Dennis T. Avery and S. Fred Singer
Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute and director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues, and S. Fred Singer is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia and research professor at George Mason University. This article is an edited transcript of a book discussion sponsored by the Hudson Institute in November 2006; this discussion is reprinted with permission from the Hudson Institute. The full text of the discussion can be found at www.hudsoninstitute.org.
The book discussed is Unstoppable Global Warming, Every 1,500 Years, by S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery, published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
This is the question and answer session following the presentation by Dennis Avery and Fred Singer that appeared in the April issue of the St. Croix Review.
MR. WEINSTEIN: Well, thank you two very much for those fascinating presentations. I'd like to open it up for questions from the audience and answers from our authors. Please identify yourself and if you have organizational affiliation as well. Thank you.
Q: Michael Horowitz at the Hudson Institute.
Can't an argument be made that even if these are cyclical climate changes that are inevitable, can't Al Gore shift his argument and say: Are these two guys right? Yes it's coming, but it's going to be worse than it's ever been before because of the levels of carbon dioxide and industrial pollutants and so forth that are out there?
MR. AVERY: Well, it's an argument that can be made. The problem is that the price--the premium on the insurance policy--is so high. We're not talking about the Kyoto changes to 2012, the 5 percent cut. We're talking about globally a 60 to 80 percent cut, and for the United States we're talking about something like 100 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions. That means you're not buying a hybrid car, it means you're buying a skateboard . . . in order to stabilize greenhouse gases at the same time that unregulated economies in China and India are building new coal-fired power plants at the rate of one or two a month. The cost to our economy of virtually eliminating fossil fuels is radical.
MR. SINGER: Two comments here. One, of course, there must be some consequence of the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What we show is that it's minor compared to natural changes. That's all you can say.
In other words, we cannot deny the greenhouse effect, that's real, but it's small. It's a lot smaller than calculated from the models. The second point I'd like to make in answering your question is you implicitly assume--and I get it from your question--that warming is bad. I would question that. I would ask: You think a colder climate would be better than the present one? No one would say that. So how can you argue logically that a warmer climate is worse? Or would you say that the present climate just happens to be the optimum climate? That would seem to be very unlikely.
Economists pretty much agree that a warmer climate is actually better overall. Of course, there will be some losers, but there will be more winners. They haven't carried it all the way. It's difficult to do. But the published papers--the published book by this group at Yale University--says that a moderate warming is good for the economy, raises incomes, raises the standard of living, et cetera, et cetera.
Q: To follow up--Klaus Heiss--from the High Frontier and the Space Studies Institute--if you go back to Paleoclimate scales--600 million years--CO2 has sunk consistently and dramatically over these times, and over the last 50 million years as well. Before then, of course, it was very low and we had ice-ball Earth and so on. So basically, returning some of the CO2, which came from the atmosphere to begin with, has only beneficial effects. The burden of proof that it's bad is contrary to 600 million years of life organisms and activity and diversity. You also find extinctions when it's cold and again blooming when it's warm. So why don't we here make a real effort to find out what the costs of the Ice Age are without modeling?
All we have to do is go back 20,000 years and say, Massachusetts, do you want to be covered by one mile of ice--where are the species then? We don't have to simulate. Here are the facts, and what are the economic impacts: Russia disappears, half of Europe disappears 20,000 years ago; as against the ice continues to disappear, with the consequence that we will be able to grow wine again in England.
MR. AVERY: I think we have a nearer model to look at, and that is the history of the medieval warming and the Little Ice Age. I'd recommend to you a book on the Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850. He depicts the famines and the climate instability and the huge storms. And any examination of the medieval warming can start right here at this moment. Any of you who have been to Europe who have seen travel logs of Europe--those famous castles and cathedrals were all built during the global warming during the last overheated planet period. And the people were so grateful that they built the Cathedral of Reims that soars to the sky with flying buttresses: A, lots of food; B, lots of people; C, everybody felt really good.
Q: Is the cause of this 1500-year cycle the angle of the sun?
MR. AVERY: No.
Q: What are you talking about taking place?
MR. AVERY: We're talking about an actual change in the solar irradiance. And now that we're measuring it outside the obscuring atmosphere of the Earth from a satellite, we're finding a tenth of a percentage point change. And the proxy that comes closest is the length of the solar cycles. It's not even the number of sunspots. And if you check a graph of even sunspot numbers, then you find a lagged response in the sea surface temperatures on the Earth. The angle and the distance to the sun are part of other cycles. But the 1500-year cycle is irradiance.
