Top Ten Ways al-Qaeda causes Climate Change (Juan Cole)

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[Middle East expert Professor Juan Cole has really been yanking Osama’s beard a lot lately. First of all he was pretty skeptical that was actually Osama in the recent tape claiming credit for the underwear bomber, but in an article titled “The Irrelevance of Bin Laden,” showed how pathetic it would be if it really was him – to claim credit for something that was both a laughable failure and also demonstrably planned by other douchebags in Yemen.  Furthermore he pointed out that the Arab & Muslim world – on which Cole keeps close tabs – paid no attention and gave no coverage to this alleged popping-up of the old monster.  Still, evidently, this “Osama’s” bizarre and uncharacteristic condemnation of America for causing climate change has been rankling the good Professor for a few days, resulting in this typically entertaining and educational post.]

Top Ten Ways al-Qaeda Causes Climate Change

In an audiotape attributed to Usamah Bin Laden, the mass murderer called for a boycott of the US dollar and blamed the US for global warming. There is nothing worse than a terrorist who kills thousands of innocent people, but being a hypocrite is also a pretty bad character flaw, and Bin Laden manages both. Global terrorism is a high-carbon activity and very bad for the environment, not to mention humans and other living things.

During human history on earth, there were typically 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Low levels of carbon dioxide have coincided with ice ages over the past 400,000 years. Only once in that period, 325,000 years ago, did carbon dioxide reach 300 parts per million, coinciding with a hot climate then. There are now 390 parts per million (ppm), with the extra carbon dioxide having been produced by the industrial revolution beginning in the late 18th century– coal-burning factories, railroad engines, etc., and then with the addition of gasoline-driven automobiles and coal- and gas-powered electricity plants in the 20th century.

That is, we already have more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than in any time during the past nearly half-million years! In geologic time, if we go back hundreds of millions of years, there were often as much as 1500 parts per million of C02 in the atmosphere; but the world was steamy swamp then, with average surface temperatures as much as 20 degrees higher than they are now and much higher sea levels. Homo Sapiens Sapiens is only about 120,000 years old as a species and evolved in relatively low-carbon, low-temperature conditions. We don’t know how well the species would adapt to radical climate change. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, trapping heat from the sun in the atmosphere that would otherwise radiate back into outer space.

Scientists such as James Hansen have concluded that 390 ppm of carbon dioxide particles in the atmosphere is too much for a sustainable earth comfortable for human life, and that we need to reduce the amount to 350 ppm. The world is currently adding 2 ppm of carbon dioxide per year, so that in 2020 if that rate does not increase we will be at 410. As we approach 450 ppm, James Hansen’s projections suggest large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change (global warming is only part of the effect–some places may become much colder; the point is that the climate will change dramatically). See Hansen’s important new book, Storms of My Grandchildren.

The decade 2000-2009 was the warmest on record. Climate is complex, and everything from changing water vapor levels in the atmosphere to decades-long wind patterns affect it. But it is a myth that global warming ceased during the past decade, and it is also a myth that solar activity can account for climate change in recent decades. (It appears to have done so in history, as with the ‘little ice age’ of 1250-1850, but there are no such consistent climate-relevant solar patterns in the past 30 years). There are lots of other things that interfere with getting a clear read on the changing climate situation. A weakened ozone layer (caused by industrial emissions by humans may actually be protecting the Antarctic ice shelf from melting as fast as had been feared. There are also carbon sinks, which absorb carbon dioxide, such as the oceans and forests, the full capacity of which is unknown.

A large danger is that there may be sudden tipping points and positive feedback loops for climate change. Thus, reduced emissions of some gases may strengthen the ozone layer over the South Pole in coming decades, removing the wind protection from the Antarctic and allowing a rapid melting of the ice shelves. Or, the melting of Arctic tundra at the earth’s other pole may rapidly release trapped carbon dioxide and methane, accelerating climate change. These are dangers, not certainties, but very dangerous dangers that it would be wise to guard against. Sudden climate tipping points appear to have been common in the earth’s past.

