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Cockburn’s form

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 June 2007

Alexander Cockburn (writing in the Nation) has become the latest contrarian-de-jour, sallying forth with some rather novel arithmetic to show that human-caused global warming is nothing to be concerned about. This would be unworthy of comment in most cases, but Cockburn stands out as one of only a few left-wing contrarians, as opposed to the more usual right-wing variety. Casual readers may have thought this is a relatively recent obsession of his (3 articles and responses over the last month), however, Cockburn has significant form* and has a fairly long history of ill-informed commentary on the subject of global warming.

There may be more elsewhere, but while he was writing for New York Press he had at least two articles on the subject: Global Warming: The Great Delusion (March 15, 2001) and Return to Global Warming (June 21, 2001). After both articles, I wrote letters to the editor (here and here) gently pointing out the misconceptions and incorrect statements (though obviously to little avail). To whit, the deliberate confusion of weather and climate, guilt by association (he linked climate modelling to biological warfare research!), the complete mis-understanding of the Harries et al (2001) paper showing satellite evidence for the increased trapping of long wave radiation by greenhouse gases etc.

Rather than simply rehashing the obvious mistakes in his current ‘science’, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at all of the pieces together. The first thing one notices is that Cockburn always tries to shy away from giving the impression he came up with any of his anti-global warming theories himself. In each case, there is a trusted ‘advisor’ or acquaintance who is available to inform Cockburn of the latest foolishness. In 2001 it was Pierre Sprey “a man knowledgeable about the often disastrous interface between environmental prediction and computer models” and now it is Dr. Martin Hertzberg “a meteorologist for three years in the U.S. Navy”. Neither of whom appear to have any peer reviewed work in the field.

In common with the right-wing contrarians, Cockburn’s opinions are not formed from a dispassionate look at the evidence, but come from a post hoc reasoning given his dislike of the purported implications. This line from the Mar 2001 piece discussing the fact that sulphate aerosols have a cooling effect on climate, is a great example:

‘You really want to live by a model that installs the coal industry as the savior of “global warming”?’

That is, since any model that shows that aerosols have a cooling impact (which is all of them) apparently encourages the coal industry to pollute, the model physics must be flawed. The same theme is apparent in the more recent articles. Because carbon offsetting and credits have not worked as well as expected (see this excellent Financial Times report), it is clearly the scientists who raised the issue who are at fault. Bad consequences clearly imply bad science.

This backward logic is clear from reading his articles. At first it was the models that were uncertain, the water vapour that was ignored, and it was the ‘speculative’ nature of the IPCC that he found unconvincing. Then it was the uncertainty associated with aerosols that nailed it for him. Now it is that the CO2 increase itself that is self-evidently bogus. He drifts from one pseudo-factoid to another, hoping to land upon the one thing that will mean he doesn’t need to deal seriously with the issue.

It is probably inevitable that, as dealing with climate change becomes an established concern, those who make a habit of reflexively being anti-establishment will start to deny there is a problem at all, coincidentally just as the original contrarians are mostly moving in the other direction (i.e. there is a problem but it’s too expensive to do anything about it). It is a shame, because as some oil companies and their friends are finding, it is difficult to get a place at the table where solutions are being discussed if you have claimed for years the whole thing was a hoax. As some left-wingers start to follow in the footsteps of these unlikely bedfellows, they too will find their association with specious arguments and simple nonsense reduces their credibility – and along with that lost credibility goes the opportunity to shape policy in ways that might be more to their liking.

Denial of a problem – perfectly exemplified by Cockburn’s articles – is fundamentally a short-term delaying tactic, but as a long term strategy, especially once policies start to be put in place, it is simply short-sighted.

Back in 2001, I invited Cockburn to visit our lab to discuss the science. Even though it was never responded too, that invitation remains open. A truly open-minded journalist would take me up on it… So how about it Alex?

Apparently the English usage of ‘to have form’ in this context is not widespread – it means to have a record or past habit, probably derived from horse racing but often used as slang in referring to past misdeeds…

214 Responses to “Cockburn’s form”

  1. 1
    Zeke Hausfather says:

    Its worth pointing out Monboit’s long (and mostly fruitless) exchange with Cockburn on this issue. It makes for some amusing reading on a work break, if nothing else.
    I’m rather surprised that Cockburn limited himself to citing Micheals and Seitz, instead of the full roster of usual suspects.

  2. 2
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Cockburn makes his living by being an annoying ass. To quote Jake Gittes, it’s his metier.

  3. 3
    Eric (skeptic) says:

    Lost credibility (i.e. unwillingness to sign up to speculative theories proposed here like tipping point) is now justification for exclusion of opportunities to shape policy? I think your table needs to more than just the carbon-is-evil policy makers. One example policy would be adding aerosols which you dismissed above. The fundamental reason for allowing more than “carbon-is-evil” policy makers is that your tipping point theory needs more than carbon to work.

  4. 4
    tapasananda says:

    Cockburn seems to be some sort of right wing black ops -he is also very vocal about ridiculing David Ray Griffins thesis[The New Pearl Harbour} that 9/11 was an inside job.[See Griffin’s new Debunking9/11 Debunking] and then there was his attack in the Nation on Mother Theresa as a fraud…
    Money talks– follow the money

  5. 5
    Vinod Gupta says:

    Dear Sir,

    As an intelligent layman, I am totally worried that every human activity that uses external fossil-based energy, contributes to global warming. Even the food we eat is not carbon neutral because of the huge amount of energy used in producing, processing, transporting, storing and cooking it. Is there any model to show what is sustainable energy use i.e. not contributing to further global warming or, better still, in reducing it in the long run. Or, is the technological man’s future ultimately and inevitably doomed – no matter what we do.

