Policy Documents

Who Are The Merchants of Fear?

Alexander Cockburn –
May 18, 2007

No response is more predictable than the reflexive squawk of the greenhouse fearmongers that anyone questioning their claims is in the pay of the energy companies. A second, equally predictable retort contrasts the ever-diminishing number of agnostics to the legions of scientists now born again to the “truth” that anthropogenic CO2 is responsible for the earth’s warming trend.

Actually, the energy companies have long since adapted to prevailing fantasies, dutifully reciting the whole catechism about carbon-neutrality, sniggering jovially over Tom Friedman’s rapturous endorsement of “clean coal,” repositioning themselves as eager pioneers in the search for virtuous alternative fuels, settling comfortably into new homes, such as British Petroleum’s “Energy Biosciences Institute” on the UC Berkeley campus.

In fact, when it comes to corporate sponsorship of crackpot theories about why the world is getting warmer, the best documented conspiracy of interest is between the Greenhouser fearmongers and the nuclear industry, now largely owned by oil companies, whose prospects 20 years ago looked dark, amid headlines about the fall-out from Chernobyl, aging plants and nuclear waste dumps leaking from here to eternity. The apex Greenhouse fearmongers are well aware that the only exit from the imaginary crisis they have been sponsoring is through a door marked “nuclear power,” with a servant’s side door labeled “clean coal.” James Lovelock, the Rasputin of Gaia-dom, has said, “Nuclear power has an important contribution to make.” I refer those who rear back at the words “imaginary crisis” to my last column on this topic, where I emphasize that there is still zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of CO2 is making any measurable contribution to the world’s present warming trend.

The world’s best-known hysteric and self promoter on the topic of man’s physical and moral responsibility for global warming is Al Gore, a shill for the nuclear industry and the coal barons from the first day he stepped into Congress entrusted with the sacred duty to protect the budgetary and regulatory interests of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Oakridge National Lab. White House “task forces” on climate change in the Clinton-Gore years were always well freighted by Gore and his adviser John Holdren with nukers like Lawrence Papay of Bechtel.

As a denizen of Washington since his diaper years, Gore has always understood that threat inflation is the surest tool to plump up budgets and rabble-rouse the voters. By the mid-Nineties he positioned himself at the head of a strategic and tactical alliance formed around “the challenge of climate change,” which had now stepped forward to take Communism’s place in the threatosphere essential to all political life.

The foot soldiers in this alliance have been the grant-guzzling climate modelers and their Internationale, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose collective scientific expertise is reverently invoked by all devotees of the Greenhouse fearmongers’ catechism. Aside from the fact that the graveyard of intellectual error is stuffed with the myriad tombstones of “overwhelming scientific consensus,” the IPCC has the usual army of functionaries and grant farmers, and the merest sprinkling of actual scientists with the prime qualification of being climatologists or atmospheric physicists.

To identify either the government-funded climate modelers or their political shock troops, the IPCC’s panelists, with scientific rigor and objectivity is as unrealistic as detecting the same attributes in a craniologist financed by Lombroso studying a murderer’s head in a Nineteenth-Century prison for the criminally insane.

The craniologist’s fingers and calipers were programmed by the usual incentives of stipends, grants and professional ego to find in the skull of that murderer ridges, bumps and depressions, each meticulously equated with an ungovernable passion, an ethnic deficit and a mental derangement. The murderer’s individual head became a universal model, the particular promoted to an unassailable theory.

At least Lombroso and his retinue measured heads. All Al Gore has ever needed is a hot day or some heavy rain as opportunity to promote the unassailable theory of manmade global warming. Come a rainy summer (‘95), a perfectly routine El Nino (‘97) or a forest fire in Florida (‘98) and Gore was there for the photo op, the uplifted finger warning of worse warming to come.

Manmade global warming theory is fed by pseudo quantitative prediction from climate-careerists working primarily off the big, mega-computer General Circulation Models, which include the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Department of Commerce’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab.

These are multi-billion dollar scientific weather bureaucracies as intent on self-preservation and budgetary enhancement as cognate nuclear bureaucracies at Oakridge and Los Alamos. They are as unlikely to develop models confuting the hypothesis of human-induced global warming as is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to say the weather is possibly getting a little bit warmer but that there’s no great cause for alarm and indeed some reason for rejoicing, since this warming (whose natural causes I discussed in that recent column) gives us a longer growing season and increased CO2, a potent plant fertilizer. Welcome, global greening.

By the late 1980s, the United Nation’s high brass clearly perceived the “challenge” of climate change to be the horse to ride to build up the organization’s increasingly threadbare moral authority, and to claim a role beyond that of being an obvious American errand boy. In 1988, the United Nations Environment Program, originally formed in 1972, was united in unholy bureaucratic matrimony with the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization, giving us the IPCC.

The cycle of alarmist predictions is now well established. Not so long before some U.N. moot on What To Do About the Weather, a prominent fearmonger like James Hansen or Michael Mann will make a tremulous statement about the accelerating tempo and dimensions of the warming crisis. The cry is taken up by the IPCC, (and in the 1990s, by the Clinton/Gore White House), with the press releases headlined by the New York Times, with exactly the same lack of critical evaluation as that newspaper recycling of the government’s lies about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Months and years later come the qualifications and the retractions, long after new contracts and grants have been awarded, and fresh legions hired to staff the ever-expanding empires of the threatmongers.

When measured reality doesn’t cooperate with the lurid model predictions, new compensating “factors” are concocted, such as the briefly popular sulfate aerosols of the 1990s, recruited to cool off the obviously excessive heat predicted by the models. Or the existing, inconvenient data are water-boarded into submission, as happened with the ice-core samples that fail to confirm the modelers’ need for record temperatures today as opposed to half a million years ago. As Richard Kerr, Science magazine’s man on global warming remarked, “Climate modelers have been ‘cheating’ for so long it’s become almost respectable.”

The consequence? As with the arms-spending spiral powered by the Cold War, vast amounts of money will be uselessly spent on programs that won’t work against an enemy that doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, real and curable environmental perils are scanted or ignored. Hysteria rules the day, drowning really useful environmental initiatives, while smoothing the way for the nuclear industry to reap its rewards.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor 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 http://www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at http://www.creators.com.