Dr. Iain Stewart’s new BBC2 series Earth: The Climate Wars promised to be a ‘definitive guide’ to the climate debate. Instead, this week’s episode ‘Fightback’, which focused on the sceptics was as shallow and as hollow as any old commentary. The film’s blurb on BBC iPlayer, advertises it thus:
Dr Iain Stewart investigates the counter attack that was launched by the global warming sceptics in the 1990s.
At the start of the 1990s it seemed the world was united. At the Rio Earth summit the world signed up to a programme of action to start tackling climate change. Even George Bush was there. But the consensus didn’t last.
Iain examines the scientific arguments that developed as the global warming sceptics took on the climate change consensus. The sceptics attacked almost everything that scientists held to be true. They argued that the planet wasn’t warming up, that even if it was it was nothing unusual, and certainly whatever was happening to the climate was nothing to do with human emissions of greenhouse gases.
Iain interviews some of the key global warming sceptics, and discovers how their positions have changed over time.
Before the film has started, it is clear that it lacks objectivity. Notice how the blurb casts the players of the debate as either ‘scientists’ or sceptics’, as if they were mutually exclusive terms. Notice too, how it is supposed to be important that ‘positions have changed over time’, as though the counterpart argument had such integrity that it had never shifted, or responded to emerging evidence. Third, Stewart characterises the 1992 Rio summit (both in the blurb and in the film) as evidence of a consensus, which was seemingly attacked by ‘the sceptics’, when in fact, agreements and frameworks since then have failed for their non-viability, not because of any attack. And there was no such consensus in 1992. As we have pointed out before, in 1992, the ‘consensus’ was characterised very differently to today, and the UNFCCC agreements proceeded not on the basis of scientific evidence and certainty, but according to the precautionary principle.
As the headlines of the 1995 Summary for Policymakers from WGI of the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report (a far slimmer document than today’s reams and reams of graphics and text) shows, the claims to have understood the climate were much more cautious than Stewart implies.
Our ability to quantify the human influence on global climate is currently limited because the expected signal is still emerging from the noise of natural variability, and because there are uncertainties in key factors. These include the magnitude and patterns of long term natural variability and the time evolving pattern of forcing by, and response to, changes in concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and land surface changes. Nevertheless, the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate. […]
1. Greenhouse gas concentrations have continued to increase
2. Anthropogenic aerosols tend to produce negative radiative forcings
3. Climate has changed over the past century
4. The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate
5. Climate is expected to continue to change in the future
6. There are still many uncertainties
Contrary to Stewart’s claim that the world was united by scientific evidence in the early 1990s, even by 1995, there was still only the ‘suggestion’, on the ‘balance of evidence’, that there had been a ‘discernible human influence on global climate’ – and that’s in the Summary for Policymakers document, which has consistently been far more alarmist than the more technical parts of the report. The First Assessment Report, which would have been the basis for the 1992 UNFCCC had concluded that ‘The unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect from observations is not likely for a decade or more’, making it clear that in the early 1990s, there could have been no consensus as Stewart describes it. As the 1995 report continued:
There are still many uncertainties
Many factors currently limit our ability to project and detect future climate change. In particular, to reduce uncertainties further work is needed on the following priority topics
• Estimation of future emissions and biogeochemical cycling (including sources and sinks) of greenhouse gases, aerosols and aerosol precursors and projections of future concentrations and radiative properties.
• Representation of climate processes in models, especially feedbacks associated with clouds, oceans, sea ice and vegetation, in order to improve projections of rates and regional patterns of climate change.
• Systematic collection of longterm instrumental and proxy observations of climate system variables (e.g., solar output, atmospheric energy balance components, hydrological cycles, ocean characteristics and ecosystem changes) for the purposes of model testing, assessment of temporal and regional variability, and for detection and attribution studies.
Future unexpected, large and rapid climate system changes (as have occurred in the past) are, by their nature, difficult to predict. This implies that future climate changes may also involve “surprises”. In particular, these arise from the nonlinear nature of the climate system. When rapidly forced, nonlinear systems are especially subject to unexpected behaviour. Progress can be made by investigating nonlinear processes and subcomponents of the climatic system. Examples of such nonlinear behaviour include rapid circulation changes in the North Atlantic and feedbacks associated with terrestrial ecosystem changes.
