Book Review: Unstoppable Global Warming
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Re-examining “consensus” and the drivers of climate change: well researched review of the science questions humanity's role

Review of: Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1,500 years (updated & expanded edition)
By: S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery
Rowman & Littlefield, 2008

Review by: Jason Hayes, M.E.Des., Communications Director, American Coal Council

Originally web-published: Tue, 2008-06-03 00:32

A few years back, I was asked to give a few presentations on the science of climate change. So I discussed the claims that a broad scientific consensus existed on the causes of global climate change. Proponents of that theory argued that science had determined human use of fossil fuels was releasing CO2 into the atmosphere and thereby causing unprecedented and potentially dangerous warming. This theory is often called anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

I suggested that the average person could be excused for thinking that AGW was the cause for our changing climate. Governments, media, and NGOs all swore that was the case and since that time their rhetoric has become even more pervasive. They also informed us that so-called skeptics who question their theory were isolated loners, resident on the outermost fringes of the discussion. They have also created and presented expensive and prestigious awards for their frightening epics on AGW that depict the dangerous outcomes of using of fossil fuels. Some have even charged skeptics as being morally akin to holocaust deniers, actually borrowing and reworking the term into “climate denier.” It is their influence that has brought on a call for the immediate enacting of carbon-control legislation that is making its way through governments around the world.

Given those circumstances, no one could still seriously consider questioning the science. What would be the point? Even if the science wasn't settled when I gave my presentations a few years ago, it has to be now so raising the question again would be a waste of time, right?

The authors of a newly released book would tell you that thought is wrong.

In their just released, updated and expanded edition of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1,500 years Dr. S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery enthusiastically dig into the foundations of the claimed scientific consensus on AGW. Singer and Avery fill their book with citations to hundreds of peer-reviewed, published research papers from respected scientific journals. Ironically, they have used the research of the climate scientists that make up the alleged “consensus.” In this activity, Singer and Avery have performed an important public service. They have empowered the average citizen – granting him/her access into the complex and often inhospitable clique of climate science. This is the same person who is expected to quietly accept the “consensus view” because (s)he is not the professional; the same person who will be expected to pay the bills for whatever AGW policy that is finally enacted.

A reasonable person can, after reading this book, ask why people claim that the “science is settled” and why we are rushing to implement expensive carbon control legislation if thousands of published, peer-reviewed studies have contradicted the claims of a scientific consensus on AGW.

Answering three big questions

In Unstoppable Global Warming, Singer and Avery look into a vast ocean of scientific literature to answer three key issues. First, what is causing the measured warming of the earth? Second, what is the likely outcome of the warming? Third, what are the potential costs of addressing the warming and do the benefits of suggested climate change mitigation strategies justify the expenses?

It is worthwhile to note first that the authors do not challenge the idea of global warming. They state early in the book, “the Earth has recently been warming. This is beyond doubt.” What sets their work apart is that they move forward to question whether the warming is due to human activity, rather than simply assuming it is.

The title of the book in part reveals their contention that global warming is caused by naturally occurring 1,500 year Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) cycles. DO cycles were first noticed in ice cores extracted from the Greenland ice sheet in 1983. By measuring the ratios of oxygen 18-isotopes and oxygen 16-isotopes, Denmark's Willi Dansgaard and Switzerland's Hans Oeschger outlined a detailed temperature record for the Greenland area. That record showed a distinct 1,500 year long cycle of warming and cooling had occurred several times over the past 250,000 years.

Other researchers found similar warming and cooling patterns in the Antarctic's Vostok Glacier, the Sargasso Sea, and the upwelling region off of the coast of West Africa. In fact, DO cycles have since been tracked all around the world, in Greenland, Africa, North America, the North Atlantic, and North Pacific, the Philippines, and Europe. Singer and Avery, as well as many other climate scientists point to this natural 1,500 year cycle as a primary driver in global climate throughout world history.

They don't stop there, however; they also focus on the role of the sun. Where much of the discussion around climate change seems to ignore the sun's input into the equation, research indicates that the sun is bathing the Earth in varying levels of solar rays, also known as the “solar wind.” Solar winds act as a shield for other cosmic rays that create low clouds when they come through the Earth's atmosphere. Those clouds reflect visible-range heat away from the Earth, leading to increased cooling. Stronger solar activity means more solar winds, fewer cosmic rays, fewer low clouds, increased solar radiation, and heating of the Earth's surface.

One study, published in Geosciences Canada supported this theory and stated, “empirical observation on all time scales point to celestial phenomena as the principal driver of climate ... with greenhouse gases acting only as potential amplifiers.” The study author, Jan Veizer – a recognized expert in isotope geochemistry – continued the celestial driver theory by describing how the carbon cycle actually piggybacks on other cycles. Later in Unstoppable Global Warming, Singer and Avery expand on this assertion by showing that carbon dioxide levels actually lag behind temperature changes by as much as 800 years. This means that global warming produces more CO2, not the other way around.

The book reviews numerous other important theories and research, such as the highly controversial “hockey stick” graph, widely promoted as a foundational piece of evidence for the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) science report. The graph and research that produced it have been the focus of a multi-year statistical battle, as well as charges of flawed calculations and serious data defects. Singer and Avery also investigate the reliability of Global Climate Models (GCM) vs. real-world research and empirical data. They look at the controversy surrounding urban heat islands and how they have impacted ground-based temperature readings. Compared with ground-based readings, weather balloons and satellites records show remarkably stable ground and atmospheric temperatures. Singer and Avery wrap up this discussion by considering the difficulties that GCMs have with modeling atmospheric moisture and clouds.