  6. 6
    pete best says:

    Re #5, a very very good point and one that cannnot be addressed in a simple thread. However Goerge Monbiots book HEAT does attempt to show what can be done to mitigate AGW somewhat and although his workings are not entirely scienitfic they are rational enough and can sow the seeds of thought into combating AGW.

    As for weening ourselves off of fossil fuels in a significant way before 2030 and hence 480 ppmv of total greenhouse gases then that is doubtful. Maybe the entire thing will come down to peoples own conscience in the end but I doubt that the rich will comply and the rest of us only because peak oil will make driving as we do it today nearly impossibly expensive or the coming oil wars will shock us into doing something.

  7. 7
    Dr. M. Jorgensen-Petersen says:

    All of this makes it obvious (once again) that this subject is firmly in the world of politics, as it has been for a very long time. I do wonder why this all keeps coming up on this blog with these outraged reactions, change the name to realpoliticsonclimate, or just stick to science please, this is gettng boresome. The more you NASA guys protest, the more the bard’s words become prophetic, “Thou dost protest too much”.

  8. 8
    El Cid says:

    I believe (and probably so do many others) that Cockburn’s real dissent from Global Warming is not primarily scientific, but ideological.

    Looked at from a viewpoint which (sensibly) notes both the ruin to which Cockburn views both liberal and conservative elites to have pushed most of us to the brink of, and profiting from the process all the way, Cockburn doubts that those elites would be honest or altruistic enough to be honest about GW.

    Thus, from Cockburn’s view (my asssumptions of it), it is just as bad to accept manipulation from a liberal elitist such as Gore — you’d just be taking more misdirection from a venal capitalist class.

    Here is where I think the error is:

    Cockburn misses the fact that both (A) GW is true, and (B) Capitalist elites are manipulating a GW reaction to their advantage, can be true simultaneously.

    Cockburn, I think, believes that either (A) or (B) can be true.

    What he fails to imagine is that even if GW is true, and the globe’s elites wish there to be an anti-GW set of policies, then there still are choices to be made about (1) which policies are enacted; (2) who will pay for those policies; (3) who will receive funds for those policies; (4) and who will benefit from the changes introduced by anti-GW policies.

    Or, more crudely, “Hey, if the world’s gotta go anti-Global Warming, I’m gonna make sure that I’m on the winning end of the deal.”

    If Cockburn wished to accurately pursue his ideological and political views (as opposed to his scientific views), he would be inquiring into the “who benefits” and “who pays” side of anti-GW policies, in order to demand the most just and democratic response to GW.

  9. 9
    pat n says:

    Realclimate continues to do a good job exposing arguments by some national journalists and scientists who have denied there is a global warming problem. However realclimate has been silent about similar denial by many government people who have been heard at national and local levels, thus little or no progress in helping the public understand the severity of the global warming problem we caused and now face.

    [Response: As we’ve pointed out many times before, our “silence” sometimes merely reflects that fact that this is all volunteer and we don’t have time. We probably should have said something about the recent comments by the NASA cheif, and perhaps we’ll still get around to that. On the other hand the NASA chief (thankfully) doesn’t speak about climate change very often. In contrast, we’ve been faster to take on people like George Will and Alexander Cockburn because they are widely read — in these cases — at both ends of the political spectrum.–eric]

  10. 10
    robert davies says:

    Well put, Gavin. You may want to note that the monster under the bed in Cockburn’s latest screed is nuclear power…

  11. 11
    lorna salzman says:

    In my nearly forty years of professional environmental activism, I have frequently had to rebut people on the left, for one or more reasons: their indifference to environmental problems, their antipathy to anything that smacked of representing or strengthening the scientific establishment (which post-modernists still vilify as being inherently tainted), and their hostility to any movement or theory which was antithetical to economic growth, which they still consider imperative to solving global poverty. Even biologist Barry Commoner, whose writings and statements I followed closely, repeatedly stated (most recently at the Cooper Union celebration of his 80th birthday a few years back) that Nature can take care of itself, and that the appropriate technology would suffice to save the earth.

    In the case of Cockburn, all three of these are in all likelihood operative. What is most maddening is the fact that statements like Cockburn’s, as well as those by conservatives, exemplify a major charcteristic of ideologues: the selection of evidence to support an a priori ideology/theory, and the deliberate ignoring of conflicting and non-supportive evidence. One could call this “unnatural selection”, in that it reflects a world view where subjective political biases rule the day. This tendency is not limited to the left or right, of course. But it reflects disturbing trends of our times: a resistance to dissent, intellectual inflexibility, devotion to doctrine (much like that of religious fundamentalists), and a very destructive world view much like the irrational one that prevailed prior to the Enlightenment. That public intellectuals follow these trends – and that public discourse conducted in presumably progressive media like The Nation disseminates it – is possibly the most serious problem we have today regarding science.

  12. 12
    Tim Jones says:

    Cockburn’s arguments are nothing more than derivative spins of a few climate change denialist’s clichés. He exhibits about as much depth as spit on the sidewalk.
    There is zero empirical evidence that a runaway train heading toward a brick wall is going to hit it. Dismissing the results by this criterion is obvious folly. I suspect Cockburn writes “R” & “L” on the bottoms of his shoes…

  13. 13
    Charles says:

    Gavin, can you respond to Cockburn’s response to your last letter, in which he claims you read the Nature paper incorrectly? (His response appears just below your second letter). Thanks!


  14. 14
    J.C.H says:

    I read the NASA guy apologized for his remarks.