If there were still substantial uncertainties in 1995, then the characterisation of sceptics as changing their argument is highly disingenuous. The arguments they were responding to changed. Before the film has even started, it is apparent that it has false premises.
And in case viewers are still in any doubt about which ‘side’ Iain Stewart is on, the first words he speaks are ‘Global warming – the defining challenge of the 21st century’. This series is obviously intended as the antidote to the Great Global Warming Swindle. Indeed, don’t expect any complaints from the likes of the Royal Society about this one. If this is the definitive guide to anything, it is to how to dress up politics as a science documentary.
The film begins its exploration of the scientific arguments by outlining the sceptic’s objection to confidence placed in the temperature record obtained by weather stations, on the basis that they were too widely distributed to provide an accurate representation of global temperature. Stewart shows how this method had produced an upward trend throughout the 20th Century, but that it contradicted the satellite record produced after the late ’70s. Stewart asks which one is correct – the surface record, or the satellite data?
This is not, as Stewart claims, a classic scientific problem as much as it is classic bad science. For example, which of the following is correct?
A: 2+2 = 7
B: 2+2 = 1
Stewart explains the urban heat island effect, which, according to him drove the sceptic’s argument, but says there is a counter argument. Across the world, there was evidence that the world was warming: earlier springs, glacial retreat, warming oceans, all of which ‘seemed to back up the thermometer record, not the satellites’.
It was deadlock. one side had to be wrong. And it wasn’t clear which one. Finally, after almost ten years of pouring over the data, someone did find a fault. And it was with the data from the satellites.
Again, why can’t they both be wrong? He goes on to describe how friction, and the consequential downward drift of satellites, distorted the signal being received from Earth. The satellite data was reanalysed, and found to show a slight warming trend.
Now even die hard sceptics had to accept that there had been some warming in the second half of the century. […] The rising temperature was now a fact. With satellites and thermometers confirming it. The sceptic’s challenge had actually made the case stronger. But the battle was far from over.
The logic of Stewart’s argument is that the surface record was correct because the satellite record was wrong. But this is only necessary in an argument in which the thermometer record speaks for ‘the scientists’ and the satellite record speaks for ‘the sceptics’, and all sceptics, and all scientists divide according to these positions. The implication here is that any warming measured by either method substantiates the claim that ‘global warming is happening’, where ‘global warming’ stands for ‘dangerous global warming’, which calls for the ‘something must be done’ of conventional wisdom. Accordingly, Stewart seems to characterise the sceptical position as ‘global warming isn’t happening, therefore it is not necessary to reduce CO2 emissions’. This is not a careful argument, because people – sceptical and not – have been questioning the leaps between observing that the earths temperature changes, the attribution of that change to humans, the conclusion that it will cause catastrophe, and that the only way to confront that catastrophe is by mitigating climate change through reduction in emissions. Each leap – and there are many more – produces its own arguments and counter arguments. The idea that the entire range of arguments rested, at any particular moment, on one paticular scientific controversy is a grotesque simplification of a debate with many sides to it, touching on political, social, economic, scientific and even ethical arguments.
Nonetheless, Stewart continues to the next controversy in the account: the sceptics were now arguing that the temperatures shown by the now synchronised satellite and thermometer records were not unprecedented in earth’s history. The Medieval warm period (MWP), he said they said, showed that today’s temperatures were not unusual. This section of the film begins in Greenland, and explores the idea that it was indeed once Green, to which the counter argument is that the MWP might not have been a global phenomenon. In order to show this idea, Michael Mann – the producer of the infamous ‘hockey stick’ graph – was introduced, amidst a whir of special effects. Mann’s graphic represented a reconstruction of past temperatures, not from thermometers or satellites, but by analysing data from proxies, such as tree-ring width, corals, and ice cores. This graphic is significant to the film for two reasons. First, it removed the Medieval warm period. Second, it depicted current temperatures well above any other time in its scope.
It is interesting that Stewart should depict Mann as a victim of an attack on his integrity. As part of the team behind the RealClimate.org website, Mann and his team are famously unreserved in attacking their critics, rather than their critics’ work, and removing dissenting opinion from the comments section of the site. As a No Scientist article in 2006 pointed out, Mann’s aggressive character is noteworthy.
