06/01/2007 12:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cockburn Flays "Greenhouser Theologians"

In his follow-up piece on global warming in The Nation, Alexander Cockburn denounces "greenhouse fearmongers" for insisting that anthropogenic climate change is not a hoax. Those who are alarmed by rising global temperatures, he argues, are "greenhouser theologians" akin to the "papal indulgences of the Middle Ages" as they punish "carbon sinners" based on faith instead of reason. The human contribution to rising global temperatures, Cockburn writes, is "less than a fart in a hurricane."

Cockburn's assertions remind me of what JFK said during the Cuban missile crisis about the military hawks who pressed him to launch a full-scale invasion: "Those brass hats have one great advantage in their favor. If we listen to them, and do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong." Similarly, if we listen to Cockburn and his sympathizers, like Senator James Inhofe and Michael Crichton, and do nothing to reduce human emissions of greenhouse gases, the planet might be so irreparably damaged that proving them wrong later will be pretty unsatisfying.

Cockburn cites an eleven-year-old report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), claiming that a "small faction of the IPCC panel" conspired to insert into the document a big lie about the human role in global warming. Thereafter followed a second even larger conspiracy among scientists from around the world perpetuating the anthropogenic myth to tap the immense pile of research cash that awaits anyone willing to accept their "greenhouser" theology.

"The 100 ppm increase in CO2 can't be uniquely attributed to humans," Cockburn writes, "because at least plausibly it could be the effect, not the cause, of the warming that started after the Little Ice Age." So the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps is solely from "natural" causes?

But humans have already affected the stratospheric ozone layer with chlorofluorocarbons. And the hundreds of atmospheric nuclear tests in the mid-20th century spread radioactive material all over the planet. Yet Cockburn concludes that the millions of tons of carbons pumped into our little air shield every day are nothing but a "fart in a hurricane."

I live in the heart of California's largest valley. On a clear day I can see the majestic snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada. But on brown, sooty, smoggy days I can't even see past the horizon. Luckily, the local news tells us when we're having a bad smog day so the elderly know they should stay indoors. Not far from my home is the intersection of four major freeways, a perennial haze hovers over the elevated concrete interchanges. On hot days you cannot roll down your car window or you'll be overcome by the CO2 entering your lungs. I know this is anecdotal, but I can't help but think that these human emissions multiplied on a global scale amount to far more than just "a fart in a hurricane." According to Cockburn I should breathe easy because all of this crappy air is not caused by "our sinful combustions," but is the product of the last Little Ice Age. I feel better already.