  15. 15
    Nick Harvey says:

    Though it’s too late now, as usual the comments have already been twisted into a case against a consensus:

    {“Many rationalist scientists agree with him, clearly demonstrating there is no scientific consensus on man-made, catastrophic global warming,” said the director of the Science and Public Policy Institute, Robert Ferguson.}

    I was baffled by his initial comments- is there an official realclimate stance on what he said?

  16. 16

    Regarding JCH’s suggestion that NASA’s Griffin “apologized”, this should not be taken as a retraction. Griffin apologized that his attempt to avoid controversy was taken as controversial. He did not apologize for stating that niether he nor NASA had any opinion about whether global climate change constitutes a problem.

    Indeed, from Griffin’s point of view this is a new twist, and he surely didn’t expect this turn of events.

    The serious question is to what extent this model of dispassionate science informing policy without expressing any opinion actually makes sense. When the science has something of consequence to say, it is obviously problematic to suggest that scientists are required to say it as quietly and timoroously as humanly possible.

    Regarding Eric’s response to Pat N’s posting, I find the suggestion that “the NASA chief (thankfully) doesn’t speak about climate change very often” is strange. What should we be thankful about. His whole point was that he was not expected to have a position on the matter. That his words came out as strange and frightening is, I suggest, because that position is strange and frightening. This seems at odds with Eric’s “thankfull”. If we are to be grateful for his silence, should we not also be grateful when he acknowledges that he has nothing to say?

    I have more to say about this approach (which isn’t unique to NASA) on my blog.

    (Which blog, by the way, I hope someone at RC will get around to adding to the RC blogroll one of these days…)

  17. 17
    Leonard Evens says:

    Re Eric(the Skeptic)’s comment along the lines of “Your’e one too”:

    This forum, while it sometimes gets into policy issues, tries to restrict itself to the science. Various technological solutions to global warming through geo-engineering have been proposed. But it is very hard to evaluate these because the science underlying them is very uncertain, certainly much more uncertain than that in the IPCC Reports establishing the reality of what is called global warming.

    In any attempt to solve a problem, we have to be sure the cure is not worse than the disease. The sooner we act, the more likely relatively conservative measures will suffice. But, it may in fact come about that a future generation may need to undertake a more radical approach. And, the more we can reduce the build-up of greenhosue gases, the less extreme those radical measures will have to be, if they are needed. The danger is in thinking we can delay doing any of the obvious things now because some miraculous technological fix will solve the problem in the future.

    If the major emitters of greenhouse gases find it hard to agree on setting caps on emissions now, what makes you think the world can agree to injecting aerosols in the stratosphere as a solution?

  18. 18
    Timothy Chase says:

    Eric (#3) wrote

    One example policy would be adding aerosols which you dismissed above. The fundamental reason for allowing more than “carbon-is-evil” policy makers is that your tipping point theory needs more than carbon to work.

    There are numerous problems related to aerosols.

    Some may be more specific to the kind of pollutant you are talking about, whether it happens to be in the form of respiratory diseases, acid rain or even decreased albedo and consequent warming of the atmosphere. But one thing all aerosols have in common is that if you are going to balance the greenhouse effect due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide, you must keep increasing the amount of aerosols – which will then increase the negative effects associated with them – including diminished agricultural output and climatic side-effects – as they will not evenly counteract the effects of increased carbon dioxide and its water vapor feedback due to evaporation.

    An important point to note is that while cooling from aerosols and warming from greenhouse gases may have a slight cancelling effect in the global mean, this is not true regionally. Ideas that we should increase aerosol emissions to counteract global warming have been described as a “Faustian bargain” because that would imply an ever increasing amount of emissions in order to match the accumulated GHG in the atmosphere, with ever increasing monetary and health costs.

    18 Jan 2005
    Global Dimming?
    by Gavin Schmidt

    For more on this, please see:

    Biography of Veerabhadran Ramanathan
    Regina Nuzzo, Science Writer
    PNAS | April 12, 2005 | vol. 102 | no. 15 | 5323-5325

    Global warming in the twenty-first century: An alternative scenario
    James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy, Andrew Lacis, and Valdar Oinas
    Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 August 29; 97(18): 9875â??9880.

  19. 19
    Thomas says:

    I have come to conclusion, you people (contributors to this website) are “saints,” in the sense of having the patience of a saint (or a saint-like quality of being). And true “to form”, you continue to display this quality of being when dealing with the apparently endless sea of (so-called) contrarian nonsense.

  20. 20
    Dr. J says:

    No, Dr. Griffin (who is a distinguished scientist and educator with more degrees and experience than any on this blog) actually said this “”Unfortunately, this is an issue which has become far more political than technical, and it would have been well for me to have stayed out of it,” and this: “All I can really do is apologize to all you guys … I feel badly that I caused this amount of controversy over something like this,” . In other words, something as small and unimportant as AGW, which he obviously does not personally “believe” in as most on this blog do, and he did not apologize for his scientific views of this. I find it interesting he was demonized and vilified (being attacked personally as arrogant, ignorant, naive, etc.) by fellow scientists for speaking his scientific mind here, is that they way some of you climatologists act in a scientific context? Very unscientific and much more political if you ask me.

  21. 21
    Richard Ordway says:

    Re #8 [I read the NASA guy apologized for his remarks]

    Nasa Griffin did apologize and then added:

    “Doing media interviews is an art. Their goal is usually to generate controversy because it sells interviews and papers and my goal is usually to avoid controversy,” he said.'”

  22. 22
    Ike Solem says:

    Maybe we can get Alexander Cockburn, Michael Crichton, Richard Lindzen and Roger Pielke Sr. and Jr. to co-write an article explaining global warming – that’d be amusing reading. :)

    Since Cockburn throws up some link between biowarfare and climate modeling, let’s run with it. Here is the noted physicist Freeman Dyson writing on a related issue in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: subscription required :( The article is mostly about the dangers of nuclear and biological warfare technology, but the BAS issue “Approaching Midnight” also addresses climate.