Q: Thank you.
MR. SINGER: The solar sunspots were only discovered relatively recently, a few hundred years ago. What evidence we have shows that during a minimum of the sunspot cycle, the so-called Maunder minimum, coincides with the maximum cold period. That is, with the coldest period of the Little Ice Age.
The other suggestions we have--we have proxies for the sun--some radioactive materials, like Carbon-14, which has been measured in tree rings; Beryllium-10, measured in ice cores. So we can trace back solar activity some hundreds of thousands of years and correlate that with climate. That seems to work.
Then another heroic effort has been done by a Canadian geologist, Jan Veizer, and Nir Shaviv in Jerusalem, who were able to correlate, in this case, cosmic rays with climate change going back as far as 600 million years. That should be enough.
Q: John Weicher, Hudson Institute.
Following up on what Dennis was saying about cathedrals and so forth, if I understood you earlier, the 19th century would have been the trough in terms of climate, you said, going back about 150 years. And that would imply that the fourth century was the previous trough and something like the 11th or 12th century was at the peak. If I have that right, I have a couple questions.
MR. AVERY: Okay. The cycles are not as regular during the warming periods, apparently, as they were during the ice ages. I'm told that during the ice ages, it was 1470 years, plus or minus 10. That's very regular for a natural cycle.
In our warming period, it is varied by several centuries. The Roman warming is usually dated from 200 B.C. . . . Well, now remember, these tend to be front-loaded; the initial changes are fairly abrupt. So it isn't a nice smooth curve, it's a shift and then an erratic climb, and then another shift to the next phase.
It is, I think, very difficult to predict just how long, just how warm, just when.
Q: Well, if the 19th century is the trough, you said going back about 150 years . . .
MR. AVERY: Well, that was the shift point. It was colder in the 1700s than it was at 1850.
Q: Those two centuries are also periods of dramatic economic growth and technological change. And certainly people living in 1900, in general, were a lot better off than they were in 1700, from all the non-statistical evidence we have about standards of living, whereas earlier--talking about the Romans--is certainly a period of collapse. But I'm wondering if you've tried to relate the economic, social, and cultural changes in our societies with those trends or patterns.
MR. AVERY: We've tried, and it's complex. I will say that it looks almost as though the fall of Rome was related to the onset of the Dark Ages. From this distance we can't know.
And as an agriculturalist, I can tell you that some of the changes in European agriculture, which we are benefiting from to this day, were driven by the famines that occurred early in the Little Ice Age. Remember, we had a 50 percent increase in European population during the 11th and 12th centuries, then suddenly we have a cold, unstable climate, and we're back to the previous population the hard way. And that drove the development of the seeder, drove the development of crop rotation with pasturing animals. A lot of the progress made in agriculture was driven by starvation.
Q: Charles Balogh. You mentioned the fact that you'd have to have 100 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions. That tells me absolutely no carbon dioxide, is that correct?
MR. AVERY: What other people have suggested, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is that in order to stabilize the climate, so to speak, we'd need to reduce global emissions of fossil fuels by 60 to 80 percent.
Q: Okay. Well now I'll get to the question. Does that mean we're going to have to go nuclear, which is the only way I can think of producing our power without us having any greenhouse gases.
MR. AVERY: This is up to the voice of the people. And I have said that the Green movement and the UN are boxing us into a nuclear corner. But it's not my decision to make.
Q: You said you watched Al Gore's movie. Could you comment about his claim that the ice cap is decreasing in Arctic?
MR. AVERY: Actually, Fred is better qualified on this than I am.
MR. SINGER: We have data on the Arctic, published data, going back approximately to 1920, I think. The warmest years in the Arctic region were around 1935, then it cooled, and now it's warming again but it hasn't quite reached the 1935 level. If you assume that ice cover and everything else is related to temperature, this would suggest that the ice history of the Arctic has varied in a similar fashion.
MR. AVERY: I would also add that Chinese court records say that in 1421 the Chinese sent a naval expedition to the Arctic Ocean and found no ice. This was right at the end of the medieval warming.
