Does Science Justify Kyoto Protocol?

This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, June 12, 2001, was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.

BRIT HUME, HOST:  To read the news coverage on last week's report on global warming from the National Academy of Sciences, you might have thought the issue was settled: Global warming is a serious threat, human behavior is responsible for it, and the Kyoto treaty on the issue is the answer.  The president thus faces a tough week with European leaders said to be outraged at his rejection of the treaty.  But not everyone thinks the issue's been settled or even that the National Academy of Sciences report said so.

One such person is Fred Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project and professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia.  He joins me now.

Welcome, sir.


HUME:  Nice to have you.  Now, tell me, first of all, what the National Academy of Sciences report actually said.  It sounded from all the coverage as if it said "Big problem.  Humans responsible.  Got to do something."

SINGER:  That's what the first sentence says, first sentence of the summary.  The report itself doesn't say that.  The report itself is not equivocal at all.  It begins by doubting the evidence.  It says we're not sure.  It says it depends on how you model the natural variations.  And it finally concludes that you really cannot tell whether the climate is warming sufficiently to be detectable above natural variation.

HUME:  Now, you -- you mentioned -- you talked about modeling natural variations.  I assume you're talking about creating a computer model that would take into account or to be able to determine whether changes in this -- in -- in the climate are the result of natural variations?  What?  Explain that to me.

SINGER:  Yes.  Well, one of the problems is that you -- we don't know how large the natural variations are.  They try to do this by simulating them on a computer.  Now, obviously, you cannot really do this because the natural variations are controlled by the sun, by volcanoes, by ocean currents, many things that cannot be put into computer models.  They recognize this.  So deep down in the report, you find essentially language which says that "What we said in the beginning really isn't so."

HUME:  Now, is it an absolute contradiction, or is it just simply a qualifying by saying...

SINGER:  A qualifying.

HUME:  ... they can't be absolutely sure?

SINGER:  They cannot be sure.  But of course, you must have taken into account the fact that when they say the climate is warming, which they claim, they only are looking at one data set.  There are four data sets, and there of them say the climate is not warming.  One says the climate is warming.

HUME:  Now, these four data sets all equally scientifically valid?

SINGER:  Well, the equal...

HUME:  And equal?

SINGER:  Yes, they are.  And in fact, last year, the same national academy published a report in which they say that the atmosphere is not warming, according to data from weather satellites and according to data from weather balloons.  So weather balloons and weather satellites show no warming.  Surface data show a warming.  And then what we call proxy data from tree rings and ice cores show no warming.

HUME:  So what are we to conclude?

SINGER:  So it's three to one.  Well, unfortunately, you cannot conclude anything at the moment.  What we need to do is to have a proper debate.  We need to find out why it is that the data sets disagree.

HUME:  And your view is that that debate is not happening?

SINGER:  Has not happened.  It started last year.  The academy -- and I brought along a copy of their report...

HUME:  Right.

SINGER:  ... tried to find out why these data sets disagree.  They couldn't find the reason, and they're still working on it.  And I think before we do anything, we certainly need to find out what the evidence is.

HUME:  Now, wouldn't it, though -- I mean, it seems like the argument could be made that as a precautionary matter, given the potential consequences of a warming of the earth -- and I want to ask you about that -- that -- that the prudent thing to do would begin to take precautions now and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.  Is that not a sensible

SINGER:  What we're doing is anyway, whether there's warming or not.  We're doing this because we're always striving for greater energy efficiency.  So per unit of GNP, per unit of output, we are reducing our emissions and have been for the last 30 years.

HUME:  But would it not be prudent to accelerate that reduction?

SINGER:  Not if it requires large economic hardships because that would cause a great problem for particularly people in lower-income groups.  You see, what the Kyoto protocol, which is what we're really talking about...

HUME:  Right.

SINGER:  ... is asking us to do, if we were to sign up for it, is to reduce energy use by 30 percent in the next decade, in this decade.  Well, that's...

HUME:  Enormous.

SINGER:  That's enormous, yes.  So we really have a choice.

HUME:  Between?

SINGER:  Between energy, use of energy, sensible use of energy, and giving in to what I think is really hype because we don't have the data to back it up.

HUME:  Now, is it -- now, when people -- people speak of "greenhouse gases," how much of the emissions of greenhouse gases that are in the atmosphere are caused by humans or human behavior, and how much by other forces?  And what are the other forces?

SINGER:  There's no question that greenhouse gases have risen in the atmosphere as a result of human activities.  On the other hand, you have to take a geologic point of view.  The levels of greenhouse gases -- for example, carbon dioxide -- are not as high as they were some time ago.  For example, over geologic history, they've been 20 times higher than what they are today -- 20 times higher.

HUME:  For that particular CO2, right?

SINGER:  For that particular -- which is the most important greenhouse gas that we're talking about.

HUME:  Right.


HUME:  And -- and what was -- what caused it then?

SINGER:  Well, it was one of the prime -- primordial gases.  It comes out of volcanoes.  So it's emitted from the earth.  It hasn't really upset the climate very much.  We've had a reasonably good climate for the last 600 million years, and I think we will continue to have a good climate.

HUME:  Is it clear that if there were global warming, that it is harmful?

SINGER:  No, not at all.  It depends really on how much, of course.  A modest warming, which is all we're talking about here, would, in fact, produce benefits.  So economists tell us.

HUME:  What benefits are (INAUDIBLE)

SINGER:  Leading economists, led by a professor from Yale University, have published a book.  And they point out that the United States would benefit from a higher level of carbon dioxide and a warmer climate.

HUME:  Now, President Bush has begun to say, though, that he's very concerned about global warming and he wants to study it further, and so on.  Is he overstating the problem?

SINGER:  No, I think he's absolutely correct.  Absolutely correct.  We need to find out, first of all, if the climate is, in fact, warming.  As I mentioned, there are four data sets.

HUME:  Right.

SINGER:  They disagree.   We need to find out why they disagree.  Should have an open, evidentiary hearing and have each side put forward their best data, debate them.  We can cross-examine them.  We can find out why they disagree and settle the matter once and for all.

HUME:  And as for the European concerns?  Last question.

SINGER:  The European concern I think is primarily psychological and driven by political factions in Europe.  As you know, the environmental parties are politically very strong, and politicians like to show off their environmental credentials so they can get reelected.

HUME:  Fred Singer, very nice to have you, sir.  I hope you'll come back.

SINGER:  Thank you.

HUME:  Thank you very much.

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