    The article is all about the need for transparency in scientific research, but contains this gem of a statement that also describes the climate issue surprisingly well:

    This last phrase of Milton identifies precisely the two kinds of people who became candidates for the job of scientific censor in more recent times. “Ignorant, imperious, and remiss” describes the Communist apparatchiks of Russia in the time of Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko. “Basely pecuniary” describes the capitalist lobbyists who swarm around the chambers of government today in Washington.

    Science will always have to defend itself against enemies of freedom on two sides, against ideological enemies on one side and against commercial enemies on the other. The ideological enemies are not only Christian fundamentalists on the Right, but also dogmatic Marxists and environmentalists on the Left. The commercial enemies are not only monopolistic corporations interested in profits, but also corrupt politicians interested in power. The choice that we have to make is not between scientific freedom and science governed by a wise group of philosopher kings. The choice is between scientific freedom and science governed by political hacks of one kind or another.

    Politics does make for strange bedfellows (Alexander Cockburn and Jerry Falwell, for example).

    The current leftist hack argument is that global warming is a fraud engineered by the nuclear industry and carbon traders in the name of profit. The rightist hack argument is that global warming is a fraud engineered by godless liberals for political reasons. The fossil fuel corporate lobby and their wholly owned politicians are happy to support either argument, as long as no action is taken to limit fossil fuel use or to encourage energy conservation and the development of renewable energy technologies.

    I’d have to agree with pat on the role of government science agencies in this issue. If senior scientists can be muzzled and fired, can you imagine the effect on junior government scientists? There is a Lysenkoism at work here – junior scientists know what will lead to advancement and what will lead to a sudden exit from their jobs. This leads to the Roger Pielke Jr. phenomenon.

    However, what is worse is the deliberate manipulation of data and the refusal to fund climate satellites. NOAA switched to a 1971-2000 baseline for their anomaly calculations, for example – and there are really only two explanations – one is to artificially reduce the reported warming trend, and the other is to provide a safer baseline for the weather risk insurance industry. At the same time, NASA says it has a ‘budget crisis’ that prevents it from launching the Deep Space Climate Observatory, while handing over $5.6 billion to HP. Competing priorities, indeed…

    I’ll admit that I tried to get into renewable energy research after getting an MS degree in ocean sciences, only to be told that there were no such opportunities, especially if you didn’t want to have your research fall under private proprietary IPR control, and that I’m somewhat irritated by this fact – but the science supports my position. This area of science is now seeing rapid growth (in Germany and Japan and Australia), but is still incredibly underfunded in the US.

  23. 23
    Timothy Chase says:

    Eric (#3) wrote:

    Lost credibility (i.e. unwillingness to sign up to speculative theories proposed here like tipping point) is now justification for exclusion of opportunities to shape policy?

    There is nothing speculative about the greenhouse effect. It is well-established, measurable scientific fact. Likewise, various positive feedback loops which include glacier melt (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and the release of methane by permafrost(1, 2) are being witnessed today. There would seem to be very little which is speculative about these, except for the magnitude and speed at which they would come into play. We seem to have underestimated both. These constitute tipping points of a sort in that once they get started, they feed into themselves and each other – with climate change beginning to take on a life of its own. It appears that we are rapidly approaching such positive feedbacks – and that some have already begun.

  24. 24
    Richard Ordway says:

    re. #3 Mr. Eric wrote: [I think your table needs to more than just the carbon-is-evil policy makers.]

    Hmmm, so Gavin and other Real Climate contributors do not list or mention the IPCC which recommends looking at other greenhouse gases(GHG) beside carbon dioxide(CO2)as important to possible solutions?

    “A multi-gas approach and inclusion of carbon sinks generally reduces costs substantially compared to CO2 emission abatement only.” and

    “recent studies using multi-gas reduction have explored lower stabiliztion levels than reported in TAR”

    From IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change) Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group III

  25. 25
    graham dungworth says:

    Re- your excellent debate on Fact, Fiction and Friction in the Hurricane Debate last summer.
    A Swedish group compounds confusion in today’s UK “The Times”-

  26. 26
    Alex Nichols says:

    re 22 “The current leftist hack argument is that global warming is a fraud engineered by the nuclear industry and carbon traders in the name of profit. The rightist hack argument is that global warming is a fraud engineered by godless liberals for political reasons.”

    I don’t think there is any unanimous “leftist argument”, or even “rightist” one.
    There is certainly a contrarian swamp into which the likes of Cockburn and Durkin (who I’m not really sure was ever a “leftist”) have fallen, for whatever motives.

    The question of political reactions to global warming is more complicated.

    For those who decry the politicization of the science, I’d suggest that were we faced by a 90% chance of a bolide impact in 50 years, the political fissures in society would be of earthquake proportions within 10!

    There is certainly quite a wide spectrum of views on the question of AGW, both on the left and on the right.

    Most people on the broadly defined left do accept it as a reality and not a conspiracy, but there’s a lot of debate to be had about how to tackle it, both in terms of mitigation and socio-political effects. This is completely valid and not on the same level as denying science.

    For example, the nuclear power solution has generally been widely rejected by the left and environmentalists in the past. It’s not a popular one even now. It’s also true that there are now environmentalists like James Lovelock and Greens like Patrick Moore, who have adopted what might be called a “right-wing” positions on the issue recently.

