen: Of course, one could also argue that there was once a "consensus" among experts that the world was flat. What is the role of consensus in science?

Singer: As is well known, science is not decided by consensus. In fact, science progresses only when there is an open debate, often started by a small group unwilling to subscribe to the conventional wisdom.

Cohen: Is climatology well enough understood by those carrying on the treaty negotiations that they can be entrusted to come up with a scientifically sound and economically viable climate change treaty?

Singer: It is my opinion that those carrying on the negotiations either have no clue about the science or are willfully distorting the clear scientific evidence that contradicts the view that the world will warm at an alarming rate.

Cohen: In light of the scientific doubts surrounding the issue, why do you think the administration, the UN, the environmental community, and others are so intent on pushing this particular issue?

Singer: Analyzing the motives of others is a complex issue. There may be some who are truly convinced that global warming is a serious problem, but, of course, there are many other pressing issues facing people throughout the world. Others of the greenhouse lobby may be thinking more of their personal objectives. But the majority of the green movement simply wants to reduce human impacts on nature for ideological reasons; they would go so far as to stop the burning of fossil fuels, and ultimately every other aspect of modern technology.

Cohen: Based on what we have learned from the negotiations that have taken place in Bonn, just what is it that the nations of the world are supposed to agree to in Kyoto in December?

Singer: The purpose of the Kyoto meeting seems to be to arrive at legally binding emission limits for the industrialized nations of the world. I am sure there will be some language relating to the rest of the nations whose emissions will exceed those of the industrialized nations within about ten years. But I don't think there will be any way to enforce such a plan.

There are many other difficulties with the Kyoto proposals, including deciding on what quotas to set for each nation, whether to permit trading of emission rights, how to inspect, and how to enforce. It is noteworthy that the Kyoto protocol, if one is arrived at, will focus entirely on CO2 and will not mention methane, an intrinsically much more powerful greenhouse gas. As we know, methane is produced primarily by cattle grazing and rice growing, and is therefore tied directly to population growth rather than to technology. Maybe that's why the green lobby ignores methane.

Cohen: So the treaty will not lower emissions, but will simply redistribute them around the world, mostly to countries with few if any environmental safeguards. What kind of environmental policy is that?

Singer: Depending on how emission quotas are set, there might be no reduction in the global emission rate. It will simply shift industrial production to developing countries. And, of course, jobs will be shifted, too.

Cohen: How will that affect the lives of ordinary people in the industrialized countries and in developing nations?

Singer: In addition to the loss of jobs in industrialized countries, there will also be a real cost to their citizens. For example, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Research Economics has estimated that a 15 percent uniform target, which has been proposed by the European Union (EU), would cost each Australian $10,700, compared with $2,400 for United States citizens and $1,300 for residents in the EU. Ordinary people in the industrialized countries will pay heavy energy taxes, lose jobs, and have a much-reduced standard of living, closer to that of the developing nations.

People in developing countries will suffer in two ways: A reduction in world trade will hurt their exports, and the money going to them from the industrialized nations will, in all likelihood, be soaked up by their government bureaucracies.

Cohen: Assuming that the nations of the world do agree to sign a global warming treaty in Kyoto this December, what would you advise the U.S. Senate to do? (Any treaty signed by the United States requires a two-thirds vote of approval by the Senate for ratification.)

Singer: The U.S. Senate has a heavy responsibility in this matter. First of all, it must insist that any modification to the treaty come up for approval by ratification. It should not be sneaked in through the back door. The Senate should clearly understand the economic impact of such a protocol; it has already expressed itself unanimously against any protocol that would cause economic damage to the United States, or involve only the industrialized countries. Finally, and most important, the U.S. Senate must insist that the science be there to support the need for a protocol, and, indeed, for a climate treaty.

For more information on Dr. Singer's work and that of the Science & Environmental Policy Project, contact SEPP at 4084 University Drive #101, Fairfax, VA 22030. Or visit the group's Web site at Dr. Singer can be reached by e-mail at