My Long Goodbye to S. Fred Singer
The first time I laid eyes on climate science pioneer Fred Singer was in a scenic elevator at the Marriot Marquis in NYC, in March of 2008. The hotel was hosting the premiere International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC), and I was there to cover the event for American Thinker. Dr. Singer was there not only to dazzle the crowd of noted skeptical climate scientists, economists and policy experts from around the world, but also to launch his new Non-IPCC report, a rebuttal to the agenda-driven propaganda of the then recent IPCC Fourth Assessment (AR4).
We had exchanged a few emails prior to this chance encounter, but most were quick fact-checks or update-requests relating to article research. So I was more than a bit surprised when this science legend gave my press-badge the once-over, then smiled and said, “So you’re Marc from American Thinker… nice to finally meet you, Marc.” My struggle for a warm-yet-clever response lasted all of two heartbeats as the elevator door whooshed open, and out stepped the man whose climate knowledge I revered most. “Have to run … See you at lunch,” his words barely made it through the closing doors.
I knew he was referring to that day’s upcoming plenary lunch session at which he would officially debut what would become the climate-skeptics’ bible. Singer was editor and lead author of Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate [PDF], subtitled Summary for Policymakers of the Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change. The NIPCC had been established in 2007 by Singer’s Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP), whose weekly newsletters remain aggregators of “The Week That Was” in non-agenda-driven science.
Throughout their many revisions, the NIPCC reports continue to distinguish themselves from the IPCC in that they are not pre-programmed to “support the hypotheses of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and the control of greenhouse gases.” Instead, they remain a non-political authoritative rebuttal to the multi-government-controlled IPCC’s “errors and outright falsehoods” regarding warming’s measurement, likely drivers, and overall impact.
Remembering His Brilliance
Although I never caught up with the world-renowned atmospheric and space physicist that day, our paths would cross again many times. Over the next few years, we’d see each other at various ICCC venues and we’d exchange emails now and then when he’d happily reply to any research questions I asked. He was, after all, not only the most-prominent scientist in the world bravely speaking out against the scourge of climate alarmism, but also the most easily accessible. And what an amazing backstory.
Singer fled Nazi-occupied Austria as a boy in the early 1940s, designed mines for the U.S. Navy during WWII, earned his PhD in physics from Princeton University in 1948, designed satellites in the 1950s and became the first director of the U.S. weather-satellite program in the early 1960s. Over the course of his storied career, Singer published more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Indeed, the volume and breadth of his contributions and accomplishments are nothing short of astounding and far too numerous to consolidate in one space, although his longtime friends and NIPCC publishers over at the Heartland Institute have done a superb job of trying. This one blows me away:
Dr. Singer was the first to make the correct calculations for using atomic clocks in orbit, contributing to the verification of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and now essential in the GPS system of satellite navigation. He also designed satellites and instrumentation for remote sensing of the atmosphere and received a White House Presidential Commendation for this work.
Imagine that! And that such a mind was so quickly (and wrongfully) dismissed by climate alarmists as belonging to an “oil shill”. What nonsense.
Singer wrote about his amazing GTR journeys in his 2015 AT piece "Einstein, Your GPS (and Me)." It’s a captivating read, indeed.
The Undisputed Dean of Climate Skeptics
Still, it was unquestionably Singer’s relentless work as the world-renowned “skeptical” scientist which rocketed him to either fame or infamy, depending on your AGW politics.
By the time I met him via email in 2006, Singer had already achieved a lifetime of successes as a climatologist, having established SEPP in 1990 and waged intellectual battle with the IPCC since its 2nd Assessment Report (AR2) in 1995, both in writing and at the many lectures he’s given over the years.
Two recurring themes in Singer’s prose and presentations were that climate sensitivity to CO2 is much lower than IPCC estimates (read his October 2014 AT piece “The Climate Sensitivity Controversy”) and that the UN climate models don’t match observed temperatures, mostly due to their ignorance of negative feedbacks (see 2016’s “Climate Change: The Burden of Proof”).
Singer often challenged the IPCC for proof of its claim that AGW was 90-99% certain, and to respond to the many “disputed and unsolved problems.” These include the true figure for climate sensitivity, whether water vapor and clouds represent positive or negative feedback, the impacts of natural forcings (internal ocean oscillations, volcanism and solar insolation), atmospheric CO2 residence time and the rate of sea level rise (SLR), which Singer often stated (including in last year’s AT piece on the subject) has been an unalarmingly constant 7 inches per century for 3000 years.