    I think there’s also a more subtle position developing on the “right”:

    Such as: “we must adapt”, “it could be beneficial”, “it can’t be stopped anyway” “it will destroy us economically to try to solve it”, “lets burn up all the oil before it happens”, “let’s grab someone elses land and resources”……

  27. 27
    Eli says:

    I was amazed to learn that Pierre Sprey is passing
    himself as a climate expert. A remarkable person, BTW. See

  28. 28
    Brendan says:

    I would just add one more bit to the genealogy of Cockburn’s AGW denial: his apparent faith – similarly drawn from a single sage – that petroleum is itself a renewable resource, produced not from ancient organic matter but from some alchemical (or mystical) process deep in the earth’s crust. If burning oil (and presumably coal and gas) is then “carbon neutral,” such views tie Cockburn even closer to the corporatists in the oil lobby (and especially the now “revolutionary” Citgo) he ostensibly despises. His whole game stinks.

  29. 29
    tamino says:

    Re: #20 (Dr. J)

    Dr. Griffin (who is a distinguished scientist and educator with more degrees and experience than any on this blog)

    My brief researches indicate that Dr. M.D. Griffin is not represented in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and has no expertise to offer regarding climate science. Absolute zero. A google scholar search turns up only one entry in the first several pages that I can positively associate with him, a book on “Space Vehicle Design.”

    The Wikipedia entry on Griffin points out that:

    James Hansen, NASA’s top official on climate change, said Griffin’s comments showed “arrogance and ignorance”, as millions will likely be harmed by global warming.[19][20] Jerry Mahlman, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said that Griffin was either “totally clueless” or “a deep anti-global warming ideologue.”[21]

    In short, when it comes to climate science, Griffin is not even in the same league with the moderators of this blog. When it comes to peer-reviewed publications (and that’s what makes one a “scientist”), he appears not even to be in the same league with myself (or a number of other regular readers of this blog). For you to proclaim him as one with “more degrees and experience than any on this blog” — now that is ideologically motivated posturing.

  30. 30
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ike Solem quoted Freeman Dyson: “The ideological enemies [of science] are not only Christian fundamentalists on the Right, but also dogmatic Marxists and environmentalists on the Left.

    I cannot think of any examples of “dogmatic environmentalists” being “ideological enemies of science,” in contrast to religious fundamentalists, who flatly reject empiricism which is the essential foundation of science.

    Opposition to the proliferation of specific technologies, e.g. pesticides or commercial nuclear power, on the basis of their perceived dangers and harms, does not count one as an “ideological enemy of science”. Can you offer any examples of what Dyson is talking about here?

    Ike Solem wrote: “The current leftist hack argument is that global warming is a fraud engineered by the nuclear industry and carbon traders in the name of profit.”

    I am not aware of anyone making that argument. I haven’t read Cockburn’s stuff. Does he make that argument?

    I am aware of people making the argument that the big push by the nuclear industry for enormous government subsidies to find a massive expansion of nuclear power on the basis that nuclear power is “THE ANSWER” to global warming is a fraud that dishonestly and cynically takes advantage of growing concern about the very real problem of global warming, and I make that argument myself (because even a quite large expansion of nuclear electricity generation would have little effect on overall GHG emissions, at great cost, taking too long to achieve even that little effect, while misdirecting resources that could more effectively be applied elsewhere). But that is not the same as arguing that the science of global warming is itself a fraud.

    Similarly, I am aware of some people who argue that carbon trading schemes are, or at least could be, a fraud that will enrich certain people or corporations but do little to actually reduce CO2 emissions. I don’t know enough about carbon trading to have an opinion about that. But again, that is not the same thing as arguing that global warming itself is a fraud.

    It should not be surprising if various fraudsters attempt to cash in on the growing public concern about global warming with various bogus (and profitable) schemes to address it. In due time we will all no doubt be receiving Spam emails advertising “carbon reduction pills” or “clean energy enhancement” products or opportunities to invest in wind farms owned by deposed African dictators.

  31. 31
    Alexandre says:

    Politics X Science as depicted by comedians:

    There’s a scene on the Monty Python´s film “Erik the Viking” in which the last inhabitants of Hi-Brazil drown while they endlessly debate whether their land is really sinking or not. Doesn´t it look disturbingly like our present situation?

  32. 32
    El Cid says:

    Since I brought it up solely in reaction to Cockburn, may I suggest that a good topic for a column or set of comments would be around the question “Which approaches to addressing or solving the Global Warming crisis are more just and democratic?”

    I.e., we can respond to the Global Warming problem by implementing programs that shift costs onto those least deserving to pay it, and by shifting revenues or profits for response programs into the hands of those who already represent extraordinarily concentrated and subsidized wealth.

    For example, I foresee it as much more politically likely that costs will be born by US taxpayers over oil companies with cosmically large profits, even though those companies were profiting from the very problem being addressed.

    Or we can respond to Global Warming in ways that not only aim to tackle the problem technically, but try to shift costs and funds in a more intelligent, just, and sane development model.

    I think that many of the Cockburn’s of the world have mixed up the lack of this type of inquiry for proof that Global Warming is a fraud got up by the oil companies / nuke companies etc.

    For example, concentrated wealth greatly, greatly prefers the horrendously inefficient US nuclear power industry over any other sets of more efficient, more productive, and cheaper alternatives (including conservation), but then, the profits aren’t so easily controlled and costs not so easily lied about and then later increased and shifted to taxpayers, which is the way it works here. (Oh, that nuke plant will only cost $3 billion. What? It was $20 billion and still has minimal efficiency? Hmmm, guess we’ll have to raise your taxes and utility rates.)

    All just saying that there’s more to questions of fairness and global democratic movements than whether or not GW exists and merits a response.

    The question of How To Respond will soon come to over-ride the question of Whether To Respond, and “cui bono” is not some antiquated irrelevancy.

