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Web Letter

Mr. Cockburn claims that, in fact, there are plenty of skeptics amongst "real" climatologists and then goes on to cite some:

Zbigniew Jaworowski, a physician with expertise on the effects of atomic radiation--a smart guy, but not a climatologist.

Dr. Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory--also not a climatologist.

Dr. Jeffrey Glassman, applied physics and engineering--not a climatologist.

Dr. Patrick J. Michaels, PhD in ecological climatology-- one plausible climatologist! But, alas, one whose scientific skepticism may be compromised by his overt political leanings.

Denis Rancourt, PhD in general physics--not a climatologist.

Now I'm not a climatologist either, but my limited understanding suggests that climatology is an immensely complex field. I would proffer that any skepticism can only be taken seriously when it comes from professionals with actual expertise in the field, and not just armchair skeptics.

Tim Watts

Atlanta, GA

Jul 25 2007 - 4:28am

Web Letter

At this point, I can only assume that Mr. Cockburn's (perfectly reasonable) long-time opposition to the idea of nuclear power has weakened his immune response to conspiracy theories and thus blinded him to common sense.

Over the last couple hundred years, humans have been, on a rapidly accelerating basis, extracting long-sequestered carbon from deep underground, converting it to CO2, and cranking it into the atmosphere. Is Cockburn seriously attempting to argue that this would have a negligible effect? That is analogous to arguing that cutting down trees on an ever-accelerating schedule would have a negligible effect on the forest.

The Earth and its atmosphere are big, but they are not infinite. It is a very weird kind of anti-hubris to insist that human actions on a global scale aren't having a global impact. It's one thing to dispute details, but denying basic facts is just delusional. Humans have been running an unwitting experiment on a global scale for hundreds of years. It's reasonable to expect that to have had some kind of effect. It's unreasonable to insist that it hasn't.

Jason Spicer

Mercer Island, WA

Jun 17 2007 - 5:58pm

Web Letter

In his latest attempt to debunk the scientific consensus on global warming, Alexander Cockburn brings forward a handful of arguments that have one thing in common--all of them have been refuted, many times over.

Take his citation of Zbigniew Jaworowski, who supposedly has proven that CO2 levels in the atmosphere are not unusually high. Cockburn won't tell you this, but Jaworowski, and the arguments he published in a Larouche crank forum, have been totally demolished. A succinct but devastating critique can be found here.

Or take his claim that "the other huge embarrassment facing the modelers is the well-established fact that temperature changes first and CO2 levels change 600 to 1,000 years later." You'd think from Cockburn that climate scientists have no response to this claim. But they have, in fact addressed it several times. One response can be found here.

I love the way that Cockburn finesses the simple fact that every argument he makes has been refuted; at one point, discussing Patrick Michaels, he says that he "hasn't seen" any rebuttals of Michaels's arguments. That may be literally true, but the fact that Cockburn has not bothered to read the refutations of Michaels, or any of his other pet cranks, does not mean that they haven't been refuted.

Mark Wylie

Spokane, WA

Jun 16 2007 - 7:05pm

Web Letter

Now that he has Steven Milloy's "Junk Science" tactics down pat, will Alexander Cockburn next take up the cause of intelligent design? Or will he set about debunking the link between tobacco and lung cancer?

Jonathan Wallace

Chapel Hill, NC

Jun 13 2007 - 10:41am

Web Letter

Jeez, what a disappointment. When last we left our hero, his only hope lay in staying offline, in Russia, flying thither over the Arctic, in direct view of the ice cap! (Cue the organ!) But instead of relieving the tension left by the previous cliff-hanger, the formerly thrilling adventure serial, "Beat the Devil," left rapt fans, such as myself, deeply unsatisfied. There should've been a brief recap of the entire series to date, after which our tale should've picked up again somewhere over the Russian ice cap. Instead, we get a rehash of dusty old papers, with no mention of Russia, ice or caps. And gone is the purple prose. The best we get is a toned-down suggestion that people with grants make up data to keep their financiers happy. It all makes me wonder who is financing the writers of this series. Did the moneybags object to the Russian ice-cap angle and beat "Beat the Devil" into submission? Well, after this sorry excuse of an episode, I'll never again trust anyone with an income. They're all compromised. Oh, my shattered illusions! (Cue the string section!)

Tom Moody

Revere, MA

Jun 13 2007 - 7:47am

Web Letter

Alexander Cockburn continues to imply that because, over the last several hundred thousand years due to changes of the earth's orbit around the sun, global temperatures did lead the increases in CO2 concentrations. But the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is much higher now than in at least the last half-million years, and is increasing at a faster rate. In sum, what is going on in the present is different than what has happened in ages past.

Here is part of what the British Meteorological Office has to say on the subject: "In recent ice ages natural changes in the climate (due to orbit changes, for example) led to cooling of the climate system. This caused a fall in CO2 concentrations which weakened the greenhouse effect and amplified the cooling. Now the link between temperature and CO2 is working in the opposite direction. Human-induced increases in CO2 [are] enhancing the greenhouse effect and amplifying the recent warming."

This not the "huge embarrassment" that Mr. Cockburn states, but is easily explained by current conditions.

Lawrence Brown

New York, NY

Jun 11 2007 - 4:52pm