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Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Come off it, Cockburn, the main point of Gerlich's tour de force you allude to is that it makes no sense whatsoever to talk about an "average temperature"! Anyways, thanks for a heads up on a fine article--not yours but Gerlich's!

John Witte

Portland, OR

Jan 7 2010 - 1:45am

Web Letter

Wow, Mr. Cockburn thinks he has discovered a simple proof that humans can't be warming the Earth: the greenhouse effect doesn't exist because "a cooler body cannot warm a hotter body without compensation."

From this I also learn that is useless to put on a coat in the winter. My coat is cooler than my body, hence can not be warming me. And to think of all the money people spend on outerwear! This climate conspiracy keeps getting bigger and bigger...

Virtually every other statement Mr. Cockburn makes in this column shows about the same level of scientific accuracy as his discussion of thermodynamics.

Barry Klinger

Potomac, MD

Jan 6 2010 - 1:42pm

Web Letter

While Alexander Cockburn is certainly entitled to his skepticism about anthropogenic climate change, his statements on the physics of heat transfer do not belong in a publication that has any regard for science.

His assertion, "Greenhouse gases in the cold upper atmosphere cannot possibly transfer heat to the warmer earth, and in fact radiate their absorbed heat into outer space," could only be true if there were some heretofore-unimagined mechanism by which the direction of atmospheric radiation of infrared photons is always away from Earth. I trust that the editors of The Nation would intervene if a contributor were to claim, in apparent seriousness, that Obama was born in Kenya, that there were no terror attacks on US soil under Bush, or that Stephen Hawking would be dead under British NHS healthcare--no matter how well-respected the columnist. It should be no different in the case of Cockburn, who has apparently fallen under the spell of Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf Tscheuschner's long-winded, thoroughly debunked screed against scientific straw men.

I do not fault The Nation for publishing what I consider Cockburn's misguided opinion on anthropogenic climate change. It is a complex scientific issue; merely being wrong is no sin. But assertions in the realm of fundamental science should be subject to a level of basic fact-checking comparable to that applied to claims in economics, history and other fields. If disbelief in the atmospheric "greenhouse effect" is truly essential to Cockburn's skepticism, it rests on a profound error that, frankly, does not deserve to be published. If not, excising the falsehood does no harm to his argument.

(I'd like to thank the previous web-letter authors for their more detailed remarks on the science--I'm glad I'm not the only physicist paying attention!)

John Caraher

Crawfordsville, IN

Jan 4 2010 - 10:19pm

Web Letter

I hope that someone far more eloquent than myself has already blasted Alexander Cockburn's "From Nicaea to Copenhagen" for being ignorant and lazy. If Alexander had actually read the paper by Gerlich and Tscheuschner, he would have realized that their numbers don't add up. According to their numbers greenhouses shouldn't work, and neither should solar thermal panels since they "should" re-radiate as much energy as they absorb.

And to me the most outrageous statement, "CO2 is a benign gas essential to life," I suggest that Cockburn should place a plastic bag over his head and see just how benign CO2 can be. Oh and by the way, Alexander, CO2 in high concentrations doesn't just kill people, it kills plants.

And just which pollutants that are actually killing people is this distracting us from? Mercury and sulfur dioxide pollution from burning coal? Sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide from burning gasoline and diesel fuels? Fossil fuels are concentrated pollution, the sooner we get off them, the better for us and the planet.

Paul Echternacht

Ft. Lupton, CO

Jan 2 2010 - 6:56pm

Web Letter

Let us assume that the scientists who support theories of anthropogenic global warming are shills of Big Environment, that the earth has undergone many recurring cycles of heating and cooling, of which our present warming trend is just a disturbingly rapid example, that the burning of fossil fuels has not contributed in any significant way to the creation of holes in the ozone layer, the melting of polar ice caps, the rising of sea levels or the destabilization of weather patterns around the globe. Let us trust that Alexander Cockburn's proclamations on the laws of thermodynamics are as weighty and well-reasoned as a fourth-century bishop's proclamations on the nature of God and the Holy Ghost. But then let us step back and look at the rest of the picture. By similar logic, we cannot conclusively link the burning of fossil fuels to increasing rates of pulmonary disorders in urban populations, though anecdotal evidence of smog-related ailments stretches back to the beginning of the industrial revolution. There is no incontrovertible proof that our thirst for oil was in any way related to the disastrous war in Iraq, though our soldiers secured the oil refineries with fascistic precision as museums and mosques were looted of their irreplaceable relics. Some evidence would indicate that the lakes of toxic sludge created by mountaintop removal are harmful to humans and other species, but the jury is still out. And so let us renounce our outlandish forays into intellectual fantasy, reject all scientific theory that cannot be indisputably proven, and embrace a new Medieval Warm Period with the spiritual calm and serenity that is Alexander Cockburn's gift to the faithful.

marley engvall

North Adams, MA

Jan 2 2010 - 10:54am

Web Letter

As a person with a physics degree from MIT, I am often surprised at how one can be challenged by a seemingly well-known theory with a new phrasing of a question. This happened for me with Cockburn's claim that there is no atmospheric greenhouse effect at all.