  33. 33
    Dr. J says:

    RE: #20 (tamino)perhaps you missed his resume? Here it is in case you think he is not quaified to speak as a scientist on a broad range of subjects:

    “Prior to being nominated as NASA Administrator, Griffin was serving as Space Department Head at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. He has been an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, and George Washington University, where he taught courses in spacecraft design, applied mathematics, guidance and navigation, compressible flow, computational fluid dynamics, spacecraft attitude control, astrodynamics and introductory aerospace engineering. He is the lead author of more than two dozen technical papers, as well as the textbook, “Space Vehicle Design.”

    A registered professional engineer in Maryland and California, Griffin is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics, an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a fellow of the American Astronautical Society, and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. He is a recipient of the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, the AIAA Space Systems Medal, and the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest award given to a non-government employee.

    Griffin received a bachelor’s degree in Physics from Johns Hopkins University; a master’s degree in aerospace science from Catholic University of America; a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland; a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California; a master’s degree in applied physics from Johns Hopkins University; a master’s degree in business administration from Loyola College; and a master’s degree in Civil Engineering from George Washington University. He is a certified flight instructor with instrument and multiengine ratings.”

    So, unless he has published hundreds of climatology papers in peer-reviewed obscure journals he is not qualified to speak? He also was a very successful businessman, who turned esoterica into actual useful commerce, unlike all those peer-review academics who still are stuck in low paying university jobs desperately seeking tenure by churning out junk to get published and recited. Who should we admire and allow to speak? Why is Dr.Griffin unqualified? Why should he be demonized personally for speaking his scientific views? Where I practice science we have respectful debates on the science and don’t personally attack people, merely question their data and scientific views, but then as a scientific disagreement, not a passionate diatribe. This subject seems to bring out the worst in people and scientists.

  34. 34
    Mark says:

    Michael Griffin apologized to a group of JPL scientists (wrong coast sir) for failing to state that he was expressing an opinion in his interview – a policy which he himself instituted for NASA scientist/media contacts. He did not, as far as I can tell, apologize for being wrong.

  35. 35
    Aaron Lewis says:

    Re 18
    The other problem with technical solutions, such as aerosols, to global warming is the problem of unintended consequences. If we put enough aerosols into the atmosphere to slow down global warming, then when those aerosols fall out of the atmosphere, we will have dirty snow. Dirty snow absorbs heat and melts. Putting up lots of aerosols would be a good way to SPEED UP the melting of our remaining ice.

  36. 36
    Daniel C. Goodwin says:

    I’ve been an admirer of Cockburn’s work (and a subscriber to CounterPunch, his newsletter) for years. Now that I see him venture into an area that I’ve dedicated some study to, and it seems obvious in some instances (his citation of the “cheating has become respectable” line from an old Science editorial, for instance) that his distortions are intentional, I have to conclude that he can’t be trusted as a source of any kind of information – his basic intellectual techniques are highly suspect.

    So this is a learning experience for me. My hunch is that Cockburn is not on the take – accepting funding from the usual vested interests – merely mad: delusion combined with impenetrable stubbornness. Ultimately, the source of his delusion is not very interesting, but I think Cockburn’s flameout (as he rambles incoherently about carbon isotopes, so pathetic) may illustrate that there are contrarians who are fundamentally sincere, rather than mercenary. Schizophrenic sincerity isn’t of much use to anyone, of course; so I’m not sure if there’s any point to distinguishing it from run of the mill hackery.

  37. 37
    Lawrence Brown says:

    In a recent issue of “The Nation”(June 18,2007),Mr.Cockburn responds to readers letters by stating “I have made an effort to understand the science of global warming,going back almost ten years……..”. The only thing this shows is that he’s learned nothing in those almost ten years.
    It’s a pretty sure sign that Coclburn doesn’t understand the basic principles of climate science, when he has to resort to continuously attacking the personalities involved in climate science and other proponents of global warming. An example of this,from his column in “The Nation”(June 11,2007) ‘The Greenhousers Strike Back and Strike Out’,is his reference to “Dr. Michael ‘Hockey Stick’ Mann”. He uses the term ‘fearmongers’ to apply to those who have the audicity who oppose his point of view. It seems the term ‘smearmonger’ can appropriately be applied to Mr. Cockburn.
    If he sincerely wants to understand global warming as he claims, he should take up Gavin’s invitation to meet and listen with an open mind, as Elizabeth Colbert did for her fine objective book ” Field Notes From A Catastrophe”.

  38. 38
    Edward Greisch says:

    Reference the Scientific American article “Impact from the Deep”, in the October 2006 issue on pages 65 to 71. The article says: If the warming trend from whatever cause continues for 200 years [or now less than 200 years] we will go extinct. The cause of the extinction of Homo Sapiens will be hydrogen sulfide bubbling out of the hot oceans.
    My questions are: “Once the hydrogen sulfide smell becomes noticeable, is it already too late?” and “Will people start thinking that the hydrogen sulfide smell is normal?”.

  39. 39
    Timothy Chase says:

    El Cid (#32) wrote:

    All just saying that there’s more to questions of fairness and global democratic movements than whether or not GW exists and merits a response.

    You raise some relevant concerns.

    However, I believe that given the severity of climate change and the threat that it poses, our first priority should be that of addressing it in the most effective way possible, and I would prefer to avoid individuals attempting to use the issue of climate change as a vehicle for one version or another of ideologically-motivated syndicalist or socialist “social justice.” With respect to those who have genuine concern for the poor, I would remind them that it is the poor that will be disproportionally affected by climate change – and hope that this is enough to motivate them to recognize that it must precedence over their implementation of their personal version of the ideal society – at least for the time being.

