BOOK REVIEW By CURT STAGER
The main premise of this 106-page book is that many scientists do not believe that human-driven global warming is real because the evidence for it is deeply flawed. In reality, it is this book that is deeply flawed.
The primary audience is not scientists but policy-makers, and its release last November was timed to coincide with the climate-change meeting in Paris. The Heartland Institute funds publications such as this one from the “Non-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” (NIPCC). The panel’s name is a tongue-in-cheek jab at the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which summarizes peer-reviewed scientific literature.
Author Craig Idso has a doctorate in geography and is chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, which Mother Jones magazine listed among its “Dirty Dozen of Climate Change Denial” in 2008.
Robert Carter was a research professor of geosciences at James Cook University and consulted for various climate-denying organizations before his death in January 2016.
Fred Singer has a Ph.D. in physics, founded the Science and Environmental Policy Project, which disputes the science of climate change and ozone depletion, and is a founder of the NIPCC. He was featured in the book Merchants of Doubt (by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway) for his work as a professional climate denier and former scientific apologist for the tobacco industry.
Despite their certification as scientists, none of the authors has the publication track record of an accomplished expert in climate change. Of the three, Idso has published the most peer-reviewed papers on climate-related topics, mostly in regards to localized urban CO2 emissions rather than global warming itself. Singer has published several peer-reviewed papers on space science and numerous lay articles and books that deny climate change, and a Google Scholar search revealed no peer-reviewed articles bearing Carter’s name.
The book’s seven chapters present arguments against the well-documented consensus of the climate-science community regarding the causes and consequences of modern global warming, in addition to denying the existence of that consensus. I’ll briefly comment on some of them here.
The first chapter, “No Consensus,” argues that scientists disagree about the effects of fossil-fuel emissions on climate. This statement is technically correct. A few scientists such as these three do indeed disagree with the vast majority of reputable experts. They provide no convincing evidence for a lack of consensus and rely instead on statements such as “probably most working scientists disagree with the claims made by the… IPCC.”
In “Why Scientists Disagree,” the authors say that most scientists fail to master all of the many aspects of climate science, so their opinions cannot be trusted, a statement that more appropriately describes the authors themselves.
“Flawed Projections” claims that “there has been no global warming for some 18 years.” This flies in the face of abundant evidence that the planet has in fact warmed in recent decades, with 2015 being the hottest year on record thus far.
“False Postulates” contains misleading statements that are commonly used by climate deniers. Rises in atmospheric CO2 did often follow rather than lead rises in temperature between ice ages, but those warmings were caused by orbital cycles, not greenhouse gases, and it does not mean that fossil- fuel emissions don’t warm the planet today. Their claim that changes in the sun’s energy outputs can explain recent warming wrongly dismisses strong evidence to the contrary.
“Unreliable Circumstantial Evidence” reports that sea-level rise is not accelerating and that sea level is falling in some places. In fact, numerous tide gauge and satellite measurements confirm that twentieth-century rates of sea-level rise have indeed accelerated to about three millimeters per year since the early 1990s because of thermal expansion of sea water and melting of land-based ice. It is “falling” in some places only because the land there is still rebounding like a slow-motion trampoline from the end of the last ice age.
The final chapter advises readers that “Rather than rely exclusively on IPCC for scientific advice, policy-makers should seek out advice from independent, nongovernment organizations and scientists who are free of financial and political conflicts of interest.” This comes from authors with well-known political biases, pariah status among independent, reputable scientists, and financial support from a rightwing political think tank with close ties to the fossil-fuel industry.
It is indeed difficult to master the complexity of climate science, and most non-scientists must rely on people they trust to help them sift fact from fiction. As a contributor to the last IPCC report, I know it well enough to be confident that it is one of the world’s most reliable resources on the subject, but I don’t expect science deniers of any political stripe to take my word for it. I have been hammered in public for identifying factual errors in climate claims from the left as well as the right, and one of my papers in Science drew a warm personal letter of approval from Singer because it showed that climates can change abruptly without human interference, a point that many environmentalists had long denied. I therefore feel some grudging sympathy for Singer, at least, and I presume that he sincerely believes what he says.
Yes, it is a scientist’s job to be skeptical, but to be worth trusting you must change your mind when overwhelming evidence demands it. These authors do not meet that standard, nor does their book.
CURT STAGER is a professor of natural sciences at Paul Smith’s College and the author of Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth, a book about climate change’s long-term effects.