All Commentary
Wednesday, July 1, 1998

Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate

A Devastating Critique of Government Science

Ben Bolch is Robert McCallum Distinguished Professor of Economics at Rhodes College and coauthor of Apocalypse Not; Science, Economics and the Environment (Cato Institute, 1993).

Fred Singer is a scientist with impeccable credentials. He was the first director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service, winner of the U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Yet Singer represents quite a threat to government science these days in that he openly questions the validity of one of the weakest excuses for a governmental takeover of the world economy–global warming.

Singer begins this devastating critique with three incontrovertible points. First, the global-warming scare is completely a child of computer models–models that have never been verified by empirical data. Their predictions of future warning are more than doubtful.

Second, even if the modest warming now predicted by the models is occurring, the result is likely to be beneficial to human beings rather than harmful. What government science considers to be the major culprit, CO2, is as essential to plants as oxygen is to animals. There have even been suggestions that a significant part of the success of agriculture’s “Green Revolution” can be traced to the mildly elevated levels Of CO2 that we currently enjoy.

Third, CO2 levels are quite low relative to past known levels, and they appear to have been mostly declining for the past 200 million years. In fact, there is no known scientific definition of what might represent a “dangerous” level of CO2. Hence, there can be no objective scientific case made for its control. Indeed, some analysts contend that the earth is currently starved for CO2 relative to the past historical levels of that gas.

Singer offers important data that cast doubt on claims that the atmosphere has warmed significantly, especially since the middle of this century. In particular, the “urban heat island” effect inflates ground-level temperature measurements taken near densely populated places. Once this effect is taken into account, we find that the years around 1940 were the warmest this century.

The author also discusses the distortions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose report forms the basis for the recent Kyoto Conference. The IPCC’s Summary for Policymakers (which is what the press reads) did not faithfully represent the report itself, which is filled with doubts about man’s influence on global climate. After the report was circulated, a poll of atmospheric scientists indicated that an overwhelming majority felt that there was no clear evidence that the climate record of the past 100 years could be attributed to human activities.

Singer rebuts the global-warming scare stories bandied about in the media. A major one is that the seas will rise and inundate coastal cities. But 95 percent of the “greenhouse effect” is attributable to water vapor, and the effects of clouds on warming or cooling have never been accounted for in the computer models. Because of feedback effects, increased warming might lead to lower, rather than higher, sea levels. We simply don’t know.

An increase in tropical diseases in temperate regions is also predicted. Singer argues that it is not temperature that brings these plagues, but lack of sanitation and health facilities—two things that come with economic development. Guess what will be slowed down by attempts to “fix” global warming.

Singer’s book should be read by everyone who wants to be informed about the poverty of the science that purports to support global warming.