    Insisting upon other priorities – particularly those of an ideological nature – will only serve to divide us.

  40. 40
    Sean O says:

    Re. 32 by El Cid. I would also be interested in an article on RC on the solution to global climate change. I run a site on global warming ( and I have yet to find a real workable solution to the problem of excess carbon dioxide or methane.

    All of the solutions that I have seen are either unrealistic or not politically acceptable (at least in the US where I live). Things such as massive changes of the US meat diet aren’t going to happen. Nuclear power is a political non-starter. Dams on more rivers tends to cause huge outrage in the affected communities (and always seems to kill of some endangered animal or plant). No one wants solar farms in their backyard or wind farms off of their beach. The Green party in Canada is proposing a massive gas tax hike that would probably impoverish the poorest families ( Mass transit in most cities is not available and won’t be for years/decades. The call for increase efficiency in automotives exceeds what is technically capable to be achieved (at least in the near term according to the automotive manufacturers). Ethanol production in the US causes increases in the cost of food which hurts the poor, likely costs as much energy as it delivers, and is years (decades?) away from widespread availability and adoption.

    While I am not saying that excess greenhouse gas is not a problem, what solution is out there that is reasonable and not based on (science) fiction? In many cases, the cure could be worse than the disease. Also, if the cure is so expensive, would it be better to reallocate that money to a better cause (e.g. fresh drinking water for the impoverished or free AIDS medecine or one of a dozen other major problems)? Unfortunately, we sometimes only can put band-aids on problems and not solve the root evil.

    RealClimate is excellent because it deals with the science of this issue probably better than any other site but as other comments have said, this is a political problem. If the science is not overwhelmingly conclusive of the problem than the realities of the politics come into play. I have tried to find on RC articles that give workable solutions and if they do exist, please respond because I have missed them. If not, I would be interested in the thoughts of the various authors.

  41. 41
    ray ladbury says:

    Dr. J., Michael Griffin does not have a scientific opinion for the simple reason that the is not a scientist, but an engineer. I would trust his engineering judgement on whether a particular thermal, structural or electrical risk was sufficiently low to fly a rocket. I might even trust him on whether we can get back to the Moon (though this is really more politics than engineering). I would not trust his opinion in a matter where he has no specialized knowledge–such as climate change, string theory, superconductivity and so on.
    Mike Griffin made a mistake in judgement–voicing an opinion on a matter well outside his expertise. It is a mistake many–indeed, most–make from time to time. What is unfortunate is that this man controls the agency best positioned to really answer the questions about the current threat, and he thinks the threat is negligible. So, by all means, I do not think he should resign. I do think he should not be making decisions about NASA’s science program.
    I can only hope that you are not a real “doctor”, since whatever education you may have had did not teach you to value knowledge.

  42. 42
    David B. Benson says:

    Re #38: Edwind Griesch — Assuming you aren’t just joking, the answers are: yes, it will be too late; people will stop thinking because sufficient hydrogen sulfide inhalation is fatal.

  43. 43
    Eric (skeptic) says:

    Thanks for all the responses. #17 Leonard, I agree that science, not
    policy, is the focus here, but a certain amount of cherry picking
    shows up, especially in the timing questions. Is lowering CO2 really
    the least extreme and radical solution right now considering the
    economic consequences?

    #18 Timothy, in the Ramanathan bio, his observation of aerosol cooling
    directly supports my argument above; clearly a sudden increase in
    aerosol “pollution” would help cool the climate. His concern about
    droughts that it may cause should be alleviated with models; if they
    are good enought to predict warming and aerosol cooling then they must
    also be good enough to predict droughts and drought avoidance (perhaps
    with high altitude and high latitude aerosols).

    #18 The alternative scenario article mentions a large variety of
    aerosol effects but they all should be able to be modeled. The
    Faustian bargain is not further detailed. Does acid rain eventually
    occur from high altitude aerosols? The lack of knowledge of the sign
    of the trend in aerosol forcing is of no concern since that forcing is
    completely unplanned. Hansen’s suggestions for CH4 and ozone capture
    are interesting and need to be evaluated against the carbon policies.
    He points out the lucky coincidence in phasing out CFC emissions which
    obviously also shows the feasibility of worldwide emission policies.

    #23 Timothy, the glacier melt articles are perfect examples of cherry
    picking with no consideration of opposite effects like increased
    snowfall. The methane release only has quantitative analysis in the
    amount (doubling the current CO2). No analysis of time period or
    models of CO2 sequestration to go with it. To counter your “seem to
    have underestimated”, we seem to have underestimated some negative
    feedbacks as many articles here have shown.

    #24 Richard, I read the mitigation potential section in the bus on the
    way home. The costs seem reasonable until you look at the amounts of
    reduction needed for climate stabilization. The discussion is very
    myopic (many examples like alleviating traffic congestion are
    considered without considering the benefits of transportation
    flexibility which is a hindrance in my own case). It is also very
    carbon-centric in mitigation ideas and does not consider aerosol
    alternatives at all.

    #35 Aaron, unintended consequences are precisely what climate modeling
    must avoid if it is to be believed for warming scenarios.

  44. 44
    David B. Benson says:

    Re #40: Sean O — Seriously consider biochar as part of the solution. Follow the link below.

  45. 45
    Julian Flood says:

    Re 35: if you count water droplets as an aerosol solution then might I suggest you look up the proposal by Salter, Latham et al which uses seawater to increase albedo by producing stratocumulus clouds over the ocean. It is astonishingly cheap and we could counter all AGW with a few billion dollars. The fallout is water. It’s not ideal but might buy times until the science sorts itself out.

    Does anyone know of a good graph which shows the change in albedo over the last… well, as far back as possible? TIA.

