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Reflections on a Scientific Giant and My Friend, Fred Singer

April 7, 2020

Fred Singer passed away last night. He was 95. That this news was long expected makes it no less sad and disheartening. I write this as if through a veil of tears.

My condolences and deepest thanks go out to Rocky and the staff at the Rockville Nursing Home who took such good care of Fred for the past few years. Diane and I saw it first-hand during our visits to Fred last year. Fred was such a wonderful person, so kind and wise, witty and considerate of others, that everyone who met him knew they were in the presence of a special person, even when they didn’t know he was a world-renowned scientist and prominent public intellectual.

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Fred Singer was a giant in the field of climate science. His careers in government, the academy, and then in think tanks gave him a breadth of knowledge and experience that mere specialists invariably lack. Most physicists, for example, focus on the behavior of clouds and cosmic rays while neglecting the bigger picture of biological feedbacks, economics, and politics. Most economists focus on cost-benefit analysis and forget that people don’t care how much fire extinguishers cost when their house is on fire. Fred understood the physics, biology, economics, and politics of climate change and much, much more. In a dozen books and hundreds of articles he explained virtually every aspect of the climate change issue in terms sophisticated enough to be published in the leading peer-reviewed science journals and so plain-spoken that he could appear in The Wall Street Journal and online at American Thinker.

To me, Fred was a mentor, a true scientist and teacher, and a friend. I first worked closely with him and Dennis Avery on a revised edition of Unstoppable Global Warming ... Every 1,500 Years in 2007. We discovered, to both our surprise I’m sure, that our patterns of thought and expression were so similar that we made an excellent team. We could, as is said, finish each other’s sentences. That partnership led to Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate in 2008, then five volumes in the Climate Change Reconsidered series, and ending with a revised edition of Hot Talk, Cold Science (in production). 

Fred Singer’s contribution to the international debate over climate change cannot be overstated. He was a pioneer, one of the first and most prominent scientists to debate his fellow scientists and criticize the false and exaggerated claims of environmentalists and politicians who claimed to be experts on the subject. Where others stayed silent out of fear of retaliation by activists in government and in universities, Fred was utterly fearless, willing to take the slings and arrows of critics in order to defend real (not political) science.

In addition to being a prolific writer himself, Fred encouraged countless others to write and speak out on the controversial subject of climate change. He was always available to comment on other people’s work and to encourage them to submit their work to academic journals or to work with think tanks that would publish and promote their ideas. He had a unparalleled international network of scholars with whom he corresponded frequently, the basis for what became the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC).

For several years, Fred Singer almost single handedly sustained a debate over whether or not enough is known, or can be known, about the causes and consequences of climate change to justify the regulations and taxes being proposed by many partisans on the left. Thanks to his example, integrity, leadership, and generosity, he soon was not a lone voice in the debate, but instead created a movement — call it climate realism — that today dominates informed (if not academic) discussion of climate change. That perspective, now embraced by President Donald Trump and most Republicans in the United States, is saving countless lives and fueling global prosperity.

God bless you, Fred Singer. May you rest in peace knowing you changed the world for the better and left behind generations of thinkers and doers inspired by your example and nurtured by your friendship.

Author
Joseph Bast is a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute. He cofounded Heartland in 1984, serving as executive director then as president & CEO until January 2018. His research and writing focuses on climate change and energy policy.
jbast@heartland.org @JosephLBast

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