In his 2006 (coauthored) book, Unstoppable Global Warming -- Every 1500 Years, evidence is presented which supports fluctuations in solar energy causing the title. The book describes how the frequency of the cycle originally emerged from a 1983 study of ice cores in Greenland. That figure was then verified by analysis of an ice core from Antarctica’s Vostok Glacier -- at the other end of the world, which showed the same 1,500-year cycle through its 400,000-year length. These 1,500-year cycles analyzed include the Little Ice Age of 1300-1850 and the modern warm period which started around 1850 and we experience to this day.
Singer’s conclusion? Once you recognize that we’re dealing with natural and not human forces, all the “to-do” about AGW is “nonsense.” Attempts to mitigate CO2 -- which is not a pollutant -- are pointless, very expensive and completely ineffective. They’ll have no effect on the climate and in fact will have little effect on the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Besides, “a moderate warming trend” will have “beneficial effects for humanity and wildlife.”
He was Scientist, Speaker, Author, Co-Author and Editor
Singer’s unique, soft-spoken wit was imbued in his writing, as in this example from 2007 where, in his characteristic good-humored fashion, he took on the IPCC’s typical mistake of confusing cause and effect:
“Some cite the fact that the climate is currently warming and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. This is true, but correlation is never proof of causation. In Europe, the birth rate is decreasing and so is the number of storks. Does this correlation prove that storks bring babies?”
In that same piece, Singer also dismissed the canard of “consensus” in climate science:
“But even if a majority of scientists had voted for human-caused global warming, that's not how science works. Unlike in politics, the majority does not rule. Rather, every advance in science has come from a minority that found that observed facts contradicted the prevailing hypothesis. Sometimes it took only one scientist; think of Galileo or Einstein.”
This emphasis on contrarian individual thought over groupthink was a repeating peeve of Singer’s. After day 1 of ICCC2 back in 2009, the NYT’s Andrew Revkin did a trash-piece titled, “Skeptics Dispute Climate Worries and Each Other.” Revkin played the old divide et impera card -- characterizing scientific points of debate as “internal rifts” within skeptics’ ranks, sprinkling words like “division” and “dissent” to imply disruptive disunity throughout. And he highlighted Singer’s derogation of the single GHG-theory dissenting “Slayer” present.
The piece evoked a bit of angst among conference-goers the next morning. Not Singer. When asked, his response was characteristically simple and delivered with his trademark smile: “There’s disagreement among skeptics -- and that is good.”
This was a position I’d relish just one year later.
And Ultimately, Mentor and Teacher
In early 2010, Fred approached me about submitting articles to AT and, of course, all hands were excited about just what a score this would represent for the site. And I was presented the honor and privilege of “editing” an S. Fred Singer piece prior to submission, which seemed a dream-come-true – at first. But, as providence would have it, a “disagreement” threatened to turn the dream into a nightmare.
For the first time since undertaking his tutelage, fate had chosen this, of all times, for me to take issue with one of the master’s lessons. The details are inconsequential, but suffice to say, there was a controversial slogan arising from the Climategate affair, the meaning of which the doctor and I fervently disagreed upon. And while this putative “detail” was mentioned almost casually in Singer’s piece, its alternate represented the very heart of many of my recent AT pieces, including an article mentioned in the Climategate emails. But Singer was, understandably, implacable in his position.
What a quandary I was in! To let the point go unchallenged was to denigrate not only countless hours of work but also my credibility on the subject. But how could a software engineer/data analyst possibly overrule the position of an exalted legend in the climate field on a matter relating to climate science? This could have easily become my worst experience ever at AT. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t because rather than pull rank, Singer mercifully suggested a compromise in his wording, and, in doing so, let me off the hook.
This is not to suggest that I had changed his mind, but rather to demonstrate best the man’s gentle nature, the strength of his intellect notwithstanding.
That was Fred. Later that year, when I mentioned in an email that WaPo had referred to him as “aging” in a recent hit-piece, he quickly responded with his typical good humor, “but very gracefully, I should note.” I could easily envision his smile as I read his words, despite my anger at WaPo for obnoxiously claiming that “very few climate scientists would describe [Singer] as ‘renowned’ for his climate research,” words which the venerated climatologist simply shrugged off.
And rightly so. Fred Singer was nothing short of a giant in his field and exuded the confidence which came with knowing it. But, at the same time, he was a modest, soft-spoken man, one whose wisdom and kindness enriched all he met.
Life has taken me in other directions since meeting one of my heroes on that March morning a dozen years ago in a scenic elevator in Times Square, and years have passed since last we spoke.
But I’ll never forget that day. Nor everything Fred taught me before and since.
Siegfried Frederick Singer passed away in his sleep on April 6, 2020 at the age of 95.
And this is my long goodbye to a great man whose legend and teachings will surely live on.
Marc Sheppard is a data analyst, software engineer, and writer. He's been a frequent contributor to American Thinker and welcomes your feedback.