Mann, however, still brims with self-confidence. Now at Penn State University, he treats his critics with something close to contempt. “A lot of scientists would have retreated, but Mike is tenacious,” says Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, his collaborator on the climate science blog RealClimate. Mann’s style does not always help matters.
It is is even more surprising that Stewart decides not to investigate the substance of criticisms of Mann and his methodology. This has indeed arguably been one of the biggest scientific controversies in the climate debate. But Stewart does not inform his audience as to the nature of that controversy. Whatsoever.
The graphic Mann produced became an icon for the global warming cause when it was given prominence in the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report. The IPCC is widely regarded as being the authority on climate matters, and is intended to be a kind of super-charged peer-review process. But Mann was a lead author on the chapter in which his own study became the centrepiece. In short, Mann was peer-reviewing his own work. This makes about as much sense as a defendant sitting as judge at his own trial. Does this not raise questions about the integrity of the IPCC process?
Second, Mann refused – until recently, after he was ordered to – to release the data relating to his methodology, on the basis that it was his own private property. Similarly, climatologist and Professor at the UK’s UEA, Phil Jones – who worked with Mann on the reconstruction – told climate-realist, Warwick Hughes, who had asked for details about his methodology that
We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.
Mann and his team were refusing to explain how they achieved their result to people wishing to subject it to scrutiny – exactly what is supposed to happen in the scientific world, otherwise, it is not science. Mann was able to elevate his research by using his position as lead author. These are just two of the many reasons Mann was ‘attacked’ by the scientific and sceptical communities, and websites set up to examine his claims. Stewart, by not even mentioning this, does no justice to the debate. His omission is fairly straightforward bias.
For a full picture on the vast number of questions relating to his methodology generated by Mann’s graphic, visit Climate Audit where Steve McIntyre has documented his attempts to reconstruct Mann’s reconstruction. He also demonstrates that the other reconstructions presented by Stewart as a debunking of scepticism are not at all as independent from Mann as he suggests, nor are they compiled using substantially different methodology. For rebuttals to McIntyre, read Real Climate, ‘Tamino’s’ Open Mind (a misnoma, if ever there were one), and eli rabett (the cartoonish psuedonom of a commentator not brave enough to put his real name to frequently very childish arguments).
In 2001, the hockey stick alarmed the world. Today, it is widely regarded as a bit of an embarrassment. The 2007 IPCC (AR4) report’s chapter on paleoclimate reconstruction is far more circumspect.
On the evidence of the previous and four new reconstructions that reach back more than 1 kyr, it is likely [NB: “Likely” means greater than 66 percent] that the 20th century was the warmest in at least the past 1.3 kyr. Considering the recent instrumental and longer proxy evidence together, it is very likely that average NH temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were higher than for any other 50-year period in the last 500 years. Greater uncertainty associated with proxy-based temperature estimates for individual years means that it is more difficult to gauge the significance, or precedence, of the extreme warm years observed in the recent instrumental record, such as 1998 and 2005, in the context of the last millennium.
In other words, the hockey stick is not particularly significant. It does not ‘prove’ that today’s climate is warmer than ever before; nor are the findings of only marginal confidence given prominence. And here is the rub: Stewart overstates the importance of the sceptics’ case for a warmer MWP than present by saying that it would ‘prove’ to the world that anthropogenic climate change was false. Yet this is again a mischaracterisation, both of the range of sceptic’ argument, and the objections to Mann’s work. The challenge to the hockey stick concerned principally its undue prominence, and the lack of integrity of the IPCC process. The graphic was used, not as a device to further our understanding of the climate, and to build an effective response, but to serve as a vehicle for alarmism, and something that could be sold to the media as a conclusive, unchallengeable fact about humanitys influence on the climate.
The film continues to consider the argument in The Great Global Warming Swindle connecting the effect of solar flux on cosmic rays, and cloud formation. This was ‘debunked’, in spite of the strong statistical correlation until 1990, on the basis that the correlation ceases. But this correlation, ending as it does in 1990, must make for a good argument that temperatures prior to 1990 could be attributed to the sun. In other words, Stewart’s premise that a consensus, and a strong scientific argument both existed in the early 1990s was misconceived. At the very least, the question about the correlation between solar-cycle length and global temperature prior to 1990 has not been answered. Why did it end?
