Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 25, 2007

Alexander Cockburn versus Al Gore

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 6:06 pm

Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize has triggered a new spasm of global warming denial from Alexander Cockburn. Articles in the Nation Magazine and Counterpunch with overlapping material appeared soon after Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC–a United Nations network of scientists that Alexander regards as practically genocidal) received the award.

While his articles contain many useful points about Gore’s duplicity, they are outweighed by unsubstantiated claims about global warming that can only deepen Alexander’s reputation as a crank.

The Counterpunch article sets the tone:

The specific reason why this man of blood shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the IPCC is for their joint agitprop on the supposed threat of anthropogenic global warming. Bogus science topped off with toxic alarmism. It’s as ridiculous as as [sic] if Goebbels got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1938, sharing it with the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for his work in publicizing the threat to race purity posed by Jews, Slavs and gypsies.

I guess a little hyperbole never hurt anybody but I would be a bit hesitant to make analogies with fascism if I had hyped Zbigniew Jaworowski, a regular contributor to Larouche publications, the way that Alexander did. I should mention that the Larouche Political Action Committee was happy to see their boy Jaworowski getting the nod from Alexander and reciprocated in a June 2007 article titled “A British Flagellant Attacks LaRouche on Global Warming.” Mostly, the article warmly concurs with Alexander’s dismissal of peer review as a consensus-forming mechanism, like the kind found in mind-control cults. (If I were them, I wouldn’t throw the term mind-control cult around so loosely.) Here’s some relevant paragraphs from the article:

Counterpunch’s Alexander Cockburn makes a useful point in his rebuttal to Guardian science scribbler George Monbiot’s continued hysterical rants against 21st Century Science & Technology (the magazine associated with U.S. economist and statesman Lyndon LaRouche), by noting that “peer review” is hardly the definition of science…

The control of science itself by “peer review,” a method of mind control borrowed from the Venetian [could they possibly mean Venusian?] repertoire, and the unleashing of an anti-science cult among youth were the means selected. This appeared first in the form of Bertrand Russell’s Ban the Bomb movement. It was soon followed by the mass environmental hysteria, which surfaced at the April 22, 1970 Earth Day celebrations from ground that had been amply seeded by Aldous Huxley and Gregory Bateson’s mass drugging project.

The Larouchites and Cockburn fave Zbigniew Jaworowski are huge fans of nuclear energy. Despite Cockburn’s best efforts to portray Al Gore’s global warming crusade as a subterfuge to promote nuclear power, the energy industry itself has no problems denying global warming and pushing for nuclear power at the same time. Indeed, the politician most associated with global warming denial and expanded nuclear power usage resides in the White House.

Most importantly, Gore is not quite the nuclear power devotee that Alexander’s febrile prose would lead you to believe. In an interview with Grist, Gore comes across as reasonably agnostic:

Grist: Let’s turn briefly to some proposed solutions. Nuclear power is making a big resurgence now, rebranded as a solution to climate change. What do you think?

Gore: I doubt nuclear power will play a much larger role than it does now.

Grist: Won’t, or shouldn’t?

Gore: There are serious problems that have to be solved, and they are not limited to the long-term waste-storage issue and the vulnerability-to-terrorist-attack issue. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that both of those problems can be solved.

We still have other issues. For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program. And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal — which is the real issue: coal — then we’d have to put them in so many places we’d run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale. And we’d run short of uranium, unless they went to a breeder cycle or something like it, which would increase the risk of weapons-grade material being available.

When energy prices go up, the difficulty of projecting demand also goes up — uncertainty goes up. So utility executives naturally want to place their bets for future generating capacity on smaller increments that are available more quickly, to give themselves flexibility. Nuclear reactors are the biggest increments, that cost the most money, and take the most time to build.

In any case, if they can design a new generation [of reactors] that’s manifestly safer, more flexible, etc., it may play some role, but I don’t think it will play a big role.

While this is not exactly Helen Caldicott territory, it is certainly not nearly as bad as Zbigniew Jaworowski, who never saw a rod of uranium that he didn’t love.

Turning once again to the Counterpunch article:

[T]he notorious “man-made” greenhouse gasses comprise about 0.26 per cent of the total greenhouse gas component of the earth’s atmosphere and the influence of this component remains entirely unproven, as I have pointed out on this site many times, and will be doing so again in reflections that will be published early next year in my forthcoming book, A Short History of Fear.

So if man-made emissions are less than one percent of total greenhouse gasses, while water vapor amounts to up to 95 percent according to some denialists, why get worked up over oil, coal and gas combustion? Like the weather, there’s not much you can do about water vapor. Another global warming denialist that Cockburn has cited blames increased solar activity for increased temperatures. With evidence such as this, you might as well develop a sense of fatalism and just enjoy life on a carpe diem basis, which would include tooling around the country in antique cars one presumes.

For those interested how climate scientists deal with water vapor, I recommend the RealClimate website. It explains very clearly that water vapor is a “feedback” rather than a “forcing” factor. This means that even though it constitutes a major portion of greenhouse gas, it is far more transient than man-made gases like carbon dioxide. Water vapor soon disappears from the atmosphere in the form of rain. Its presence, however, can be multiplied by manmade emissions like carbon dioxide which remain in the atmosphere for centuries. Once the atmosphere becomes heated up, H2O concentrations will persist. Unfortunately Alexander has never really bothered to deal with such questions but prefers to invoke water vapor as a way of evading a real dialog with his critics.