MR. SINGER: Let me mention something else in which there's some uncertainty. There's a letter from the president of the Royal Society in London to the Admiralty in 1817 informing the Admiralty that the ice has receded, and it is now possible to attempt to have a passage from northern Europe to Japan unimpeded by ice. And he wanted to apprise the Admiralty of this. We have that letter.
So it seems to vary on some cyclical basis. I don't know the reason for it. I don't think anybody else does.
Q: Jonathan Rauch, National Journal.
Does the observed pattern of warming in this century fit completely within the confines of what would be predicted by the 1500-year cycle or is there something additional going on? As you will detect, this is another way of asking Mr. Horowitz's question, which you did not in fact directly answer.
For Mr. Singer, what is wrong with the science paper that found that 900 studies included not a single one that took exception of global warming as a fact?
MR. AVERY: We can't know whether all of the warming that we've had since 1850 is due to the cycle and none of it due to the CO2. And as Fred suggests, logic would tell us, and experiments tell us, that more CO2 in the air has some warming affect. What we're suggesting is that both history and the recent pattern of things, particularly the warming before 1940, would indicate that the CO2 impact is a good deal smaller than the climate models which are telling us to be frightened.
MR. SINGER: Well, let me answer the other question. I think experience tells us that scientific consensus is a fallacious concept, number one. In other words, that's not how science advances. It advances because there's not a consensus. Someone thinks differently and puts forward his ideas, whether it's Isaac Newton or someone else, or Einstein. So scientific consensus is not necessarily a good thing.
But now let me talk about the article in Science magazine, which came out, for those who are interested, in December of 2003. It was written by Naomi Oreskes, a professor of science history at the University of California in San Diego, and she claims, and still does, that out of the 932 abstracts which she got from the ISI database on the Internet, not a single one disagreed with the consensus about manmade global warming.
Subsequent to this remarkable article, which many people tried to reply to but none of the replies were published by Science, she found that she had overlooked 11,000 other abstracts, and published a correction, but still maintained her original position. She didn't examine the 11,000. But it's interesting that someone who works in the field would be unaware of the fact that there were 11,000 to 12,000 papers published in the last 10 years and she only ended up with 900.
MR. AVERY: You will find in the footnotes in our book something on the order of 500 authors whose work testifies to the fact of the 1500-year climate cycle.
MR. SINGER: Now, someone took it upon himself, Benny Peiser, professor at the University of Liverpool in England, to look at those 932 abstracts. And he got very different results. He found that more disagreed with the consensus than agreed, but most of them were noncommittal and just didn't comment.
His work is published in another journal because Science accepted his corrections but then decided not to publish it, for reasons that we don't fully understand. So the uncorrected version still stands in the literature unresponded to, at least in Science magazine.
Q: I'm Sam Kazman, Competitive Enterprise Institute.
A year ago, in the wake of Katrina, global warming alarmists were claiming that that was just a foretaste of what was to come. Now, we're very close to the end of the current hurricane season, which, in terms of that prediction, of course, goes the other way, but on the other hand, one calm hurricane season is not really proof of anything.
My question to you is, based on the patterns that you've identified, how soon can we expect to see anything in the way of natural phenomena that offer a much more persuasive refutation of the alarmist claims?
MR. AVERY: I just happen to have here some historic data from the British Navy, which was keeping close track of Caribbean storms in the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries because they had wooden sailing ships based there, and sugar plantations. The British Navy, between 1700 and 1850, recorded one major land-falling Caribbean hurricane every two years. More recently, between 1950 and 1998, we recorded one major land-falling Caribbean hurricane every five years.
And Fred tells me this accords neatly with theory, because theory says storm intensity and power is gauged--is produced by the temperature differential between the equator and the poles. During a global warming, the temperature at the equator changes hardly at all. In our proxy studies, the temperature in the Arctic may change four or five degrees Celsius. So the temperatures come closer together; the power available to drive storms is reduced.
MR. SINGER: Yes, that certainly is true for extra-tropical cyclones. But I'll make a general remark about hurricanes. They're very interesting, but they don't tell you anything about the cause of the warming. Even if there were a consequence of increased hurricane frequency or intensity, which there doesn't seem to be, but if there were, it wouldn't tell you what's causing the warming, which I think is the crucial question. This is just another possible consequence.
Q: Alex Avery with the Hudson Institute.