Stewart isn’t interested. From all this, he says, there is only one conclusion. Humans are responsible and emissions must be curbed:
There are only a tiny number of scientists who still question a human influence on climate. And yet climate scepticism hasn’t gone away. You’ll still see websites claiming that the world isn’t warming up, that it’s all down to the urban heat island. But that’s not true. You’ll still hear claims that there is proof that the Earth was hotter than during the medieval warm period. But that’s not true. And you’ll still hear people claiming that the sun somehow disproves global warming. But that’s not true either. So why is this stuff still around? The problem is there are a lot of people who don’t want global warming to be true. The fact is, I’m one of them. I wish there was no such thing as global warming, because taking action to prevent climate change is going to affect all our lives and mean giving up some of our freedom.
See what he did there? A seamless switch from the scientific to the political. Most scientists agree that humans have something to do with recent increases in global temperature, therefore we inevitably have to accept the politics of restraint. We all now have to change our lifestyles and give up our freedoms… because ‘most scientists say so’.
No argument is offered as to how Stewart knows that most scientists agree. As far as we are aware, no such poll has ever been taken. But more to the point, even if all scientists agreed, the way we live our lives, and the decision as to what liberties we ought to be entitled to are absolutely none of their business. Stewart clearly believes that an ‘ethical’ and political argument for action on climate change can be constructed purely on the basis of ‘scientific facts’. But how? And why should normal ethics and politics be suspended? Science may be able to shed light on the kind of future we might face, but it cannot tell us whether avoiding that kind of future altogether is better than another form of strategy. It cannot calculate the costs and benefits in human terms. And urgency is no substitute for legitimacy. This intellectual poverty is what drives objections to environmentalism. It is because demands for action to stop climate change use ‘facts’ in the same way that cavemen use clubs. They are blunt instruments of control, not careful arguments which persuade. To paraphrase Stewart, the problem is that there are a lot of people who NEED global warming to be true. Without it, they would be disorientated, and purposeless. As we say in our introduction, environmental concern is merely serving to provide direction for directionless politics.
Let’s get it straight – most sceptics are not doubting that humans have contributed to a warming trend. Indeed, Stewart had already interviewed Pat Michaels, who had made it quite clear that he agrees that the world is warming, and Fred Singer, who had stated that his gripe is not with the readings of thermometers. Stewart has in his possession the very facts he needs to understand that he has mischaracterised the debate, the arguments, and the motives behind objections to climate change alarmism.
It is the necessity of giving up freedoms, Stewart goes on to say, which has lead companies to seek ways to undermine the climate change argument.
Of course. It’s all Bush’s fault.
And there’s a familiar argument in this claim that the ‘strategy’ of the sceptics was to create doubt… We’ve heard it before. If we look back over the film, we can see exactly the same argument being made here, as were made by Naomi Oreskes in her ‘Tobacco Strategy’ thesis: there were a small bunch who viciously and nastily attacked a bunch of nice scientists, and who cast doubt over well established scientific truths in order to control the media, and influence the public. Oh, and they’re Republicans. As we said of Oreskes thesis earlier in the year:
To find support for her Tobacco Strategy theory, Oreskes simply takes debates about acid rain, secondhand smoke and CFCs, and divides each into two positions such that, with the benefit of hindsight, one is necessarily false, and the other is necessarily true; she polarises the debate so that it can be cast as a reasonable position versus a ridiculous one. From this vantage point, she can claim that a strategy has been in place throughout. But what debate with a scientific element to it wouldn’t be about how well understood the science is? Which one of these debates hasn’t involved exaggerated claims from alarmists? And what demands for regulation have not been met by opponents that it is not necessary. The Tobacco Strategy is a rather mundane observation about the nature of arguments. Yet Oreskes gives it enough significance to paint a picture of a conspiracy. As we have argued before, this search for geometric congruence between “denialist” arguments comes at the expense of meaningful moral or political analysis. And by the same token, it could be argued just as easily that demands for acting on the best scientific evidence and scientific opinion makes bedfellows of greens and the eugenicists of the early-mid 20th century.
Stewart’s film is no different. The actual arguments for ‘drastic and urgent action’ to mitigate climate change are paper thin, so in order to make the case, Stewart and Oreskes re-write history. In fact, Stewart had little to do with it. As the credits of the first episode reveal, Oreskes was involved with the writing of the film, and it can be no accident that the second episode bears such a resemblance to her mucky thesis.
