Is 'global warming' hot air?
Geoff Metcalf interviews renowned atmospheric scientist, Dr. S. Fred Singer

By Geoff Metcalf
Dr. S. Fred Singer, former director of the National Weather Satellite Center and renowned atmospheric scientist from George Mason University, says concerns about "global warming" -- most prominently emanating from presidential hopeful Al Gore -- may be a lot of hot air. The author of "Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate," Singer was interviewed by WND reporter Geoff Metcalf.

Question: Is there such a thing as global warming?

Answer: Of course. The atmosphere is constantly changing so that there is a warming -- and there is a cooling. Most of these we can explain.

The atmosphere warms during the summer and cools during the winter. Everyone understands that. The problem is to understand why the atmosphere changes from year to year and if there are any trends. In this last century, we had a warming trend before 1940, a cooling trend between 1940 and 1975, a warming trend between 1975 and 1980, and essentially no trend for the last 20 years.

Q: Those are rather short windows to look at. If you look at a larger chunk of time, what kinds of cycles are routine and has there been a variance in those in recent times?

A: That's very hard to say. The routine thing is the seasonal variation and that, of course, we all understand has to do with the motion of the earth. Another kind of variation we are starting to understand is the ice ages -- and that's on a time scale of 100,000 years. In between, you have all kinds of variations of temperature in the atmosphere in thousands of years, hundreds of years, decades ... which we don't fully understand. We think many of those are connected with the sun which is, after all, the major body that determines what happens to the earth's atmosphere.

Q: And, right now, isn't there a whole bunch of solar activity?

A: Yes, there is. And wherever the solar activity peaks, as it is right now, you would expect the atmosphere to warm.

Q: But that eventually goes away, right?

A: Yes. Because the sun has an 11-year cycle and you can clearly see this in some of the temperature records.

Q: This 11-year cycle of warming is followed by an 11-year cycle of cooling?

A: Something like that. Nothing is that simple in the atmosphere but you are essentially correct.

Q: What is it that the Al Gores of the world pin on global warming?

A: To understand the motives of people who support or promote global warming is very difficult. Obviously there are many people who are really genuinely concerned. But there are also people who have their own vested interests in this and it usually has to do with making more money or getting grants or having a bigger empire or bigger office. Bureaucrats like to have more prestige.

Q: We always see this list of 2,500 scientists who say they subscribe to the government concept of global warming.

A: That is not really true. You hear about 2,500 scientists who worked on this report for the United Nations. First of all, the number is less than 2,000 and secondly, of these, perhaps 100 are qualified to say something about the climate -- and they have never been polled. We don't know whether they agree with the main conclusion or not. I would say a handful does agree with the main conclusions of the U.N. report, but, many of them do not.

Q: How do you know?

A: We know that because they have been interviewed and those interviews have been published.

Q: I have also heard there are about 17,000 scientists who say this global warming thing is a hoax?

A: That is absolutely correct. 17,000 have actually signed a petition against the Kyoto protocol -- the agreement that would force us to reduce our energy consumption by 35 percent or so. But one shouldn't go by numbers. Science doesn't work that way. You can't take votes and say that this science is correct.

Q: But it is significant to realize that there is not unanimity within the scientific community about the concept of global warming.

A: That is the point -- that there is a debate going on -- and the public is entitled to know that there is a debate and that the debate is not finished. It is still going on. In fact, the subtitle of my book is "Global Warming's Unfinished Debate."

Q: Regarding data: we had a situation here in California a few years ago where the Environmental Protection Agency had instructed scientists to destroy data they had that did not conform with policy. Do we see this happening in the global warming debate?

A: No, I'm not aware of anyone destroying data. But, I am aware of the fact that people neglect to mention data that disagrees with their biased view. Take, for example, the U.N. report. When you look at the summary -- which is all people really read -- it doesn't mention that weather satellites are collecting data about the atmosphere. One would think that weather satellites are the most important data-gathering instruments we have. It is the only thing that collects data on a worldwide basis. The fact that satellites are collecting data is not even mentioned.

Q: Why?

A: Because the satellite data shows that the atmosphere is not warming. And that, of course, is why it is not even mentioned.

Q: One of the arguments is that a key mitigating element to climate change is us ... human beings. And the scope of this change will probably exceed what is natural or normal. How do you respond to that?

A: Human beings are able to adjust to all sorts of climates. In fact, they do. We can adjust better now than we could a hundred years ago. We now have air conditioning and heating ... very good heating. So climate is of little concern to people because we can adjust to it.

Q: What about agriculture?

A: Agriculture benefits from a warmer climate. So warming is generally beneficial for the economy and for forests. The reason forests benefit is because more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means the trees will grow faster.

Q: And trees produce oxygen.

A: Yes.

Q: The question of 'surface record' has come-up in discussions elsewhere. What the heck is that all about?

A: Thermometers taking temperature readings on the surface do show a warming in the last 20 years. But the satellite record measuring the atmosphere on a worldwide basis does not show a warming. Something is wrong here.