But that over time a lot of extra human-generated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will cause the average surface temperature of the earth to rise– all other things being equal– is basic physics. Despite the climate-change-denial industry paid for by the oil and gas corporations (and therefore adopted along with Darwin-denial as a dogma by the American Republican Party), this conclusion is not in dispute among serious scientists.

So back to terrorist hypocrisy. Here are the ways al-Qaeda causes global warming and climate change:

1. Bin Laden wants to take over Saudi Arabia and pump its oil for himself and his movement. Use of petroleum and natural gas puts more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and is a major source of climate change. In short, Saudis who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Saudi Arabia produces about 11% of all the petroleum pumped in the world every day. Al-Qaeda would not reduce exports significantly, since it would want the income they generate to pursue its political projects.

2. The attacks of September 11, using airplanes full of jet fuel and destroying skyscrapers and buildings, were–quite apart from being monstrous acts of mass murder– among the largest discrete man-made events causing high carbon emissions in this century.

3. Bin Laden told London-based journalist Abdul Bari Atwan in 1996 that he would like to embroil the US in a war in the Middle East so that he could do to the US what the Mujahidin had done to the Soviets in Afghanistan. Hint: Provoking large-scale wars involves lots of use of aircraft carriers, tanks, and fighter-jets, as well as bombing strikes– all of which spew large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Since 9/11 was intended to provoke the Afghanistan War, Bin Laden is single-handedly responsible for among the biggest high-carbon set of events in the twenty-first century. Not only is war itself a significant source of extra greenhouse gas emissions because of vehicle use and explosions, but it wounds and maims large numbers of people. While harming people is bad enough, and is the real tragedy, it is also true that extra health care is carbon-intensive. (In the US, the health care industry accounts for about 8 percent of the American carbon footprint.)

4. Al-Qaeda-linked groups such as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ are responsible for hundreds of bombings in Iraq, which release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Some attacks targeted refineries and pipelines and so were responsible for very large amounts of greenhouse emissions. They have also destroyed automobiles and buildings; not only is burning such things pollution-producing, their replacement generates carbon emissions from factories. In addition, al-Qaeda-linked groups have hijacked chlorine trucks and used them as bombs; chlorine contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer. Bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks were intended to bring the US military into places like Iraq, and succeeded. In 2008 Oil Change International estimated of the Iraq hostilities that “The war is responsible for at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) since March 2003. To put this in perspective, CO2 released by the war to date equals the emissions from putting 25 million more cars on the road in the US this year.”

5. Al-Qaeda and its Taliban partners in Pakistan have committed large bombings, including the destruction of the Marriott in Islamabad, which release enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and have provoked Pakistani military action in Swat and South Waziristan employing armored vehicles and artillery and US unmanned drone strikes– all of which release large amounts of carbon.

6. Al-Qaeda affiliates in Indonesia blew up a nightclub in Bali, the Marriott in Jakarta, and set off a bomb outside the Australian Embassy. Not only are bombings themselves high-carbon events, but they provoke military and paramilitary responses that use extra fuel and so produce more carbon dioxide.

7. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula set off large numbers of bombs in Saudi Arabia in 2003-2006 and provoked Saudi military and paramilitary responses, all of which released a great deal of extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Al-Qaeda attempted to blow up a major Saudi oil facility at Abqaiq, which would have spewed out enormous numbers of carbon particles.

8. Al-Qaeda attacks in Yemen have provoked air strikes and bombings from the Yemeni government. Both the terrorist bombings and the government response they provoke release substantial carbon into the atmosphere.

9. Al-Qaeda attacks on airliners have forced airports to scan baggage and passengers, using much more electricity to do so than in the past. Electricity is typically generated by coal- or gas-burning plants, and both spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

10. Increased delays at airports because of increased security measures have led to more idling automobiles at and around airports. Idling automobiles are a major source of carbon dioxide pollution.

[so bugger off, has-been.  – V]

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.