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Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn
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From Nicaea to Copenhagen


The global warming jamboree in Copenhagen was surely the most outlandish foray into intellectual fantasizing since the fourth-century Christian bishops assembled in 325 AD for the Council of Nicaea to debate whether God the Father was supreme or had to share equal status in the pecking order of eternity with his Son and the Holy Ghost.

Shortly before the Copenhagen summit, the proponents of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) were embarrassed by a whistleblower who put on the Web more than a thousand e-mails either sent from or received at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, headed by Dr. Phil Jones. The CRU was founded in 1971 with funding from sources including Shell and British Petroleum. It became one of the climate-modeling grant mills supplying tainted data from which the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concocted its reports.

Deceitful manipulation of data, concealment or straightforward destruction of inconvenient evidence, vindictive conspiracies to silence critics, are par for the course in all scientific debate. But in displaying all these characteristics, the CRU e-mails graphically undermine the claim of the Warmers that they command the moral as well as scientific high ground. It has been a standard ploy of the Warmers to revile the skeptics as whores of the energy industry, swaddled in munificent grants and with large personal stakes in discrediting AGW. Actually, the precise opposite is true. Billions in funding and research grants sluice into the big climate-modeling enterprises and a vast archipelago of research departments and "institutes of climate change" across academia. It's where the money is. Skepticism, particularly for a young climatologist or atmospheric physicist, can be a career breaker.

Many of the landmines in the CRU e-mails tend to buttress longstanding charges by skeptics (yours truly included) that statistical chicanery by professor Michael Mann and others occluded the highly inconvenient Medieval Warm Period, running from 800 to 1300 AD, with temperatures in excess of the highest we saw in the 20th century, a historical fact that makes nonsense of the thesis that global warming could be attributed to the auto-industrial civilization of the 20th century. Here's Keith Briffa, of the CRU, letting his hair down in an e-mail Sept. 22, 1999: "I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards 'apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data' but in reality the situation is not quite so simple. ... I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1000 years ago."

Now, in the fall of 1999, the IPCC was squaring up to its all-important "Summary for Policymakers" — essentially a press release, one that eventually featured the notorious graph flatlining into nonexistence the Medieval Warm Period and displaying a terrifying, supposedly unprecedented surge in 20th-century temperatures.

Briffa's reconstruction of temperature changes, one showing a mid- to late-20th-century decline, was regarded by Mann, in a Sept. 22, 1999, e-mail to the CRU, as a "problem and a potential distraction/detraction." So Mann, a lead author on this chapter of the IPCC report, simply deleted the embarrassing post-1960 portion of Briffa's reconstruction. The CRU's Jones happily applauded Mann's deceptions in an e-mail in which he crowed over "Mike's Nature trick."

Other landmines include e-mails from Kevin Trenberth, the head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. On Oct. 14, he wrote to the CRU's Tom Wigley: "How come you do not agree with a statement that says we are no where close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter. We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geo-engineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty!"

Only a few weeks before Copenhagen, here is a scientist in the inner AGW circle disclosing that "we are no where close to knowing" how the supposedly proven AGW warming model might actually work, and that therefore geoengineering — such as carbon mitigation — is "hopeless."

This admission edges close to acknowledgment of a huge core problem: that "greenhouse" theory violates the second law of thermodynamics, which says that a cooler body cannot warm a hotter body without compensation. Greenhouse gases in the cold upper atmosphere cannot possibly transfer heat to the warmer earth, and in fact radiate their absorbed heat into outer space. (Readers interested in the science can read Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf Tscheuschner's "Falsification of the Atmospheric CO2 Greenhouse Effects Within the Frame of Physics," updated in January 2009.)

Recent data from many monitors including the CRU, available on, show that the average temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans near the surface of the earth has decreased significantly across the past eight years or so. CO2 is a benign gas essential to life, occurring in past eras at five times present levels. Changes in atmospheric CO2 do not correlate with human emissions of CO2, the latter being entirely trivial in the global balance.

The battles in Nicaea in 325 were faith based, with no relation to science or reason. So were the premises of the Copenhagen summit, that the planet faces catastrophic warming caused by manmade CO2 buildup, and that human intervention — geoengineering — could avert the coming disaster. Properly speaking, it's a farce. In terms of distraction from cleaning up the pollutants that are actually killing people, it's a terrible tragedy.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