I read the relevant portion of the article he referenced, "Falsification of the Atmospheric CO2 Greenhouse Effects Within the Frame of Physics," by Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf D. Tscheuschner. They point out that it is only fairly low-frequency radio waves that are reflected (actually refracted) by the atmosphere. As a young shortwave radio enthusiast, I am aware of this. So how is it that infrared radiation could be reflected or refracted to create a greenhouse effect?

I was puzzled for many minutes, feeling quite foolish. Had the whole world of science been wrong about this? What was being missed?

Then I remembered: it is not the same effect on infrared radiation that happens for radio waves. For infrared radiation and light, it is all about particular molecules in the atmosphere absorbing different wavelengths very selectively. Gerlich and Tscheuschner seem to have missed this completely.

Here is how the greenhouse effect works. The atmosphere is mostly transparent to visible light. The visible light from the sun hits the Earth and heats up the ground. Some of this heat heads back up toward the sky as infrared light.

But certain molecules in the atmosphere are not transparent to infrared. In particular, water and CO2. They do not allow all of the infrared to escape to space. Yes, some energy does escape to space. But some stays in the atmosphere, heating it up.

It is this heating that makes the Earth warmer than it would be if there were no such absorption of infrared. It is like a blanket over the Earth for infrared.

If Cockburn does not believe there is an atmospheric greenhouse effect at all, it is no wonder he does not believe that the effect is being altered. It would be helpful if he read up on how the effect is real.

This one graph is a good start. Understand that visible light is down around one micron and infrared is everything else on the right of the graph. See the absorption dips due to CO2.

Robert Bernstein

Goleta, CA

Jan 2 2010 - 12:26am

Web Letter

Since I am a believer in "equality of opportunity," not "equality of outcome," I am a subscriber to The Nation primarily to better understand my political enemies. Therefore, it was a surprise to read this article, where the Malthusianism of the Warmers is finally presented as it should be. A religion, requiring faith, not logic.

Sam Septer

Sylacauga, AL

Dec 30 2009 - 9:18am

Web Letter

Mr. Cockburn, it would behoove you to research the matter before making ridiculous statements. You are not a scientist, so I will make it simple: any matter with a temperature above absolute zero radiates heat in all directions. Thus your claim that greenhouse gases (only) radiate into space is patently false. It is equally false to say that any qualified scientist claims that the upper-level greenhouse gases heat the much warmer surface area, which would indeed violate the second thermodynamic law. What is true is that the radiation of the gases to the surface "negates" some of the radiation of surface-to-space. For dummies: less heat is lost from the surface.

Maybe you can follow me to the conclusion that less heat loss constitutes a "warming" of sorts. If you stand on the moon, with no atmosphere, it tends to get rather cold where the sun don't shine. That an atmosphere helps retain heat is a known fact, not a violation of thermodynamic laws, and that the composition of the atmosphere could have something to do with how much heat is retained would appear to be a logical conclusion.

Gerlich and Tscheusner's paper has been thoroughly refuted, as a quick search could have shown you, but you do not wish to know these things.

Our wasteful ways are using up fossil fuels at an alarming rate; we are stealing from the next generations, not just energy; a lot of valuable things can be made from oil rather than burn it in inefficient ways.

If we all decided to convert to less wasteful ways and it turned out carbon dioxide was not the problem, would that be such a tragedy? I, for one, in the absence of a better explanation for the warming (such little details as the Northwest Passage becoming ice-free for the first time in recorded history this last summer seem to elude your ilk) have adopted a less wasteful way of life...

As a personal question, what do you hope to achieve by mixing obviously false statements into your article? You are making a fool out of yourself, that's all.

arvo thomson

Santa Fe, NM

Dec 29 2009 - 3:29am

Web Letter

It's so great to see a solid lefty stand up for the truth. Most liberalism today is knee-jerk environmentalist and will believe anything that predicts doom, as long as, they claim, man caused it.

Unfortunately, this lefty can't help but take a pot shot at the Christian faith. Really, what does the Council of Nicaea have to do with a bunch so called scientists pushing the man made global warming hoax? I know both have more to do with faith than science, but the Council was trying to make sense out of Scripture where Jesus claimed to be God ("Before Abraham was, I Am." Or "I and the Father are one"). He was killed just because of this claim. He was no wise or good man. Either he was a liar, a lunatic or the Lord.

I guess it was just too tempting to denigrate the faith of billions the day before they celebrate the birth of their Savior and God.

Mike D'Virgilio

Bolingbrook, IL

Dec 24 2009 - 11:52am

Web Letter

Yeah, that whole Arian thing is fascinating. Personally, I'm glad Theodosius won that one.

I haven't yet made up my mind about the iconoclasts.

Bud Ilic

Bloomington, IL

Dec 22 2009 - 8:26pm