In response to our May 7 special issue, “Surviving the Climate Crisis,” readers suggested remedies like installing solar panels in the median strips of all Interstates, requiring a “green” roof on every flat-topped building, investigating “artificial photosynthesis,” dumping the combustion engine and opening up debate on nuclear power. Several complained that we did not cite overpopulation as the main threat to the planet and that the Nation cruise is not a green endeavor.

Davis, Calif.

Kudos to The Nation for pointing out how timid industry and government have been in responding to the green power challenge. California, Oregon, Montana and Massachusetts are struggling to take back the power by establishing publicly owned utilities. Pacific Gas and Electric spent more than $15 million on elections to kill the effort of the Coalition for Local Power to annex 70,000 electric meters from PG&E to the publicly owned Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The latter charges 30 percent less than PG&E and has installed twice as much wind capacity per capita. Here in Davis, more than 60 percent voted to support our public power revolution, a testimony to the ten years of grassroots organizing that inoculated the electorate against PG&E’s Big Lies.


Fairfield, Iowa

The Iowa Farmers Union has pointed out that C-BED (Community-Based Economic Development) laws can support community and local ownership of wind energy resources. C-BED has generated nearly $1 billion in proposed economic development in Minnesota, where it is now law. C-BED is a way to help keep renewable energy profits in our rural areas rather than letting outside investors extract resources and profits. And it will help provide long-term, reasonably priced electricity. Big energy firms and utilities will likely be pressuring legislators to kill C-BED in states that don’t have it. We should not let them do this. Renewable energy’s benefits should go to rural communities.


Lowell, Mass.

James Hansen correctly points out that we need new building energy-efficiency standards because buildings, particularly residences, are responsible for nearly 50 percent of US CO2 emissions. But with almost 90 million residential and 5 million commercial buildings, it will take too long for energy-efficient buildings to replace older, inefficient structures. We need a national program to raise awareness and provide aggressive tax incentives and long-term, low-interest loans to home and small business owners to encourage retrofitting buildings. We must make existing buildings more energy efficient to have short-term impacts on the problem of global warming.

Center for Family, Work, and Community


Doug Henwood contrasts cap-and-trade systems with carbon taxes for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Actually you can get the best of both by giving “tradable carbon allowances” to individuals and taxing the “trades.” That is, everyone gets a fixed carbon allowance, decreased annually. Then individuals who use less than their allowance get to sell their excess to those who need more. A sales tax on these transactions would finance both major projects and individual investments toward a lower carbon future. The amazing thing is the social equity bonanza. Suddenly the more radical the carbon reduction goals, the more money into the pockets of the struggling classes. It says a lot about the sorry state of US politics that the current champion of this concept is not someone like Al Gore but British Secretary for the Environment David Miliband.


Jacksonville, Fla.

George Monbiot is absolutely right that jet travel is bad news for the planet. A sensible transport policy would relegate air travel to a high-cost, long-distance market niche, as was the case until the 1960s. High Speed Rail (HSR) is part of the answer. Rail generally is a third as fuel intensive as motor freight (forget air freight), less noisy, safer, takes less land and is extremely efficient. It shifts market share away from dirty air and road travel, because HSR can move lots of people in a timely way. Indeed, HSR regularly decimates air usage wherever it is introduced. Amtrak’s Acela service is the number-one carrier in the Boston-DC corridor (perhaps accounting for US air carriers’ political pressures to kill off Amtrak).



A tsunami of mail decrying Alexander Cockburn’s first two “Beat the Devil” columns on global warming [May 14 and 28] hit us with subscription cancellations and such epithets as: “rubbish,” “April Fool’s joke?” “an embarrassment,” “please tell me this is a satire,” “claptrap from Senator Inhofe and the oily boys,” “an example of how a little knowledge and a lot of arrogance is a dangerous combination,” “like being data-mugged by a LaRouchie on the way to the grocery,” “on a par with Rush Limbaugh’s regurgitation of ExxonMobil global warming-denier propaganda.”

Readers should know, from our recent special issue on the climate crisis as well as articles and editorials over many years, that the editors of The Nation support the greenhouse-gas theory of global warming, in keeping with the overwhelming preponderance of scientific opinion as expressed in peer-reviewed journals and data review by international panels. In contrast, many of Cockburn’s most contentious assertions in his recent columns came from unpublished papers. But readers should also know that our columnists choose their own topics and approaches. Here are some of your letters.   –The Editors

Woodland Park, Colo.

