The lack of success at Copenhagen to which this incisive editorial refers derives in great part from the flight from reality by policymakers in almost all of the industrialized world. This is not only a behavior of politicians but also of some journalists and some who claim scientific credentials.
A regrettable example is Alexander Cockburn's recent article in which he wrote that the alleged omission of a period of global warming by those arguing that we are now in a period of dangerous warming casts substantial doubt upon the danger. Cockburn argued that the current warming, if so, is therefore not due to industrial generation of CO2, because the cited warming period occurred in the Middle Ages, long before industrialization. Mr. Cockburn asserts that humanity survived the early warming nicely, and that dangers are exaggerated by scientists and interested in getting public funding and attention.
What Cockburn claims is a purposeful omission may not be the case at all. The widespread agreement among climate scientists of high reputation casts great doubt on the suggestion of scientific fraud.
Cockburn included in his article a reference to a paper by a "physicist" claiming that the Second Law of Thermodynamics contradicts the claim that CO2 in the upper atmosphere could be causing surface temperatures to increase. That is sheer nonsense! The greenhouse gases (GHG) do not form a temperature bath from which heat is being extracted without work and transferred to the earth's surface in a thermodynamic cycle. That would be a violation of the Second Law in the Clausius formulation. What is happening is simply a matter of transmission of radiant energy from the sun to the earth's surface and its absorption and re-radiation by the GHG layer back to the earth causing temperatures to rise. There is no Second Law problem with that, as any good college physics student will tell you.
Alexander Cockburn, whose political comments I most often agree with, is in denial about climate change. I know the danger is hard to accept. Many peoople, particularly religious people, find their belief in a personal, loving God more believable than the warnings of reputable scientists. Most politicians are (or claim to be) believers. I believe this is a major obstacle to their acceptance of the "Reality Bites" content and blinds them to the fact that Mother Nature does not make compromises as do politicians--as the editorial reminds us.
Alvin D. Hofer
St .Petersburg, FL
Dec 28 2009 - 5:29pm