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Newsmaker Interviews

Cooling It On Global Warming
Newsmaker interview with Fred Singer, aka the godfather of global warming denial
by Bill Steigerwald


July 24, 2005

Global warming is always a hot topic in liberal media circles, where the political and scientific consensus is that global climate change is occurring, it is a danger, it is caused by mankind and we need to start doing something serious about reversing it.
jpg Bill Steigerwald

For a little balance, we called up Fred Singer, aka "the godfather of global warming denial." An expert on global climate change and a pioneer in the development of rocket and satellite technology, he holds a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton and happens to be the guy who devised the basic instrument for measuring stratospheric ozone. Now president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project research group (, his dozen books include "Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate." I talked to him by telephone from his offices in Arlington, Va.

Q: Here's a line from a recent Mother Jones article: "There is overwhelming scientific consensus that greenhouse gases emitted by human activity are causing global average temperatures to rise." Is that true?
A: It's completely unsupported by any observation, but it's supported by computer climate models. In other words, the computer models would indicate this. The observations do not.

Q: What's the best argument or proof that global warming is not happening?
A: The best proof are data taken of atmospheric temperature by two completely different methods. One is from instruments carried in satellites that look down on the atmosphere. The other is from instruments carried in balloons that ascend through the atmosphere and take readings as they go up. These measurements show that the atmospheric warming, such as it is, is extremely slight -- a great deal less than any of the models predicts, and in conflict also with observations of the surface.

Q: An epic New Yorker series said unequivocally that the permafrost, the Arctic sea ice and the Greenland glaciers are all melting. Is that true and is it because of global warming?
A: The Arctic temperatures have been now measured for a long time. They vary cyclically. The warmest years in the Arctic were around 1940. Then it cooled. And it's warming again, but it hasn't reached the levels of 1940. It will continue to oscillate. That's the best prediction.

Q: What is the most dangerous untrue "fact" about global warming that's out there in the media-sphere?
A: The rise in sea level. Again, the observations show that sea level has risen in the last 18,000 years by about 400 feet and is continuing to rise at a uniform rate, and is not accelerating, irrespective of warming or cooling. In fact, sea level will continue to rise at a slow rate of 8 inches per century, as it has been for the last few thousand years.

Q: If you had a 12-year-old grandkid who was worried about global warming, what would you tell him?
A: I would tell them that there are many more important problems in the world to worry about, such as diseases, pandemics, nuclear war and terrorism. The least important of these is global warming produced by humans, because it will be insignificant compared to natural fluctuations of climate.

Q: How did you become "the godfather of global warming denial"?
A: That's easy. Age. I organized my first conference on global warming in 1968. At that time I had no position. It was a conference called "The global effects of environmental pollution." At that time I remember some of the experts we had speaking thought the climate was going to warm and some thought it was going to cool. That was the situation.

Q: Climate is extremely complicated -- is that a true statement?
A: Immensely complicated. Which is a reason why the models will never be able to adequately simulate the atmosphere. It's just too complicated.

Q: Give me a sample of how complicated just one little thing can be.
A: The most complicated thing about the atmosphere that the models cannot capture is clouds. First of all, clouds are small. The resolution of the computer models is about 200 miles; clouds are much smaller than that. Secondly, they don't know when clouds form. They have to guess what humidity is necessary for a cloud to form. And of course, humidity is not the only factor. You have to have nuclei -- little particles -- on which the water vapor can condense to form droplets. They don't know that either. And they don't know at what point the cloud begins to rain out. And they don't know at what point -- it goes on like this.

Q: Is this debate a scientific fight or a political fight?
A: Both. I much support a scientific fight, because I'm pretty sure we'll win that -- because the data support us; they don't support the climate models. Basically it's a fight of people who believe in data, or who believe in the atmosphere, versus people who believe in models.

Q: Is it not true that CO2 levels have gone up by about a third in the last 100 years?
A: A little more than a third, yes. I accept that.

Q: Do you say that's irrelevant?
A: It's relevant, but the effects cannot be clearly seen. The models predict huge effects from this, but we don't see them.

Q: Why is it important that global warming be studied in a balanced, scientific, depoliticized way?
A: It's a scientific problem. The climate is something we live with, and we need to know what effect human activities are having on climate. I don't deny that there's some effect of human activities on climate. We need to learn how important they are.

Q: Why is it important that global warming be studied in a balanced, scientific, depoliticized way?
A: It's a scientific problem. The climate is something we live with and we need to know what effect human activities are having on climate. I don't deny that there's some affect of human activities on climate. Cities are warmer now than they used to be. We have changed forests into agricultural fields. That has some affect on climate. We irrigate much of the Earth. That affects climate. And so on. We are having some influence on climate, at least on a small scale. So we need to know these things. We need to how important they are.

Q: And global warming is something we should study but not get panicky about?
A: The thing to keep in mind always is that the natural fluctuations of climate are very much larger than anything we can ascribe ­ so far ­ to any human activity. Much larger. We lived through a Little Ice Age just a few hundred years ago. During the Middle Ages the climate was much warmer than it is today. So the climate does change all the time. We need to understand the scientific reasons for natural climate change. Most of us now think it's the sun that is the real driver of climate. It has something to do with sun spots, but the mechanism is not quite clear. That's what's being studied now.



Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune- Review.
©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.
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E-mail Bill at


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