My question is for Fred. I just got an article from a mathematician in London, Dr. Keenan. There was a paper published in Nature in 2004 that purported to estimate summer temperatures based on grape harvest dates. And the paper was published and it said according to their computer model, that calculated summer temperature averages based on grape harvest dates, 2003 was the warmest since 1370. He compared their model predictions with actual recorded temperatures and found that their model had estimated temperatures in 2003 four degrees higher than actual; and previous warm periods in which we had actual measurements from this portion of France were not modeled accurately.
Nature would not publish his criticism of that paper, and he had to get it published in another scientific journal. And I've had the same exact experience at Nature regarding agricultural scientific issues. And I ask you, with both Nature and Science seemingly shutting out legitimate and well-founded criticisms of widely publicized studies, what is going wrong with our scientific institutions, those that we all rely on to be neutral referees in the game?
MR. SINGER: Well, what you say is unfortunately true. The two leading science journals in the world now are Science and Nature, and they both have editors whom I know have a very strong personal view on the issue of global warming. And this colors their whole approach to papers that they receive.
Don't forget, editors are not required to have papers refereed in the first place. Their job is to seek the advice of referees. Well, obviously, if they know what they want to do with a paper, they can always take referees who will give them the convenient advice.
The referee system really doesn't seem to work very well. Take, for example, the Hockey Stick paper that was published in Nature, which was proven to be egregiously wrong; wrong not only in the data, but also the methodology. It took two independent scientists who were not even climate experts--they were statisticians--to find the errors and to publish them eventually against great opposition.
MR. AVERY: It was worse than that, Fred. The key data in the Hockey Stick was derived from a paper written by two guys who were measuring the fertilization effect of more CO2 in the atmosphere, and they specifically said in their paper that there was no local temperature change that would have caused the growth spurt in the Bristlecone pines that produced the hook in the Hockey Stick. It's the closest thing I've ever seen to scientific fraud.
Q: I'm sorry. I would like a follow-up though, Dennis, to the question, because I'm still not clear or satisfied with your responses.
I want to get to the question of--you say the effect of all of the commercial activity and increased CO2 is small relative to the cyclical changes--in what ratio, is the question? And let me ask it in a different way: Can't A1 Gore accept your data and say this time we won't grow grapes on England; half of England will be covered over by the Atlantic Ocean? We hear that there are going to be whole sunken parts of the civilized world. And you haven't, at least for me, refuted the notion that it's our incremental CO2 emissions that are causing it. That's the follow-up question.
And the other one I'd just want to ask is whether the good news of this--or whether you would regard it as good news--that if it generated much greater freedom for nuclear power--forget about windmills and the rest--but would you as scientists regard it as a good coming out of all of this, which you regard as fraud, if it freed us up to go nuclear to a much greater degree?
MR. AVERY: Let me try to answer, and Fred can critique me if he differs. As an economist and a lay historian, it looks to me as though 75 to 80 percent of the warming I see can be credited to the natural cycle. If we're talking about 15 to 20 percent of the warming being associated with man-made CO2, and we understand that each additional increment of CO2 has less forcing power and at some point not too far along, each additional CO2 unit has no forcing power, then there is virtually nothing in the outlook from the standpoint of the 1500-year cycle that would drive frightening temperatures; remembering that a huge number of Americans are at this moment voting for global warming by moving to and living in the sunbelt.
MR. SINGER: Just to expand on this--what Dennis says is quite correct. The effect of CO2--incremental CO2 is what we call logarithmic; that is the effect does not increase lineally with CO2. The reason for this has to do with physics. There's no disagreement on this, by the way. What happens is the absorption bands of CO2 are very strong and they get saturated. Once they're saturated, adding more CO2 doesn't change the situation. They're already saturated. You get a little more absorption at the edges, and this is what gives you the logarithmic effect.
As to how much of the current warming is due to human activities, I wouldn't want to guess. One cannot tell from the data. That's all I can say. We know it must be there. We also know it's small. But exactly how much, I have no idea.
On the nuclear, well, that's something that has to be determined by economics and to some extent by regulation. We seem to be lagging behind in the United States. Many other countries are going ahead full blast with nuclear energy. On the other hand, some countries are going backwards. I'm thinking of Sweden, Austria, and Germany. But many countries like Finland, Japan, France are moving ahead. I'm pro-nuclear.
MR. AVERY: On the other hand, I'm for clean coal. I don't see why we should waste that resource if we have clean-burning technologies that allow us to use it with no pollutant other than--well, I won't classify CO2 as a pollutant. But clean coal does produce CO2. If CO2 is not a problem, then why waste the coal?