The Nation Magazine article, which is unfortunately available only to subscribers, repeats the claim that the Kyoto Accords would lead to genocide in the Third World:

If the Kyoto Accords were ever implemented, and they never will be, the net impact on greenhouse gases–99.72 percent of them natural in origin–would be imperceptible, but the devastation to Third World economies and life expectancies would rival that caused by Borlaug’s seed strains.

If the stand one takes on the Kyoto Accords is a litmus test for whether one is opposed to the devastation of Third World economies, then Alexander has some odd bedfellows. In fact when George W. Bush explained why he refused to support the Kyoto Accords, he used arguments that sounded as “developmental” as a UN economist:

Our country, the United States is the world’s largest emitter of manmade greenhouse gases. We account for almost 20 percent of the world’s man-made greenhouse emissions. We also account for about one-quarter of the world’s economic output. We recognize the responsibility to reduce our emissions. We also recognize the other part of the story — that the rest of the world emits 80 percent of all greenhouse gases. And many of those emissions come from developing countries.

This is a challenge that requires a 100 percent effort; ours, and the rest of the world’s. The world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases is China. Yet, China was entirely exempted from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol.

India and Germany are among the top emitters. Yet, India was also exempt from Kyoto. These and other developing countries that are experiencing rapid growth face challenges in reducing their emissions without harming their economies. We want to work cooperatively with these countries in their efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions and maintain economic growth

Well, if Christopher Hitchens can give President Bush critical support for his war on Islamofascism, then maybe Alexander Cockburn can follow suit on the issue of global warming. Since both celebrity journalists are dead-set opposed to “genocide”, why not accept the necessity for the US acting on behalf of the suffering masses. In one case, it is the Kurdish struggle against their Arab oppressors. In the other, it is the right of the Chinese government to “develop” full steam ahead.

Although China blocked with the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea and India two years ago to create an alternative to Kyoto, which would be based on nonbinding and therefore toothless goals, there have been signs recently that the government is beginning to take environmentalism seriously, including the threat of global warming. In a December 12, 2006 article titled “Global warming threatens plateau,” China Daily reported the following:

The environmental condition of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, seen as a barometer for the world’s health, is worsening due in large part to global warming, according to a geological survey.

The survey, conducted by the Remote Sensing Department of the China Aero Geophysical Survey, showed the plateau has shrinking glaciers, a rising snow line, dwindling wetlands, and more serious desertification compared with 30 years ago.

The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which accounts for nearly one quarter of China’s landmass, stretches into the Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

It is the highest and youngest plateau in the world and has been dubbed “the third pole.” It is also home to the source of many big rivers in Asia, such as the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers, giving it the nickname the “water tower” of China.

“As the ‘thermometer’ of the global environment, any slight environmental change in the plateau is a reflection for the globe,” said Zhang Hongtao, deputy director of the China Geological Survey.

The survey, which used remote sensor technology, is intended to provide an overview of the plateau’s geological conditions and help its future economic development, Zhang said.

“The direct harm is the threat of the loss of the country’s fresh water resources,” said Fang Hongbin, senior engineer at the Remote Sensing Department. “Furthermore, we won’t have any shield to protect ourselves from the sand blowing from the plateau if the desertification trend is not checked.”

Although the Chinese government is clearly committed to capitalist development, there is a growing recognition that pollution, including the uncontrolled emission of greenhouse gases, will destroy the possibility for the accumulation of capital. This was first identified by James O’Connor as the “second contradiction” of capitalism, but it is doubtful that it can be resolved within the framework of capitalism. Given the Chinese capitalist class’s control over the economy and the government, it appears more likely that the country will continue lurching toward Armageddon. It is up to socialists to confront this contradiction and resolve it on a higher level. If we fail, humanity will certainly face the prospects identified by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.


  1. Funny someone calling Alex Cockburn a “crank”, when this same person flew off the handle and called David Noble “a horse’s ass” within 5 minutes of a comment posting.

    Comment by sk — October 26, 2007 @ 2:22 am

  2. […] Cockburn of Counterpunch has gone into loonie-land with his global warming denials, making bizarre statements like saying support for the Kyoto Accord […]

    Pingback by Politics in the Zeros » Global warming denial on the left — October 26, 2007 @ 4:24 am

  3. The basic point about water vapour, viz., that it circulates rather than accumulates whereas CO2 accumulates in the upper atmosphere, should have alerted Cockburn to the weakness of his argument, but it seems not to have done so. Once you remove water vapour from the total of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, anthropogenic contributions are a much larger percentage of the total. I wonder if he tries to deal with this point in the book he is working on.

    Comment by Feeder of Felines — October 26, 2007 @ 7:53 am

  4. My lordie, please tell me that photo of Cockburn was Photoshopped, or something! But surely you could have found a photo which didn’t make him look like a scary lunatic next to the bulbous-but-reasonable Gore!

    I would assume that Cockburn initially began as a kind of contrarian against global warming, partly fuelled by fears that it really would lead to problems with growth in the Third World, and then has gradually gone over the edge into LaRouche land. But still, ick!

    My wife and I used to wait for his broadcasts every week because for a moment they cleared the hum of bullshit out of our heads. Once he was great. But now, alas . . .

    Comment by MFB — October 26, 2007 @ 12:14 pm

  5. I wish he would just shut up about this issue. What he writes is absolute garbage. It’s worse than reading a Stalinist justification for smashing the Hungarian revolution.

    Comment by Binh — October 29, 2007 @ 9:09 pm

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