Q: Are there any clues as to what is wrong?

A: The clues come from California, which has a lot of weather stations. We find that the weather stations that are located in heavily populated areas do show a warming trend in the last 100 years. The weather stations that are located in counties that have few people do not show a warming. So, clearly, the warming we see is artificial. It is local and it is induced by the fact that cities are growing and therefore the areas around the weather stations are becoming warmer.

Q: Do these claims of global warming refer to atmosphere only or to oceanic temperatures? We hear about the ice cap being depleted. Glaciers being 5 to 10 percent of what they were and ice keys have melted. Is there either volcanic action or pollution of the ocean?

A: Global temperatures that are being reported over the last century include the ocean temperatures to some extent. We don't have very good observations on the ocean. Observations come from ships that travel on certain routes that leave lots of the ocean completely unmeasured and unexplored. However, the satellites do cover the whole atmosphere and do measure every part of the atmosphere from North Pole to South Pole, including the entire ocean. Unfortunately, the satellite data only covers the last 20 years.

Q: What about the ice cover melting?

A: The ice cover did shrink from about 1950 to about 1980 or '90 and may have stopped shrinking by now. But it did shrink and I think the reason has to do with the climate warming from 1900 to 1940. It takes a long time for that warming to translate itself into melting ice. The ice doesn't melt right away. There is a time lag and what we are seeing here is the time lag -- the melting caused by an earlier warming.

Q: There are three elements: surface temperature, atmospheric temperature and oceanic temperature. You don't just average them all together. How do you determine the trends?

A: It's a little complicated. It's a little bit of a black art.

Q: I'm getting the feeling they can manipulate data to get the results they want?

A: I don't think they quite do that. However, the different laboratories publishing their work get somewhat different results -- showing that there is a lot of personal element involved in turning-out this data. Fortunately, since we now have satellite data, this has disappeared. Satellite data is absolutely correct in that you can only get one interpretation.

Q: Who was John Tyndell and what did he do?

A: That is a very important work and goes back over a century. That was when they discovered for the first time that there are gases in the atmosphere -- like water vapor and carbon dioxide -- that absorb very, very strongly in what we call infrared. They absorb heat radiation. But, they are perfectly transparent in the optical radiation, the visible radiation that comes from the sun.

You cannot see carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is colorless. But in the infrared that we can't see, carbon dioxide absorbs very strongly. This was discovered only about 150 years ago. From that, people have finally figured out that maybe it's because of this water vapor and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the earth has managed to keep fairly warm.

Without them, the earth would have been a frozen planet.

Q: How do you distinguish from warming that might be produced from more carbon dioxide and that from sun?

A: That is difficult. First of all, you make measurements. With the sun, of course, we know it heats the earth only during the day, while the effect of the gases in the atmosphere is present day and night. So that is one way of distinguishing.

Q: What about currents? Can shifting ocean currents affect the climate significantly?

A: Yes. They certainly do cause climate fluctuations. In fact, by now it is quite well known that there are oscillations. The El Nino / La Nina oscillation has a profound effect on the weather. This has nothing to do with human influences, of course. These are natural oscillations that take place but we cannot predict them. We do not know enough about the atmosphere and the ocean yet to make sure predictions. Once the oscillation gets going, it is easy to make rough predictions.

Q: What about the depletion of the ozone layer? Although this could naturally occur throughout history, do you know if it has ever been as bad as it reportedly is now?

A: We have only been measuring ozone, in a real way, for about 40 years. So our record of ozone is very, very brief. We do know, however, that ozone depends very strongly on the solar cycle. For example, like right now when the sun is very strong and when we get a lot of activity from the sun, this increases the amount of ozone in the stratosphere. There is a very strong 11-year cycle.

Then there is a very strong yearly cycle. It has a maximum in the spring and then it decays and then it comes back again. These variations are in the order of 50 percent. That's quite large. The depletion of ozone due to human activities -- due to freons, CFCs, cloroflorocarbons -- that has been quite small. The amount that has been measured and published by the U.N. report is about four percent. Four percent is not a great deal when you get an annual variation of 50 percent and you get day to day variations in the order of 50 to 100 percent.

The interesting question is, what has ozone done in the past? We don't have good information on that. We do know something about the sun-spot cycle going back approximately 300 to 400 years. And, from that, we can kind of figure out what ozone might have been. There was a period -- about 1700 -- when ozone was probably quite low because the sunspots suddenly disappeared.

Q: You've referenced this 11-year solar cycle. How long does it take from the time of peak solar activity for that to have an impact on the environment?

A: The impact on ozone is almost instantaneous -- within hours or days. The impact on other parts of the environment can be very slow or delayed. The impact on climate could be on the order of years.

Q: Finally, what does burning of fossil fuels do?

A: Burning of fossil fuels does one thing and one thing only. It does add to the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. And that, theoretically, should increase the natural greenhouse warming by a little bit. The natural greenhouse warming is what keeps us warm. Otherwise, we would be on a frozen planet and there would be nothing on the earth. No plants, no animals, no people.