Thank heavens Alexander Cockburn has the technical expertise to alert us to this dastardly plot about global warming. Those sleazy climate scientists. Why do they hate America so much?



I look forward to Alexander Cockburn’s treatment of intelligent design, and I am sure there’s a chapter or two of the Flat Earth Society that could use his support.


Old Greenwich, Conn.

I cannot believe my eyes. Finally, someone is getting it right. A very big “thank you” goes out to Alexander Cockburn. He is dead on in his assessment of the greenhouse global warming theory! Bravo!

Meteorologist, WABC-TV New York

Plainfield, NH

Having studied global warming for nearly thirty years, I’m constantly amazed at how otherwise thoughtful people can be bamboozled into thinking it’s a hoax. The story usually goes much like Cockburn’s. They meet someone (with a PhD!) who’s trained in some aspect of science and while on an airplane (or a cruise, in Cockburn’s case), they get the straight dope. It doesn’t matter what the world’s leading scientific organizations have found–that the twenty-fold increase in fossil fuel combustion since 1800 is the main factor in the warming now occurring. No! Cockburn has met one Martin Hertzberg (PhD!), whose stint as a Navy meteorologist “gave him a lifelong mistrust of climate modeling.” So Hertzberg, and now Cockburn, can take a pass on reading all the peer-reviewed literature.

As for Cockburn’s central thesis–that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are steadily rising even when emission rates are erratic (itself a specious argument)–I suggest Cockburn and Hertzberg climb into a bathtub together and perform their own experiment. Turn on the faucet and watch the water level rise. Now turn it up more, so the tub is getting full. Then crank it back a little and turn it up again. Gee, the water just keeps rising! Like water that can’t empty out of a drain, CO2 gets stuck in our atmosphere because it has a lifetime of more than 100 years, and we keep pouring it in faster and faster. Since I’ve devoted my career to addressing this problem, I must be one of the “hoaxers.” And I know what I’m after. Preserving a habitable planet for my children and Cockburn’s grandchildren.

Director of Climate Change Research
Institutional Shareholder Services

Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Alexander Cockburn makes this absurd statement: “There is still zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of carbon dioxide is making any measurable contribution to the world’s present warming trend.” There is abundant evidence readily available. We even know that the excess CO2 has a higher than normal ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 because the carbon-12 comes from the burning of fossil fuels–coal and oil buried in the earth so long that the C-14 has undergone radioactive decay.

His point that water is a more significant greenhouse gas may sound impressive, but the water cycle is so quick it makes no change in the global water content of the atmosphere. The carbon cycle, however, involves fossil fuels buried for millions of years. If we burn those carbon sources over a century or two, the results will be with us for a while. His quote “It is the warming of the Earth that is causing the increase of carbon dioxide and not the reverse” neglects the simple fact that if true, the warming of the Earth would be releasing oxygen from the oceans as well as CO2. Since we find no corresponding rise in oxygen levels, we cannot infer that warming caused the increase in CO2.

Worse yet is the statement that the ice age cycles are a part of a natural warming cycle. According the Milankovtich cycles, we should be returning to an Ice Age, not warming up. And we are now warming up almost thirty times faster than during any warming period since the Pleistocene. That rate of warming should worry us, for it is very difficult for natural (and human) systems to adapt to such rapid change.


Los Angeles

Can Alexander Cockburn tell us in which peer-reviewed journal Martin Hertzberg published his critique of global warming? Because Hertzberg’s ideas were incorporated into existing climate models a long time ago, and they put no more of a dent into those models than a Nerf ball thrown at my Prius. Hertzberg is right that CO2 is a minor component of the Earth’s greenhouse gases, but he’s wrong to dismiss its effect. Yes, water vapor is a potent greenhouse gas capable of absorbing more solar heat than the trace levels of CO2. Water vapor levels will fluctuate wildly from day to day and place to place, but in the long run they don’t change much overall. So any increase in CO2 can still raise the Earth’s temperature.