MR. SINGER: Let me expand on that. I'm also for burning coal, which is a native resource in the United States. We have huge reserves here. We export coal to the rest of the world. You know, we're the Saudi Arabia of coal, basically.
One correction, not of Dennis, but of the general discourse on this issue. You hear the words bandied about, "clean coal." To me, clean coal means what it really says, it means that the pollutants have been removed. You can do that; you can remove the sulfur, you can remove the mercury, you can remove all the pollutants. To many people, clean coal has become a euphemism for coal burning that doesn't emit carbon dioxide. That's nonsense. Of course you emit carbon dioxide. What they mean by this is that we must get it back again, sequester it and bury it somewhere. That's the worst idea I've ever heard of.
On the other hand, if you want to benefit financially, I would encourage you to invest in coal sequestration. The Department of Energy has just decided to spend $450 million on demonstration projects for coal sequestration--and that's in the Bush administration, so you can imagine what's going to happen if the administration should change.
Q: Well, speaking of changes, I was wondering what you thought was going to be the result of the next Congress and their positions on global warming, what they might do? And I was specifically wondering about the next farm bill, which is apparently going to have a higher mandate for ethanol content of gasoline. And I was wondering if you might be able to say a few words about that?
MR. AVERY: As the author of a new paper published by CEI, "Biofuels, Food, or Wildlife? The Massive Land Costs of U.S. Ethanol."
We currently burn 134 billion gallons of gasoline per year, and corn ethanol will net us 50 gallons worth of gasoline per acre per year. How many million acres of forest are we willing to sacrifice to get small amounts of another low-grade auto fuel, when Canada has more oil than Saudi Arabia in the Athabasca tar sands, that are now being produced by steam injection at less than $20 a barrel?
I consider the ethanol mandate the greatest danger to the environment in the First World.
MR. SINGER: It is also the greatest boondoggle that's been conceived of in recent years.
Now that the election is over, I would hope that the politicians will no longer move in that direction, because, you know, the question of Iowa, of Nebraska, and so on has become somewhat moot, at least until the next election.
Q: But I hear they're considering increasing the mandate, increasing the percent of our gasoline that's used from ethanol.
MR. AVERY: Double digit, yes.
Q: And that lowers our fuel consumption.
MR. SINGER: Yesterday I listened to a debate between David Pimentel from Cornell, who is an ecologist against ethanol debating Bill Holmberg, who's the executive director of the, listen to this, the Renewable Fuels Association of America, or something to that effect. And you could imagine how the debate went.
MR. SINGER: I'd like to just add two remarks here. It's clear to me that they argued about how much energy is required to make ethanol, in relation to the energy we get out of it. In other words, they debated energy ratios. Pimentel argued that it takes more energy--fossil fuel energy--to create ethanol, which then gives you some energy back when you burn it. And Holmberg, of course, argued the other way. They're both probably off.
But let's assume that the amount of fossil fuel energy you put into ethanol equals the amount you get out. It still doesn't make any sense. It causes all sorts of problems, and it is sustained only by subsidies.
MR. AVERY: It is sustained only, Fred, by the Greens having driven us into forgoing all of the other fuels that are kinder to the environment than corn ethanol.
MR. SINGER: It's sustained by greed, not green, but greed, spelled G-R-E-E-D.
MR. SINGER: And the subsidies are considerable. There's the question of whether ethanol will be taxed as gasoline is, as a road user fuel. But there's even one subtle point as to why the automobile companies have become enamored by ethanol, which I learned about yesterday, which is that they think they can gain points on the CAFE standards. They think they can calculate CAFE based on the amount of gasoline they burn per mile, rather than ethanol.
It's a very complicated subject, but it is completely driven by subsidies, in my view.
MR. AVERY: It is weird that corn ethanol is the only energy source that the American public currently will approve using more of.
MR. WEINSTEIN: Hm. Well, on that note of slight disagreement between our two distinguished authors--(laughter)
MR. SINGER: It's unstoppable. (Laughter.)
MR. WEINSTEIN: Exactly. We'd like to thank both of them for this fascinating and provocative discussion, which gives us some of the character of this fascinating, provocative, and well-researched and detailed book that makes this unique argument--which I urge all of you to purchase. *
"A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason." --J. P. Morgan