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Nature, not human activity, rules the Climate

March 2, 2010

Yes you saw right. Nature, not human activity, rules the climate.

Professor Fred Singer giving the lecture

This was Professor Fred Singer’s mantra at the public lecture held at the Nanyang Executive Centre this evening. Professor Fred Singer is the current Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia. He was speaking at a public lecture organized by the Singapore Economic Review (SER) in their 7th Distinguished Public Lecture series.

Professor Fred Singer

Professor Singer’s lecture was in short, interesting, if not “controversial”. I think many would agree with me that he argued for the skeptics tonight. I will not attempt to re-iterate his lecture in this post, nor challenge his views on climate change but to highlight the important issues that were brought up and how they open up room for discussion about the pertinent issues facing us today with regards to climate change.

For more information about Professor Fred Singer’s work, please visit the Science and Environmental Policy Project and/or the Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change websites. These two sites provide more information as to what Professor Singer advocates in terms of climate science, from the perspective of a climate scientist. The recent document published by the NIPCC called Climate Change Reconsidered can be downloaded via the website or the link provided. It articulates the notion that climate change is caused by natural forces rather than man-made forces.

Professor Singer emphasized that it is only plausible that humans are responsible for climate change and was unconvinced with the IPCC’s statistics about man-made or human-induced climate change. He argued that the IPCC has been pre-programmed to source for evidence which points towards human-induced climate change. He says that they have “no evidence that will stand up to scrutiny” and therefore they bear the burden of proof.

I think that this statement angered many people in the audience tonight. Perhaps because they turned up thinking that this might be just another talk by just another climate advocate/scientist. I had a chat with Zhiqi (my Geography Hons classmate) on the way back and we discussed the lecture and tried to apply some critical thoughts to it. She suggested that perhaps Professor Singer’s “position” as an American citizen, having lived as long as he has, and having lived in an era of supposed abundance of fossil fuels, is unwilling at this point to react to climate change science. Thus, being aware of the speaker’s background and postion may be an important issue in interpreting his message from his lecture today. I thought that Zhiqi raised a very valid point but cautioned that we might be “too critical”, if that is even possible! Although, it is important that we take this with a “pinch of salt” as Zhiqi told me since everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But having said that, I do very much respect Professor Fred Singer for being so confident about his perspective and views on climate change science.

It would also be important to note that he isn’t the only one that says global warming could be beneficial. My idol (as some of you know) Bjorn Lomborg has also clearly expressed in Cool It! that warming may reduce the number of cold-related deaths in countries in temperate zones. So, perhaps we should not attach a derogatory meaning to the word “skeptic” but rather embrace being a climate skeptic not because in disbelief of climate change but in the acknowledgement that there are several different opinions about it.

In essence, there is uncertainty in climate science but as Ms Felicia Shaw rightly pointed out during the Q&A tonight, that does not equate to unreliability, nor should it serve as a justification for inaction. This public lecture allowed me to understand that there are several ways of interpreting climate science but it all boils down to nature and how the climate is determined largely by nature’s rules, rather than man-kind’s actions. But, again that is one way of seeing it.

Whether or not climate change is caused by anthropogenic means, or naturally, it is clear that we cannot sit back and “do nothing” as Professor Singer mentioned to be a “brave thing that politicians can do”. We need to re-think our objectives in every discussion we have about climate change and the urgency of the situation should lead us to act, rather than argue amongst ourselves about who said what or who did what.

Again, I think I should highlight that this post represents my opinions on this matter but I do welcome any comments with regards to this or comments about Professor Singer’s “controversial” (however you might see it) public lecture this evening.

Professor Euston Quah giving the opening speech



3 Comments leave one →
  1. Robert Feeley permalink
    March 2, 2010 5:12 pm

    Excellent blog – there is a disturbing report at SPN Headlines about climate change data procurement:

    Keep smiling! 🙂

  2. Geoff permalink
    March 17, 2010 3:10 am

    Dear Mellow,

    Nice report on the lecture (and good pictures).

    I think Dr. Singer’s point was that there is little credible evidence that humans can predictably and measurably (over natural variation) change the climate. Therefore, while it makes sense to prepare for natural weather events and other disasters (earthquakes, tsunamis, rising sea level, etc.) it does not make sense to spend money to “avoid” (ineffectively) changing the climate.

    There is a thoughtful paper by Dr. Indur Goklany (available here) on the precautionary principle in relation to climate.

    Of course, Singapore is in an interesting position. Even if one believed that CO2 affected climate as claimed by the IPCC, and while Singapore has a high per capita level of CO2 emissions, it’s clear that an emissions level of zero for Singapore would not have the slightest measurable effect on climate. Our “fate” will be largely determined by China and India (in this as in many other matters).

  3. Mellow permalink*
    March 17, 2010 6:08 am

    Hi Geoff,

    Thank you for your comments on this post. I think you raised a very important point about Singapore’s position in relation to Climate Change. You highlighted that even if Singapore had an emissions level of zero (impossible at the rate of development here), we would not have the slightest measurable effect on climate and while that may be true, I personally feel that that has been overused as an excuse by a lot of people and the Singapore government for inaction. Even action is minimal and deployed as a political strategy to placate the people that the government is doing something. Take for example the Energy Conservation Act that will be slowly implemented and targetted at the private sector while the public sector is said to “try” their best to comply with the Act.

    I understand your concerns with regard to China and India and the urgency of climate change and the need for these industrialising nations to cut their emissions but there is a moral side to it that must be considered. Ahh, the age old development-emissions debate right? Until we can get that out of the way, there is no doubt that China and India will not set any emissions target so therefore even small countries like Singapore must act and do our part in combatting climate change.


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