Hertzberg’s claim that CO2 increases lag behind previous periods of warming is true but silly. Those previous warmings weren’t caused by fossil fuels. The coming warming will be, so it will be the first time the CO2 increase precedes the warming. What Hertzberg doesn’t tell us is that CO2 levels are far higher today than they ever were at their peaks between ice ages. Only fossil fuels could have driven them that high.

Hertzberg is also right that warmer oceans release CO2 into the air, but this is just a well-known example of positive feedback. In layman’s terms, the warming of the Earth causes changes that lead to even more warming. (Feedback, a well-studied phenomenon, can work both ways.) As any scientist should know, the positive feedback he described doesn’t challenge the original theory; it strengthens it. Readers can find plenty of resources. My favorite:



Petrolia, Calif.

In the end the whole debate stands or falls on the science–whether of Martin Hertzberg or Michael Mann. I have made an effort to understand the science of global warming, going back almost ten years, relying as any lay journalist should on people one reckons to be intellectually trustworthy and who make the soundest case. Science is not a privileged enclave, and the more strident the claims, the more inquisitive any decent journalist should be. I would have thought the history of science in service of the cold war had taught us that conclusively.

Fearmongering sells papers and magazines, which is at least in part why Scientific American and The New Scientist have disgraced themselves for years on global warming, as has the New York Times. We are at the point now where very substantial investments will be made in “CO2 reduction”–a new opportunity zone for corporate pillage–and so it’s vital to inquire whether there is in fact any measurable human responsibility for global warming; also whether the costly efforts would have the slightest measurable effect. The answer is, they would not.

In my first column I retailed the elegant refutation of anthropogenic CO2 as the prime force in global warming by Dr. Martin Hertzberg, whom I first met in 2001 on a Nation cruise. (I mentioned the cruise partly to intimate that Hertzberg isn’t a creature of the coal industry, since such people tend not to be Nation cruisers.) Ad hominem arguments on Hertzberg’s scientific credentials are irrelevant and require no response. One should stick to the facts. Some critics have accused him of being a mouthpiece for the coal industry. That would come as a great surprise to coal companies, since in his career as a researcher for the Bureau of Mines, he was a persistent thorn in their side, advocating for much more stringent regulations to protect the health and safety of coal miners.

As regards Cogan’s “bathtub” argument, let me repeat my last column, where I wrote, “I should acknowledge one imprecision in my description of Dr. Martin Hertzberg’s graph in my first column–‘the smoothly rising curve of CO2‘–which prompted several intemperate responses, charging that I couldn’t possibly expect CO2 or carbon levels to drop just because of a one-third cut in manmade CO2. Indeed, I should have written ‘one could not even see a 1 part per million bump in the smoothly rising curve.’ Even though such transitory influences as day and night or seasonal variations in photosynthesis cause clearly visible swings in the curve, the 30 percent drop between 1929 and 1932 caused not a ripple: empirical scientific evidence that the human contribution is in fact less than a fart in a hurricane, as Dr. Hertzberg says.”

As Hertzberg points out, the lady from Sherman Oaks has Milankovitch all wrong. We have seven or eight more days on the summer side of the solstices than on the winter side, giving more solar heating in Northern Hemispheric summer, and thus we are coming off an ice age and going into a warming period.

The assertion that CO2 has a lifetime of 100 years is incorrect. I recommend Dr. Jeffrey Glassman’s article in Rocket Scientist’s Journal strongly supporting our argument that “increased carbon dioxide has been an effect of global warming, not a cause.” Glassman’s article is the most comprehensive analysis of the Vostok ice-core data available, and his best estimate of the average lag of the CO2 behind the temperature is 1,073 years. He also, in the subsequent discussion, gives a residence time for CO2 in the atmosphere of 1.5 to 2.0 years.

Since Glassman is himself a modeler, he knows the tricks of the trade. He refers to their machinations as their “history of commandeering” and refers to their global climate models (GCMs) as “greenhouse catastrophe models.” The models have no predictive value in the real world and are as phony as three-dollar bills.

The prime tactic of the greenhousers is to spray phrases like “virtually unanimous scientific consensus” to imply that any challenge to the theory of anthropogenic global warming is flat-earthery. This is entirely untrue. Climatologists and atmospheric physicists (of whom there are not many on the IPCC panel) are divided on the issue. The greenhousers’ substantive function has been to smooth the road for the nuclear power industry. I notice none of my critics venture onto that terrain–the topic of my second column.