Fred Singer's Attack on the Rio Earth Summit

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With the dawn on the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, fossil-fuel funded scientists would launch a full-scale attack against the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, finds the latest installment of DeSmog UK’s epic history series.

The impending Earth Summit in Rio could spell doom for coal and oil interests. So the industry’s hired scientists started to play louder to the sceptic tune.

Dr Fred Singer, then professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, led the charge as he brought together the few scientific sceptics there were to publish a book shortly before Rio: The Greenhouse Debate Continued: An Analysis and Critique of the IPCC Climate Assessment.

His think tank, the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP), also published a Statement by Atmospheric Scientists on Greenhouse Warming attacking the Earth Summit.

The Heidelberg Appeal

Then in June, Singer launched his Heidelberg Appeal to coincide with the Summit’s opening. The appeal warned of the emergence of “an irrational ideology which is opposed to scientific and industrial progress, and impedes economic and social development.”

It also accused the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of “pseudo-scientific arguments” and argued that “the greatest evils which stalk our Earth are ignorance and oppression, and not Science, Technology and Industry.”

Professional scientists dismissed much of Singer’s work because he was not actively researching climate science and had not published any papers in respected journals.

What Singer was doing however, was appearing regularly in the American press. He may no longer have been an active researcher who contributed to the scientific debate in the professional literature, but the daily media featured him frequently.

Intentional, Annoying Misrepresentations

Bert Bolin, IPCC founding chairman, acknowledged that Singer’s book did raise some legitimate questions that were later examined by the IPCC. However, Singer also included a series of allegations that were demonstrably untrue.

Bolin recalled: “These intentional misrepresentations of the IPCC report were annoying, and almost all scientists that I have met considered Singer’s activities during the early 1990’s, and actually ever since, to be a systematic attempt to discredit the IPCC‘s efforts by making incorrect or misleading statements both verbally and in the popular press.”

Singer’s friends at the George C Marshall Institute also launched a salvo against the IPCC claiming that scientific models had “substantially exaggerated its importance” of climate change.

The report blamed changes in the heat from the sun for the recent rise in global temperatures – a theory that had been ruled out by scientists publishing in the most respected journals but that would nonetheless be repeated throughout the next quarter century by sceptics.

Moral Obligation

Climate-change denier Richard Lindzen, then a meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), sent the report to President George Bush Senior with a covering letter using his academic credentials to lend weight to its findings.

“I thought it was important to make it clear that the science was at an early and primitive stage and that there was little basis for consensus and much reason for skepticism,” he told the Scientific American magazine. “I did feel a moral obligation.”

The energy industry also lobbied the IPCC directly. The Climate Council, the Edison Electric Institute and the National Coal Association wrote a letter to Bolin and submitted its own report.

Their complaints “all concerned procedural issues” according to Bolin. He noted: “The difference between the scientific, factual approach, on one hand, and this thinking by lawyers and industrial representatives defending special interests, on the other, was really no surprise.”

Up next: The DeSmog UK epic history series continues with a look at the outcome of the Rio Earth Summit – where participation was more symbolic than it was effective.

@Brendanmontague

Photo: ISS/Nasa via Creative Commons

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