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Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

I read your column about global warming with some concern. Specifically, I could not distinguish your rhetoric from that of Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage. Your arguments were punctuated with terms dredged out of the "emotive language" lexicon. And, for the most part, your logic was that of the hard right--i.e., global warming is a conspiracy and not an emerging scientific conclusion.

I am a subscriber to The Nation and am seriously thinking of not renewing my subscription.

David G. Dickson Sr.

Pittsboro, NC

May 31 2007 - 10:34am

Web Letter

Is Alexander Cockburn playing devil’s advocate or is he just losing it? In his first article, "Is Global Warming a Sin?", he quotes Martin Hertzberg, who disputes the effects of human output of CO2 on global warming and blames it on increased heat from the sun. How can increased heat from the sun cause global warming when in fact increased CO2 is shading earth? Then at the end of his article Cockburn throws in something about “the Earth’s increasingly hot molten core.” Also Thorne Lay, professor of Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says the inner core is cooling. Should Cockburn go back to journalism class? His facts are incorrect. Earth is in trouble and articles like this just create confusion. The consensus is that earth is warming due to human causes and the major culprit is CO2! Minor culprits are pundits who refuse to learn the true facts. Now Cockburn is looking for fearmongers. I wish global warming were not happening. But it is.

Linda Schreiber

Anderson, CA

May 22 2007 - 1:24pm

Web Letter

I hope that anyone who bothers to read Cockburn's wacky little assault against the science of global climate change will point their browser to the sensible refutations offered by Justin Podur ("Global Warming Suspicions and Confusions", 5/11/07) on the ZNet site here.

Christopher Pedersen

Rochester, NY

May 21 2007 - 8:27am

Web Letter

Alex Cockburn's paranoid indictment of the entire atmospheric sciences community would be laughable to me if it had appeared some place other than The Nation magazine, where I turn for reasoned, thoughtful and critical discussion of issues that are seriously neglected across the American political landscape. As I read the first article I turned to wife in shock and she said to me, "I told you that magazine is full of conspiratorial hogwash on many issues. What are you so shocked about?” I expect well-researched and highly defensible information and opinion in The Nation. The only good thing to be said about Cockburn's foolish diatribes on Global Climate is that they have stimulated a very wide and very well presented collection of scientifically defensible criticisms. I can only hope that other articles in The Nation are of a far higher intellectual character than this tripe that would do Rush Limbaugh credit. Cockburn should have spoken with people other than a few misguided contrarians. I hope he might take the time to read and learn from many of the posted responses to his articles across the web particularly at RealClimate and ZNET.

David J. Simons

Modesto, CA

May 21 2007 - 12:04am

Web Letter

If I've understood Cockburn's argument correctly, he agrees that gobal warming is a fact, but claims that scientists don't have any evidence that human activity (in particular carbon emissions) is causing global warming. Unless I've missed something, he doesn't refute or cast doubt on the arguments that human activity causes global warming. Instead he alleges that the scientists making the arguments are making them out of self-interest--an ad hominem argument. His allegation may be true-- but it doesn't follow that the scientists' arguments are bad.

Are the arguments good or bad? I don't know. But we seem to be faced with something like Pascal's wager: We can either pay the costs of reducing carbon emissions etc. or save our money. Suppose we save our money and Cockburn is right--then we've saved a small sum (relative to the global economy). But suppose he's wrong. We or our descendants can look forward to an unfriendly climate and large costs we might have avoided.

Peter Eggenberger

Oakland , CA

May 20 2007 - 9:07pm

Web Letter

I was about to cancel my subscription after reading "Who Are the Merchants of Fear" when I realized that it was actually a very subtle satire. Well done, Mr. Cockburn! You really had me going.

I don't believe that nuclear power is the answer, because of one simple fact: Corporations can't be trusted to fund pensions fifty years out, so there's no way we can trust them to fund nuclear waste storage 1,000 years out. It's basically an incompatibility with accounting standards.

But neither do I believe that all science is perverted by its funding sources. If you take that position, you might as well be Amish.

The simple fact is that an uneducated eye can easily tell from satellite photos that the ice sheets are melting, and rapidly. Is it a man-made problem? Well, we have been pumping a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere over the last century. That might not be a significant cause of warming, but I wouldn't bet against it.

I won't be buying stock in any nuclear power companies, but I also won't be buying any oceanfront or low-lying property.

Jason Spicer

Mercer Island, WA

May 16 2007 - 10:43pm

Web Letter

Alexander Cockburn's "Who are the merchants of fear?" is so full of conspiratorial suppositions that I cannot decide whether, rather than The Nation, it would have been more suitable for publication in The Onion or Conspiracy Digest. I guess it depends upon whether Cockburn really believes the contorted web he spins in the piece. The supposed linkages described in the piece are about as credible as the "fact," recently told to me by a Lyndon LaRouche Youth conspiracist, that Al Gore deliberately lost the 2000 presidential election so that Dick Cheney and the neocons could gain the seat of power in their plan towards One World Domination.

According to Cockburn, the collusion between Al Gore and the nuclear power industry must be true since Gore lives in the state where Oak Ridge National Lab is located. Of course, Cockburn concludes, environmental scientists like me are spreading this fear of global warming because of our strong economic self-interest. When a reporter recently posed this theory to me, I asked how it might work. The reporter's answer must be that we must be getting some kind of kick-back from the sale of energy-efficient light bulbs.

Cockburn has adopted the tactics in his writing of the climate change naysayers on both the left and the right of dispatching ad hominem attacks on celebrities and scientists who might be discussing or working in the area of climate science.

The ad hominem process works like this:
1. Person A makes claim X.
2. Person B makes an attack on person A.
3. Therefore A's claim is false.

In this case "Person A" represents climate scientists and any celebrity discussing global warming and "Person B" represents people like Cockburn.

The Nation's readers will be familiar with this tactic if they have ever spent any time watching Fox News or reading the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. But ad hominem attacks and conspiratorial diatribes have no place in a serious discussion of the realities of global warming and its consequences. And these tactics certainly have no place within the pages of The Nation whose readers trust the magazine to live up to its mission, which is to support critical thinking and disdain exaggeration and misrepresentation.

Stephen C. Nodvin, Ph.D.

Nashua, NH

May 15 2007 - 2:19pm