A small book with a big ax to grind

June 17, 2012 12:15 am  • 


Title: “Roosters of the Apocalypse: How the Junk Science of Global Warming Nearly Bankrupted the Western World”

Author: Rael Jean Isaac


“Roosters” makes the argument that the case for human-caused global warming is the latest in a long string of apocalyptic movements.

The author recounts a self-destructive series of acts by the Xhosa tribe in southern Africa, when, in 1856, the tribe destroyed half of their cattle and stopped planting crops, based on the prophesy of a teenage girl.

The book states that “apocalyptic movements have much in common with one another, no matter the gulf in time and educational level of the participants.” Really? An episode of self-destruction by a desperate and pre-literate people is no different than the sum of hundreds of scientific studies and a three-volume United Nations report authored by Nobel Prize-winning scientists?

“Roosters” is a small book with a big axe to grind. The subtitle tips off the reader that this is going to be a rant, and it does not disappoint. The scientists who have conducted and synthesized hundreds of climatological studies are cast as doomsayers (roosters) without convincing data to back up their claims, and the cautious skeptics as “owls.” (Get it? The chicken-brained, shrill, roosters versus the wise, cautious owls.)

Throughout the book emotionally-charged terms are used, such as “junk science,” “apocalypse,” and “bankrupted.” “Junk science” in particular is a pejorative term invented by the Right to cast doubt on political opponents’ opinions.

The author relies heavily on the work of Richard Landes, a historian at Boston University. According to Wikipedia, Landes’ work focuses on the role of religion in shaping and transforming the relationships between elites and commoners in various cultures. It is difficult for this reviewer to see how religion-based prophesies relate to a scientific debate on global warming.

This book makes the argument that past environmental movements are equally invalid as the case for human-caused global warming. Citing another of her works, “The Coercive Utopians,” Isaac claims that the first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970, was not a reform movement to combat pollution, but a national, apocalyptic panic.

I was a student at Ohio State University when I participated in the first Earth Day. There was no panic, but a genuine concern for the future of the environment. In Ohio, that first Earth Day was made especially poignant by the fact that oily sludge in the Cuyahoga River had burst into flames less than a year earlier. Earth Day was, and remains, an opportunity to educate and to combat pollution and other threats to the environment and human health.

In the chapter on “Confronting Global Warming Roosters,” Isaac makes these jaw-dropping statements: “Even presidents who would like to encourage energy production come up against an alphabet soup of agencies armed with a vast number of ‘Acts’ passed over several decades by careless Congresses. The bureaucrats running these agencies are largely responsible for writing environmental laws, which they are free to interpret as they see fit and implement with the full force of law.”

Well, no, agency bureaucrats do not write laws. But agencies do implement laws with the full force of law, because they are, well, laws. Members of Congress, who are the duly-elected representatives of the people in our democracy, have as their principal function, making laws. Besides, does the author seriously believe that energy production isn’t happening in the U.S.?

There is a lot of disinformation contained in this small book. When a book pushes any agenda as aggressively as this one does, it is worth looking at who is behind it. This is not just one person’s opinion, but a book commissioned and published by The Heartland Institute, specifically to push a political argument. Heartland is funded, in part, by the oil billionaire Koch brothers. According to information contained in this book, “Heartland contacts more elected officials, more often, than any other think tank in the United States.”

The author is correct in stating that there are many so-called environmentalists who make some unfounded and outrageous claims; there are more than enough of them. But this book conflates outrageous claims made by uncredentialed environmental radicals with the scientific community, policy makers, and average citizens who are concerned with the ever-increasing release of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, and the potential effects to the biosphere and human culture.

“Roosters” presents no cogent argument for bankrupting of the western world due to claims of global warming. Based on the book’s title, one would expect this to be one of the central arguments, but it isn’t presented in any substantive way. The regulation of greenhouse gases and other polluting emissions from coal-fired power plants and some other fossil fuel use is cited as stifling economic development, but a case for “nearly bankrupting the western world” is never made. As one might expect, the many direct and indirect costs of using such energy sources is not mentioned.

If the reader is looking for a cogent point of view on global warming, this book doesn’t deliver.

(Jeff Towner is a wildlife biologist who lives in Bismarck.)