Alexander Cockburn: Leftist Writer…and Denier

Alexander Cockburn, whom I grew up reading in the Village Voice decades ago, is a leftist, a Nader supporter, and a clever rhetorician, but–judging by this slab of denialism–a poor reporter.

He takes one metaphor, which is the idea of carbon trading as a practice comparable to the Papal indulgences of sin, and one source–an explosives expert named Martin Hertzberg–and from this concocts a bizarre piece arguing that "it is impossible to assert that the increase in atmospheric CO2 stems from human burning of fossil fuels."

Simply put, to sweep aside the work of hundreds of scientists and thousands of papers based on a single retired professor is not journalism. It’s arrogance.

Fortunately, a commentator on a real Real Climate post (#78) catches one of Cockburn’s mistakes. Cockburn writes, based on his professor’s work:

#78 "The two lines on that graph proclaim that a whopping 30 per cent cut in man-made CO2 emissions [because of the Depression] didn’t even cause a 1 ppm drop in the atmosphere’s CO2. Thus it is impossible to assert that the increase in atmospheric CO2 stems from human burning of fossil fuels.""

The commentator replies:

Cockburn is assuming the amount in the air is directly proportional to the input from the US. It isn’t. His 0.9 gigaton burn in 1933 was half absorbed by the ocean, and has to be compared to the 600 GT or so then in the air. To expect a 33% drop or increase is asinine. The man doesn’t understand the difference between total ambient CO2 and added CO2. Like saying if there’s 15 gallons in your car’s fuel tank, and you put in 2 extra gallons, then only one, the amount of gas in your car should suddenly be cut in half.

Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 29 Apr 2007 @ 2:06 pm

But one could also point out that in his single-minded focus on the atmosphere, Cockburn completely ignores the fact that 84% of the warming of the earth due to the greenhouse effect is stored in the oceans, according to a ten-year study, involving thousands of buoys measuring temperatures at various depths. Might that warming not have some effect on the climate in years to come, Mr. Cockburn?


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

2 thoughts on “Alexander Cockburn: Leftist Writer…and Denier

  1. I’m a complete fan of the polemical Mr. Cockburn, but I too found the article in “Counterpunch” very dismaying. And don’t get me started on Ralph Nader.


  2. FYI for you and your readers… republish at will.

    My piece on Alexander Cockburn, Climate Denier can be found in my blog here:

    This is actually a script for my radio production of the same name, a 23 minute piece (which includes a clip from Sonali of KPFA interview George Monbiot in late May, asking him about Cockburn)

    which is here:

    [audio src="" /]

    (22 MB mp3 file)

    This will be broadcast twice this week on CFRO FM in Vancouver, Canada, and then rebroadcast on a series of college and community stations.

    Alex Smith

    Radio Ecoshock


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