Mastering the Problem of Environmental Quality

by | Mar 28, 2001 | Environment

An interview with Dr. S. Fred Singer by Bonner Cohen and Jay Lehr, Ph.D. Dr. S. Fred Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, has achieved great renown for pioneering research in atmospheric and space physics. Singer was among the very first to study the cosmic radiation outside of the Earth’s atmosphere using […]

An interview with Dr. S. Fred Singer by Bonner Cohen and Jay Lehr, Ph.D.

Dr. S. Fred Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, has achieved great renown for pioneering research in atmospheric and space physics.

Singer was among the very first to study the cosmic radiation outside of the Earth’s atmosphere using rocket-borne instruments. He developed the method used to date the origin of meteorites, and demonstrated how the Moon might have been captured to become a companion of the Earth. He pioneered instrumented satellites before Sputnik and devised instruments for measuring ozone and other atmospheric constituents from space.

More recently, Singer’s research group measured interplanetary dust and detected clouds of orbiting debris particles near the Earth. He predicted the existence of radiation belts before they were found by satellites, and was the first to publish research on the human production of methane, an important greenhouse gas.

Singer’s career has included academic positions and several government posts. He served as Chief Scientist in the Department of Transportation and was the first director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. He has served as a consultant to the Secretary of Energy, the White House Science Adviser, and other government officers, and was for several years vice chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere.

Since retiring from government and the University of Virginia, Singer founded a think tank, the Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP), in Fairfax, Virginia. He recently shared his thoughts on important environment issues of the day with E&CN contributing editor Bonner Cohen and managing editor Jay Lehr.

Cohen/Lehr: An environmental pressure group, Ozone Action (being re-named U.S. Greenpeace) has published a slick brochure about you, alleging that although you are knowledgeable and a scientific expert, one should not accept your statements on global warming, ozone depletion, and many other environmental topics. The brochure is called “A Fred of All Trades: A Case Study of Dr. S. Fred Singer.” How do feel about being singled out for such treatment?

Singer: I have rather mixed reactions. On the one hand, I’m flattered to receive all this unexpected attention, and to have so many of my publications and statements over the past 25 years researched and reproduced in an attractive pamphlet.

Being attacked by Ozone Action (one of the sponsors of the Ruckus Society) is rather like receiving a commendation or a medal.

On the other hand, I am somewhat annoyed to have so many distortions printed about my background, including some obvious non-truths.

Cohen/Lehr: In spite of these efforts to disarm you, are you making an impact?

Singer: Our impact is increasing steadily. Last year I gave some 40 talks, and my colleagues were also quite busy. Some of these were scientific debates, attended by several hundred scientists. These debates and publications in scientific journals are making an impact on our colleagues.

Our email list is now over 1,000 and growing, and we’re getting excellent responses from our subscribers. We are also getting increasing numbers of hits on our Web site. So we are reaching an ever-increasing audience. We are convincing the public that the science behind many environmental decisions is simply not adequate, and that regulators and politicians are systematically ignoring or distorting scientific facts.

Cohen/Lehr: Are you still active in scientific research?

Singer: Yes indeed. Of course, I’m no longer the leader of a laboratory, but my technical publications still number about four per year and deal with theory or analysis of science. There are plenty of people out there making measurements. We are more concerned about the meaning and significance of these data.

Cohen/Lehr: Ozone Action tries to paint you as opposed to environmentalism. Is that true?

Singer: Not at all. My record on the environment is quite clear; I wish Ozone Action had done its homework.

I became involved in water pollution control over 30 years ago, and also made contributions to oil spill protection. I had the lead role in the protection of estuaries while serving in the Department of the Interior.

Since the energy crisis of 1974, I have argued consistently and published (e.g., in the Washington Post) in favor of raising taxes on gasoline in order to pay fully the costs associated with road transportation.

In my book Free Market Energy (1982), I have a chapter where I discuss in detail methods of conserving energy that make economic sense.

I organized the first conference (1968) on global effects of environmental pollution for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the first conference (1969) on optimum levels of population. I have co-authored and edited books on both subjects.

Finally, my publication in Nature in 1971 is the first one to point to and calculate the growth in human production of methane, an important greenhouse gas. I also pointed out that these same human activities (cattle raising and rice growing) would lead to a depletion of stratospheric ozone. I believe it was the first publication that showed how human activities on the surface were depleting ozone in the stratosphere.

Cohen/Lehr: Could you give us your current view on global warming? Is it a problem?

Singer: Not at all. Of course, we all believe in the reality of the greenhouse effect. The question is really: Is the impact of human emissions on the greenhouse effect significant? The current data seem to show it is not significant in relation to natural variations in the climate. We do not see a signal that can be associated with or attributed to human activities. The climate models used for predicting future temperatures have not been validated against observations, and therefore should not be relied on.

The consequences of moderate warming are generally beneficial: less severe storms, more rain, better growth of agricultural crops. Economists now believe that global warming is good for the economy and the people.

Cohen/Lehr: You were present at the most recent U.N. global warming conference, called the Conference of Parties 6 (COP 6) at the Hague last November. Could you summarize for us what went on there?

Singer: COP 6 at The Hague was a political exercise, with the science no longer considered “policy-relevant.” The governmental delegations therefore ignored the fact that the actual climate observations contradict the models on which all forecasts are based. Someday soon, we hope, it will become evident that “the emperor has no clothes.”

At The Hague, U.S. proposals for emissions trading tried to make the Kyoto Protocol painless, hence even less effective, while European countries are using this as an excuse to beat up on the U.S. In the meantime, the rest of the world is standing by waiting for the handouts promised by Kyoto.

Cohen/Lehr: Were you able to be heard at COP 6?

Singer: From a personal point of view, things went extremely well. We got our message across to the media and received glowing write-ups in European newspapers.

We were telling the European public that global warming is a phantom problem. Politicians, all set to impose energy taxes, find this message very upsetting.

Particularly satisfying to me, our panel of three addressed some 60 youngsters that had been brought to The Hague by Greenpeace/Ozone Action. They listened politely, asked good questions, and kept us in the corridors for another hour. Again, the message got across.

Cohen/Lehr: What will be the impact of the failure of the participants at The Hague to reach an accord?

Singer: COP-6 is not the end of the Kyoto Protocol. Too many people are now making a nice living out of the warming scare. COP-6

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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