|UNSTOPPABLE GLOBAL WARMING (rev. ed.)
Every 1,500 Years
S. Fred Singer
Dennis T. Avery
Joseph L. Bast (Fwd.)
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, October 2007
In a debate between a climate scientist and a "skeptic", the party on the side with the bogus arguments can throw out a series of claims without giving his opponent a chance to respond in a measured way to any of them.1 Responding in a measured way, of course, is what scientists do by training and inclination. The "skeptic" can thus hope to win points by glib delivery of talking points which his opponent has no time to refute. But how can a "skeptic" do this in print? A common way is to dazzle the reader with a deluge of data. That is what Dennis Avery and long-time climate-change Denialist S. Fred Singer have done here.2
The thesis of the authors is that measurements of ice-core proxy data by Willi Dansgaard and Hans Oeschger showed a temperature cycle of 2,550 years (refined to 1,500 years by later researchers) that is apparently related to solar activity. They state (page 19): "During the past decade, numerous researchers have found the cycle in many long-term temperature proxies, particularly from isotopes of oxygen, carbon, beryllium, and argon trapped in glacier ice, from fossil pollen records, and from algae cyst assemblages in lake and seabed sediments."
This presentation covers the first four chapters. Readers will notice that the facts presented in these chapters most often refer to previous periods when one region or another warmed or cooled. Knowing this is important for scientific understanding of Earth's complex climate system, but not directly germane to the current warming. Nor do most of these data apply to the entire globe. Also, the authors are fond of inserting extraneous historical data.
"During June 1253, Westminster Abbey alone had 428 construction workers, nearly half of them skilled stone workers and glass blowers, and there were hundreds of other major building projects across Europe. Since there were only one-tenth as many people in Europe then as today, it would be comparable to a modern public monument project employing 4,280 construction workers—for decades."
– Page 51
According to the book, Dr. Singer is a "climate physicist." Now 90, he has an impressive resume. He served in WW II, designing mines for the U.S. Navy, then earned a physics Ph.D. at Princeton in 1948. He was involved in designing Earth observation satellites and in 1962 established the National Weather Service Satellite Service Center. However, his public opposition to established science, most notably the health impacts of second-hand smoke and the reality of human-caused global warming places him firmly in the Denialist camp.
Dennis Avery studied agricultural economics at two universities and was the U.S Department of State's senior agricultural analyst 1980-1988. He is now director of the Center for Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute. He advocates for industrial farming and opposes organic foods, as in his book Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic.
Of course, scientific credentials are no guarantee of someone producing accurate science — just as a lack of credentials does not guarantee being wrong. It's possible for Singer and Avery to discover a phenomenon everybody else missed. But they haven't.
The authors make no attempt to synthesize all this interesting data into a coherent picture, much less demonstrate how it refutes the consensus view of current warming. There is rich irony here, for one valid scientific observation of the right type would be all that they need to do that. But they cannot present such an observation because they do not have one.
The book is divided into four parts, but really consists of but two logical divisions. Part 1 contains the scientific data they present in support of their thesis. Parts 2-4 contain their attempt to knock down the mainstream climate consensus and the projected effects of global warming based on that consensus. And it is in this second part where they reveal their true colors.
"Despite all the evidence that the recent warming trend is natural and unstoppable, millions of well-educated people and many respected organizations—and even the national governments of major First World nations—are telling us that the Earth's current warming phase is caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from power plants and autos and methane from rice paddies and cattle herds. The alarmists say these gases are causing Earth's natural "greenhouse" to overheat, with deadly effects. They tell us modern society will destroy the planet unless we radically change human energy production and consumption."
They warn that the polar ice caps could melt, raising sea levels and flooding many of the world's most important cities and farming regions. They ask society to renounce most of its use of fossil-fuel generated energy and accept radical reductions in food production, health technologies, and standards of living to "save the planet."
"However, the alarmists don't have much evidence to support their greenhouse theory—only (1) the fact that the Earth is warming, (2) a theory that doesn't explain the warming of the past 150 years very well, and (3) some unverified computer models. Moreover, their credibility is seriously weakened by the fact that many of them have long believed modern technology should be discarded whether the Earth is warming too fast or not at all."
– Pages 103-104
Here we see the all too familiar pattern: A presentation of data purporting to overturn the mainstream view that current global warming is real and caused by human activities, followed by baseless accusations of anti-progress attitudes exploited by some vast conspiracy whose aim is unspecified. In Chapter 5, "Shattered Glass in the Greenhouse," the authors claim that no evidence supports the view that CO2 is responsible for current warming and that all climate models are untrustworthy. There is the obligatory denigration of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (not indexed), and five pages are devoted to Michael Mann's supposed sins against science. The authors go on to pooh-pooh projections of danger due to rising sea levels, species extinction, famines and droughts, increasingly violent weather, and human deaths from heat. In Chapter 9, "Species Extinction," they even attempt to debunk the prospect of massive loss of biodiversity by means of this "logic":
One of the Thomas team's "moderate" scenarios was an increase in Earth's temperature of 0.8° C in the next fifty years. The researchers said this would cause an extinction of roughly 20 percent of the world's wild species, perhaps one million of them. Fortunately, this prediction can easily be checked. The Earth's temperature has already increased 0.8° C over the past 150 years. How many species died out because of that temperature increase? None.
The Thomas paper tells us in its opening sentence: "Climate change over the past 30 years has produced numerous shifts in the distributions and abundances of species, and has been implicated in one species-level extinction."
That's right. The scientists who are predicting that 0.8° C of warming would cause hundreds of thousands of wildlife species extinctions over the next 50 years concede that this level of temperature increase over the past 150 years has resulted in the extinction of one species.
Reality takes away even that one extinction claim. Thomas's single cited example of a species driven extinct by the recent warming is the Golden Toad of Costa Rica.
– Page 167
First, the 0.8°C of the Thomas paper comes on top of the previous 0.8°C rise — and is projected to happen in one-third the time. The rate of change matters, even though the authors say it doesn't. Second, the authors neglect the very relevant question of habitat loss. If a species threatened by warming has no way to migrate because humans occupy the possible migration routes, that species will die. Third, the finding that only one species has died out so far has no bearing on the merit of the Thomas team's projections of possible future extinctions.3
In fairness, Chapter 9 is one chapter in which the authors get some things right. For example, they appear to be correct in saying that climate change is not the primary cause of the Golden Toad's demise. However, they never mention the chytrid fungus which is almost certainly a contributing factor. Nor do they mention ocean acidification anywhere in the book. Scientists estimate that the oceans have become 30% more acid since preindustrial times. This is referred to as "the other CO2 problem" and there is general agreement that at some point the greater acidity of the oceans will prevent many marine food species from forming shells.4
When it comes to alternative energy, the subject of Chapter 14, the authors do better. While they mistakenly lambaste wind and solar as too expensive and unreliable, they are in favor of nuclear and geothermal power. However, they give this subject a cursory treatment which does not redeem the book.
So Unstoppable Global Warming, though reasonably well written, is at bottom nearly devoid of responsible science. Quite simply, it fails to make its case.5 My recommendation is to pass it by.