3 Comments | Post Comment
Dear Mr Cockburn
I've been reading your stuff since "The golden age is within us", and I suppose I've been nodding along with your recent columns about AGW since I largely assume that current Western governments, with their varying proportions of authoritarianism, headline-driven short-termism, corporate corruption, economic ignorance and sheer administrative incompetence, were going to find this a splendid opportunity to reduce our freedoms, enrich their cronies, bully and patronise their citizens and fail to achieve any of their declared objectives.
And then you fuck it up by writing this:
"greenhouse" theory violates the second law of thermodynamics, which says that a cooler body cannot warm a hotter body without compensation. Greenhouse gases in the cold upper atmosphere cannot possibly transfer heat to the warmer earth, and in fact radiate their absorbed heat into outer space.
The "hotter body" in question is the sun, which is quite capable of transferring heat to the earth, as a result of its being so much hotter. The greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere retard the rate at which absorbed heat gets radiated into outer space, thus increasing the average temperature of the lower atmosphere. The average temperature of the atmosphere as a whole could be constant, or even reducing, if the increase in one small volume is offset by decreases in other much larger volumes.
Imagine being in some cold part of North America, and leaving your windows open while turning your electric blanket up to max. You could be nice and snug under your blanket, even while anyone else in the room found the heat trickling up from your blanket failing to compensate for the icy winds coming in. The reason why the second law of thermodynamics would continue to operate in this case is that the electricity company is pumping heat into your blanket, which is an insulator and is re-radiating it into the rest of the room at a sufficiently slow rate to keep your ambient temperature constant. Likewise the sun is pumping heat into the earth (minerals + atmosphere) as a whole, and the second law is quite consistent with unequal distributions of temperature within that system, including in regions of concern to surface-dwelling biological organisms.
I really can't believe you don't know this. You've got plenty of material to get stuck into: arguing that all the scientists who have espoused AGW have failed to identify all the differential equations governing the systems involved, failed to gather adequate evidence for their physical constants, failed to apply error bars to the constants they used, failed to assess how far their computer models forecast anything other than mathematical assumptions. For a non-scientist, which I suspect you may be, there's much more juicy material examining the cost-benefit assumptions being applied, or the particular spin put on them by corporates, ideologues, and the PR hirelings of despotisms and corrupt international institutions.
But for some reason you think there's a "gotcha" here: all those shitheads in the white lab-coats have forgotten about the second law of thermodynamics. More strikingly, you immediately regale your audience with this insight: if it's good enough for you then they'll be up and cheering. When the pointy-heads have learned to go to the bathroom by themselves, tie their own shoelaces and count on their fingers, they can come and learn physics from a lefty blogger.
For Chrissake. Jesus Christ. For FUCK'S SAKE.

For the sake of the last twenty years, I'll still offer you kind regards

GM Hurley
Comment: #1
Posted by: GMHurley
Fri Dec 18, 2009 3:18 PM
Alas, Cockburn, you've fallen prey to the power of words to substitute themselves for reality. Until the balloon pops, that is. You can say whatever you want, pretty it up with your historical anecdotes, which I have to concede you know many of, but in the end you are not a scientist, and you don't have a clue. Do you really think the explosion of human population is not having an effect on the planet? Yup, carbon dioxide is essential for life. So is shit. There is only room for so much, and the systems that sink carbon (i.e. trees and greenery, particularly the rain forests, and if you don't know what the planet's carbon sink is all about, do some homework--start with basic chemistry 101) are going away (i.e., turning into parking lots) at the same time carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are being generated in epic proportions. Your vignette about the warming trend in medieval times is a nice read, but do you think the ice caps went completely away during that period? What do you suppose the polar bears did then? Seems they didn't go extinct. Looks an awful lot like they're headed for same now. The human race is on the edge, buddy, just like the avalanche of species that we myopically think we can safely do without. Why can't an intelligent guy like you see that and contribute something positive?
Comment: #2
Posted by: Masako
Sun Dec 20, 2009 9:04 PM
The existence of the Medieval Warming Period is known from historical records. The Vikings colonized Greenland and created an agricultural society and wine grapes were grown in Scotlant during that period. These events are not replicated today, so it is quite likely it was warmer during that period than today. During that period, arctic polar ice may have all melted in the summer and no one was there to bear witness. Most certainly polar bears are smarter than AGW proponents because they would simply migrate to southern land areas during the summer if no ice was available. Climate change is constantly happening on this planet and smart animals simpllly adapt. Maybe this is part of the Theory of Evolution.
AGW proponents cite U. N Reports when questioned about whether increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide causes global warming. They treat those reports as Infallible in the same way as the Infallibility of the Catholic Church is the belief a Holy Spirit will not allow the Church to err in its beliefs or teachings. Because of this belief, AGW proponents see no need to examine science contradicting AGW or pay attention to skeptics.
As adequately shown by Alexander Cockburn, many of the scientists who contributed to the U. N. Reports have fallen from grace and the reports should no longer have credibility. The Holy Spirit was unable to fend off the failings of man and prevent scientists from promoting a type of science that served their interests.
Beside the CRU manipulating data that went into the U. N. Reports, more examples are coming forth. The Weather Channel founder, John Coleman, produced a television program that shows how NOAA manipulated global temperatuere data to show temperatures falling in the early part of the twentieth century and then steadily increasing the last fifty years of that century. This past week information surfaced statements in the 2007 U. N. Report that Himalyian glaciers would all melt by 2035 was based on a 1999 telephone conversation with an Indian scientist who did not do research on those glaciers. There is no way possible for all those glaciers, some over 1000 feet thick, to melt in 25 years.
Mr. Cockburn should be applauded for his efforts to inform the public about flaws in the U. N. Reports. Carbon dioxide is a minor greenhouse gas that exists in our atmosphere in the amount of one twenty-fifth that of water vapor, which is a more potent greenhouse gas. Essentially, all energy that can be absorbed by adding more carbon dioxide to our atmosphere has already been absorbed by pre-existing water vapor and carbon dioxide. Thus sacrificing our economy, and that of the rest of the world, by drastically cutting back on the use of fossil fuels will accomplish nothing with regard to global warming.
The American public needs to be informed on these issues and get involved with the political process. If they don't, we may have a dismal future.
Regards, James H. Rust, Professor of Nuclear Engineering(Ret.)
Comment: #3
Posted by: James H. Rust
Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:57 PM
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