    Methane; people have started to go on about permafrost methane. Nearly 18 months ago I mentioned on my website that methane suppression by SO2* would be wearing off soon and people would begin to panic when methane levels showed signs of rising.

    Re Dr J. Well said, sir! We’re getting into ‘are you now, or have you ever been, a global warming denier’ territory. This is not science, it’s witch-hunting. Worse, it’s McCarthyism.

    * A little known benefit of acid rain.

  46. 46
    SecularAnimist says:

    Timothy Chase wrote: “With respect to those who have genuine concern for the poor, I would remind them that it is the poor that will be disproportionally affected by climate change”

    It is also the poor who are most desperately in need of more energy — a situation completely unlike the USA which is a profligate waster of unbelievably vast amounts of energy, and where I would argue our quality of life could actually be improved by dramatically reducing our energy use.

    Small-scale photovoltaics and wind power are good solutions for providing urgently needed rural electrification in the poorest regions of the world. Large-scale centralized power plants, whether nuclear or coal fueled, and extremely costly grids for distributing electricity from centralized power plants, are not a good solution for providing more energy to poor people in the developing world. Aside from the dangers and harms presented by expanding the use of coal and nuclear, the poor countries of the world simply don’t have the resources to build the power plants or the distribution grids.

    One of the most important things that can be done is to promote the dissemination of small-scale photovoltaics and wind turbines throughout the developing world. This addresses the very real needs of the poor for more energy without increasing GHG emissions, promotes social and economic justice, and — guess what? — there’s a lot of money to be made from doing it, as the world’s major PV-exporting countries (Japan, Germany and increasingly China) are well aware.

    On the subject of NASA’s Griffin, Ray Ladbury wrote: “Michael Griffin does not have a scientific opinion for the simple reason that the is not a scientist, but an engineer.”

    Whether he is qualified to do so or not, Michael Griffin did not express a “scientific opinion”. He expressed the opinion that it would be “arrogant” for anyone now living to suggest that we should make any effort to maintain the Earth’s climate within the range of temperatures that have existed throughout all of recorded human history, while apparently not regarding it as “arrogant” for the humans of the past century up through the present to engage in activities which threaten to radically and abruptly alter the Earth’s climate and ecosystems upon which not only human civilization, but the survival of the human species, utterly depend.

    That’s not a scientific opinion. It is inane, blithering, offensive nonsense that one would expect from Rush Limbaugh, not from the head of NASA.

  47. 47
    tamino says:

    Re: #33 (Dr. J)

    RE: #20 (tamino)perhaps you missed his resume? Here it is in case you think he is not quaified to speak as a scientist on a broad range of subjects:

    You quote an impressive resume of Dr. Griffin as an engineer. NOT as a scientist.

    So, unless he has published hundreds of climatology papers in peer-reviewed obscure journals

    How about one peer-reviewed paper on any subject in any journal? I haven’t yet seen any evidence of that. I also see no evidence whatsoever — absolute zero — that he has any knowledge of (let alone accomplishment in) the science of climate.

    Why should he be demonized personally for speaking his scientific views?

    I never even came close to demonizing Dr. Griffin. I simply contradicted your clear implication that he was more qualified to speak on the subject of climate science than anybody associated with this blog. The truth is, he is far less qualified to speak on that topic than any of the moderators, and a number of the regular readers.

    Where I practice science we have respectful debates on the science and don’t personally attack people

    It was your comment that was an ad hominem attack — and a very nasty, untrue one — against the moderators of this blog. You are a hypocrite.

    This subject seems to bring out the worst in people and scientists.

    It has certainly brought out the worst in you.

  48. 48
    Timothy Chase says:

    Eric (skeptic) (#43) wrote:

    #18 Timothy, in the Ramanathan bio, his observation of aerosol cooling directly supports my argument above; clearly a sudden increase in aerosol “pollution” would help cool the climate.

    Ramanathan supports the physical principle that aerosols can lead to cooling. Anyone with a knowledge of the physics would. He opposes the policy of implementing your proposal of cooling the climate by means of aerosols for a variety of reasons – including the fact that aerosols will be washed out of the atmosophere every time it rains, and you have to put up ever-increasing amounts of aerosols to keep up with the increasing levels of greenhouse gases. And yes, of course the effects of aerosols are emminently predictable: they are predictably temporary, and impractical – if one seeks to use aerosols continuously as a matter of enduring policy.

    The Faustian bargain is not further detailed.

    See above.

    Aerosols must be used continuously because, unlike CO2, they wash-out of the atmosophere. To keep up with the effects of CO2, one must use them in ever-increasing amounts. The greater the duration and extent that they are used, the greater the financial costs of simply using them, and the greater the costs of their side-effects no matter how wisely they are used – because using them is unwise.

  49. 49
    gerald spezio says:

    As much as I have been enlightened by all manner of hard hitting articles on Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn has dug himself one big dumb hole with his phastasmagorical position on global heating.

  50. 50
    Hank Roberts says:

    The immediate and most urgent problem is where the CO2 is going — it’s known, measured, predictable, straightforward physical chemistry.

    No sunshade is going to help this. This is the base of the food chain and of most of the photosynthesis on the planet at risk.

    “… Southern Ocean surface waters will begin to become undersaturated with respect to aragonite, a metastable form of calcium carbonate, by the year 2050. By 2100, this undersaturation could extend throughout the entire Southern Ocean and into the subarctic Pacific Ocean. When live pteropods were exposed to our predicted level of undersaturation during a two-day shipboard experiment, their aragonite shells showed notable dissolution. Our findings indicate that conditions detrimental to high-latitude ecosystems could develop within decades, not centuries as suggested previously.”