Having presented a defensible basis for the earth's changing climate, the authors turn their attention to answering what the likely outcome of the warming will be. One example – sea level rise – will suffice to show how they have handled this and other controversies.

The concern over rising sea levels has become a lightning rod issue in the climate change debate. Stories of 20 foot increases and a flooded Manhattan have been splashed around the news and media. Singer and Avery, however, look to published research to determine the real potential for such drastic outcomes. They report IPCC findings of a maximum potential sea level rise of 23.2 inches by 2100 and then look to data from the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA), a group founded for the purpose of studying sea level change. INQUA and IPCC differ markedly. Where one claims 2 feet is possible, the other suggests that expected “sea level rise is '10 cm – plus or minus 10cm.' ”

One of the most visible (potential) victims of sea level rise – the tiny Pacific islands nation of Tuvalu – is also considered. Tuvalu has been highlighted by media, NGOs, and politicians as facing imminent inundation because of the developed world's fossil fuel use. Avery and Singer describe however, that “satellite radars found that Tuvalu's sea levels have fallen four inches over a decade.”

They close out this section on fears about global warming by reviewing a variety of published research that questions reports of coming famine, drought, massive species extinctions, extreme weather events, and increasing human mortality.

Next they consider the costs of addressing AGW. If global warming is, as Avery and Singer contend, a 1,500-year, natural, moderate, worldwide phenomena, reasonable readers will ask how spending billions and hampering our global economy, in an attempt to stop CO2 production, will aid in adapting to something that we cannot change? On the other hand, if AGW is proceeding as has been presented in the media and it is caused primarily by human activity, they ask if spending billions and hampering our global economy be sufficient to stop the warming.

Any discussion of attempts to address AGW cannot ignore the centerpiece treaty aimed at stopping climate change; the Kyoto Protocol. Designed as only a “first step” in reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the Kyoto Protocol required developed countries to reduce their CO2 emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. Developing nations were actually allowed to increase emissions under the treaty.

After looking into the origins, history, implementation, and final costs of Kyoto, Singer and Avery determine that it will not be an effective measure to reduce climate change – i.e.: if it were fully implemented and fully effective, it would reduce global average temperatures by less than one degree C over the next 100 years. Recognizing that fact, they suggest that Kyoto would require expenditures that far outweigh its potential benefits. They also note that the proponents of Kyoto predict serious costs if the protocol is not implemented. However, Singer and Avery contend that those costs are predicated on worst-case scenario warming predictions and that they ignore the potential economic, social, and environmental benefits of warming. Additionally, Singer and Avery note only two Kyoto signatories – Britain and Sweden – expect to meet their reduction targets. (Recent news suggests, however, that Great Britain's reporting scheme has left off reporting much of the emissions from their transportation sector.) They also note that other economic studies – such as the Copenhagen Consensus – have rated other environmental and social concerns – like AIDS, malaria, malnutrition, and the provision of clean water – as far more pressing concerns.

Since renewable energy has been presented as one key means of weaning our society off of fossil fuels, Singer and Avery close out their book by taking a frank and informative look at the costs and ability of renewable energy sources to cleanly and economically meet the world's burgeoning demand for abundant electricity. Many people sincerely believe that renewable energy sources and conservation measures will allow the developed and developing world to enjoy abundant and affordable energy now and well into the future. However, the reality is that, in their current state, most renewables cannot provide baseload energy and they cannot compete economically without substantial subsidies and tax credits. The truth of the matter is that we will need a diverse supply of energy from all of our energy sources – renewables, fossil fuels, nuclear, hydroelectric, oil, and gas – to meet our growing demand; Avery and Singer recognize that fact.

In closing, it is worthwhile to consider that some have dismissed this book out of hand because of an alleged tie to the fossil fuels industry. Those criticisms, however, assume what they are trying to prove; that a strict allegiance to the cause of fighting climate change is inherently correct and any attempts to question that allegiance must be immediately suppressed. Clearly this is an irrational view. As Singer and Avery demonstrate, there are ample, economic, rational, and scientific reasons to question proposed climate change policies. Additionally, one can reasonably assume that if it is irrational to immediately suppress dissent, then there is nothing wrong with the fossil fuel industry defending its hard won rights to provide society with a necessary and very much in demand product.

Additionally, the attempts to label skeptical views as biased because of a tie to industry are irrational as government- or NGO-funded research is no less likely to hold biases. The battle for budget dollars and potential for personal prestige associated with that research are no less a temptation than grants given by industry. In fact, they are potentially even more of a temptation as one realizes that if the issue of AGW is ever solved, then the need for climate change research vanishes.

Simply dismissing this book on a whim or through the application of guilt-by-association fallacies is a profoundly weak argument. Given the fact that Singer and Avery have used, as the book's foundation, the same science and research that is so often presented as proof of the broad consensus on AGW, there is no reasonable justification for simply dismissing the book out of hand.

Singer and Avery have produced a solid, well-researched, and voluminously footnoted review of the science, policy, and concerns related to global warming. Those with a reasonable mind will take the time to honestly consider what they have written.

Jason Hayes is the Communications Director for the American Coal Council