Love Those Sunken Cities!

Knoxville, Tenn.

I love your January 4 cover. I’ve seen the climate-change mug, but the enlarged view on your cover shows more people more clearly what can happen if we do nothing. Now, how about one of our East Coast, not just New York City and Miami but those pricey oceanfront communities from Maine through the Keys? Then another of the West Coast. People need to see that this would hurt them, not just some remote islands they’ve never heard of.


Cockburn’s Climate Catastrophe

Cape Girardeau, Mo.

It is not my habit to threaten to end my subscription, but the column by Alexander Cockburn titled “From Nicaea to Copenhagen” [Jan. 4] has tipped me over the edge. I was seriously disappointed to read Cockburn’s pack of lies, deceptions and distortions on climate change.


Webster, N.Y.

I have renewed confidence in the journalistic integrity of The Nation. I will definitely renew my subscription. I am delighted with Alexander Cockburn’s exposé of the insane idea that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is driving the warming of the climate.


Santa Fe

The other night, lying in bed, I was too cold to sleep. So I threw a third blanket on top of the two I already had, and was soon sleeping soundly, warm and snug. So I was surprised the next morning to find that the warmth from the third blanket must have been my imagination: Alexander Cockburn wrote that “a cooler body cannot warm a hotter body without compensation.” Perhaps his interpretation of the second law of thermodynamics requires that I put my third blanket under the others?


Malibu, Calif.

On a cold day, in my solar-heated house, I close my windows. With Cockburn’s new (mis)understanding of the sacred second law of thermodynamics, this action is useless because the cold closed window cannot possibly heat the warmer house. But my house is heated by the solar radiation, and closing the window reduces my heat loss, resulting in a warmer house. Without greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, all the long-wave radiation would escape into space, and earth would be a huge ice ball, as it was long ago. The cold greenhouse gases in our atmosphere absorb some of the outgoing radiation and reradiate some of it back to the warmer earth. The net heat flow is still outward, from warm to cold. Greenhouse gases reduce this outward flow, allowing the solar-heated earth to warm–just like closing my window.



Alexander Cockburn’s first main point about the climate is absolutely right. Climate science is not simple and is not all wrapped up. He’s right to chide any East Anglia climate scientists who thought they had to kid the public that it was. But then Cockburn goes into denial of his own point, maintaining that climate science is simplicity itself: there is no greenhouse effect, he says, for the cold upper atmosphere couldn’t transfer heat to the earth’s surface. However, as in a real greenhouse, heat is transferred through the cold panes in winter to heat the beds inside. The second law, and climate science, survive. Neither is simple.


Berkeley, Calif.

I’m not a scientist, but if nine out of ten doctors told me I had a serious, life-threatening illness, I wouldn’t listen to the one doctor who said there was no problem. (And more than 90 percent of climate scientists think global warming is a problem and is caused by humans.)


Cockburn Replies

Petrolia, Calif.

To Mr. Swift: The atmosphere is not a blanket. “The warmth from the third blanket” was indeed your imagination. As you were lying in your bed, the only source of warmth was your body (about equal to a 100-watt light bulb). The blankets provide insulation to reduce the rate of escape of heat from your body to the colder air. The blankets provide no warmth, and all the heat flow is from your body through the blankets to the colder air, in accordance with the second law.

To Mr. Thomas: You state correctly that the net heat flow (actually, radiation) is outward, from the warm earth to the cold atmosphere, in strict conformance with the second law. But that statement is in direct contradiction to your earlier statement that the “cold greenhouse gases…absorb some of the outgoing radiation…and reradiate some of it back to the warmer earth.” Cold gases cannot spontaneously transfer energy to a warmer earth, whether the transfer is by conduction, convection or radiation.

You also state that “without greenhouse gases,” the earth would be “a huge ice ball.” That hypothesis is referred to as “the cold earth fallacy” and was disproven in Energy & Environment, Vol. 20, No. 1 (2009), pp. 83-93, which is available at

To Mr. Davis and Mr. Swift: In real greenhouses, there is no heat transfer from the cold panes to the inside of the greenhouse. The glass enclosure isolates the greenhouse from the surroundings and prevents heat loss by natural convection. The atmosphere’s CO2 content has no significant effect on the natural convection processes in the atmosphere. The heating effect in a greenhouse has nothing to do with the infrared absorption of the glass enclosure. This was proven by Wood’s 1909 experiment, which compared an enclosure that had a glass lid (which absorbs IR radiation) with a rock salt lid (which transmits IR radiation). When both were exposed to the same input radiation from the sun, there was no difference in the rate of heating or the final temperature attained by the two enclosures.

To Ms. Kunkel: Fortunately, the professional standards for physicians are far superior to those for “climate scientists.” That should be obvious from the climategate e-mails. The “climate scientist” category was recently invented mainly by computer modelers, most of whom have never actually analyzed a weather map or had the responsibility of making a real-world weather forecast. Try asking some meteorologists, climatologists or geologists, and see whether 90 percent of them agree that “global warming is a problem caused by humans.” More than 30,000 scientists have signed the Oregon Petition, which refutes the AGW theory. In any case, the opinions of “90 percent of climate scientists” are worthless in the face of the data. The discoverer of CO2, who also discovered its role in photosynthesis, was the Unitarian minister and scientist Joseph Priestley. Until his dying day, Priestley, together with all the learned science authorities of his day, were firm believers in the phlogiston theory of combustion. It took only a few of Lavoisier’s careful experiments to prove that the theory, held by all the authorities of his day, was false.Poor Lavoisier–look what happened to him! He was dispatched because the Revolution had no need of scientists. We do need real scientists, in which context I’m glad to acknowledge the help of Dr. Martin Hertzberg in supplying the data above.