Friday, November 02, 2007

Planet Purgatory: Part II

Research any of the skeptics on global warming, and the name Fred Singer is sure to pop up. Among his many publications, Dr. Singer recently co-authored a book Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years.

As Don Erler notes in his recent editorial, Singer has a burr in his saddle about Al Gore.

Singer has called Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, most "bunk," based on "really shoddy" science. For example, in attempting to show that global warming (which nobody denies) is man-made, Gore uses a "trick" by pointing to glaciers melting. According to Singer, "any kind of warming, from whatever cause, will melt ice. Whether it's natural or man-made warming, the ice doesn't care."

Now it's interesting that Erler concedes that global warming is now an accepted fact. Because Dr. Singer is on record denying that the earth's temperature is increasing. From a letter in 1998, Singer claims:

The weather satellite data, the only truly global data set we have, actually show a global cooling trend during the past 19 years.

And again, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in July of 2000:

There is no Appreciable Climate Warming. Contrary to the conventional wisdom and the predictions of computer models, the Earth's climate has not warmed appreciably in the past two decades, and probably not since about 1940.

Of course, Dr. Singer's testimony came before the sea change in public attitude that resulted once Hurricane Katrina gave us a preview of coming attractions. So now the skeptics are willing to admit that global warming is a fact, while still denying that human activity has anything to do with it. And as for shoddy science, Singer has been known to solicit a few critics himself. A climate scientist at realclimate provided a rebuttal of Singer's key points:

The existence of climate changes in the past is not news to the climate change scientific community; there is a whole chapter about it in the upcoming IPCC Scientific Assessment. Nor do past, natural variations in climate negate the global warming forecast. Most past climate changes, like the glacial interglacial cycle, can be explained based on changes in solar heating and greenhouse gases, but the warming in the last few decades cannot be explained without the impact of human-released greenhouse gases. Avery was very careful to crop his temperature plots at 1985, rather than show the data to 2005.

As a paid gun for corporate interests, Singer isn't new to attempts to influence public policy on controversial issues.
In 1995, as President of the Science and Environmental Policy Project (a think tank based in Fairfax, Virginia) S. Fred Singer was involved in launching a publicity campaign about "The Top 5 Environmental Myths of 1995," a list that included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's conclusion that secondhand tobacco smoke is a human carcinogen.
Singer claims his studies are non-partisan, but he has extensive ties to the fossil fuel industry. Erler suggests that we should ignore the money being paid by these vested interests because the amount is insignificant. His article doesn't include specifics, but the money appears to come from several sources.
In a February 2001 letter to the Washington Post, Singer denied receiving funding from the oil industry, except for consulting work some 20 years prior. SEPP [Science and Environmental Policy Project], however, received multiple grants from ExxonMobil, including 1998 and 2000. In addition, Singer's current CV on the SEPP website states that he served as a consultant to several oil companies. The organizations Singer has recently been affiliated with - Frontiers of Freedom, ACSH, NCPA, etc. - have received generous grants from Exxon on an annual basis.
On the one hand is the testimony of a handful of industry shills, and on the other, decades of research by hundreds of the world's most prominent scientists. Denyers like Erler want you to believe that this constitutes a balanced debate.

Unless we are willing to educate ourselves at least somewhat on the science behind global warming, we will remain vulnerable to the snake oil sold by hucksters like Singer. When you weigh these arguments, it's important to remember what's at stake. As Joseph Romm describes it in Hell and High Water:
If we permit this Planetary Purgatory to occur, the nation and the world would be forced to begin a desperate race against time-- a race against the vicious cycles in which an initial warming causes changes to the climate system that lead to more warming, which makes adapting to climate change a never-ending, ever-changing, expensive, exhausting struggle for our children, and their children, and on and on for generations.
Surely the greatest threat to face humankind since the threat of nuclear annihilation warrants moving past the increasingly marginalized skeptics and their phony debates to a discussion of the hard choices we may face in the very near future.

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