Finally, although the film promised interviews with the sceptics, this amounted to no more than Stewart accosting various people in the lobby of the Manhatten conference, to, rather childishly, challenge them, rather than understand their position. This failure to understand what he is arguing against is particularly well demonstrated by this last section.
Stewart has invented the idea that, since the whole debate began, sceptics have lost arguments to the scientists. But as the very footage he shows reveals, it is not the case that scepticism ever rested on the scientific argument. Of course some sceptics may have focussed on some scientific aspects of the discussion exclusively. But Stewart, like Oreskes, needs to make the case that scepticism is one idea, with one purpose, akin to an ideology, because setting up strawmen is the only way these two can challenge arguments they clearly do not understand. They falsely cast the debate as opposed sides, without any nuance of argument or position. They falsely casts sceptics as those who disagree with the science, whereas many sceptics raise questions about the equally questionable politics, ethics, and economics of the argument for action. They seem to be advocating action to mitigate climate change on the basis that a correlation between CO2 and global temperature is sufficient to make the political and moral case. And they are unreflective about their own political stance on the issue, appearing to believe that theirpolitical position is legitimised by the climate science.
As Stewart told the BBC in an interview for the press release announcing the film, he has a clear agenda, and it ain’t informing the public:
If society is to make any progress on effectively dealing with climate change at a regional or global level, what is imperative is that ordinary people help build a political climate at grass-roots level that accepts the problem exists and demands some serious actions by business and government. For me, that begins with people accepting that there is no hiding place left in the science – the overwhelming consensus of the vast body of scientists that study climate is that the trends we are seeing in the air, the oceans and in our ecosystems are entirely consistent with the theory of global warming, while the alternatives offered by sceptical scientists – even the much heralded role of the Sun – so far fail that test.
Blaming scientific uncertainty is now not an option to delay action. Sure, actions by individuals can make a difference, but real progress will only come when individuals come together with a strong, common voice to demand that rhetoric turns into regulation. And that’s where I see my role – in convincing ordinary folk that this is an issue that they should care about, not because it will affect them but, more insidiously, it will be their legacy to their kids and grandkids.
The same, self-aggrandising, alarmist nonsense can be found anywhere. And to find the arguments which debunk it, and are sceptical of it, you don’t have to seek out some dark, nasty, politically-motivated organisation. They can be found in the very words offered to us by non-sceptical climate scientists.
We’ve been citing Professor Mike Hulme (Tyndall and UEA) a lot recently. But his contributions to climate debates demonstrate perfectly the discrepancy between the shrill cries for action, such as those of Stewart, and what actually emerges from the scientific process, when those scientists aren’t engaged in political activism. Compare Hulme’s words to Stewart’s:
I can’t even find the words to explain how much utter rubbish this documentary is. Even calling it a documentary goes too far in giving them credit where none is due.
If there was any doubt that GW or Climate Change is a religion, they have removed it quite hansomely.
Mann’s graph is a joke. Oreskes research is not worthy of an undergrad paper. It would be laughable if it wasn’t such a serious breach of reality. Balanced it is not. But as GOre would say, “balance is bias, there is no other side.”
Excellent post. I wonder how many complaints OFcom will receive about this programme.
Makes you wonder what the BBC would transmit about the consensus in eugenics prior to WWII, doesn’t it?
BTW Ofcom don’t handle complaints about the BBC
Well I sent a complaint to the BBC about this programme – specifically about how thr programme was showing a clip from the Great Global Warming Swindle showing the correlation between solar output and temperature – and how the programme only showed up to early 1980’s – and then took great pleasure in showing how the relationship failed in the 1980’s and 1990’s. However it only extended the graph to 1998 – world max temp year – and failed to show the last 10 years of temperature and solar output. So this programme complained that the GGWS cherry picked it data range to make a point and then a minute later did exactly the same thing – as the last 10 years of data fails to match their narrative.
Great post btw
Just complained to the BBC. Went to complain to Ofcom as well but discovered that they don’t handle complaints about BBC impartiality or accuracy. The BBC gets to do those in-house. In other words, they can say anything they like as long as it’s factually accurate, or in this case, follows the government line.
Brilliant, thoughtful, intelligent review of a truly appalling piece of television.
I feel another BBC Trust review coming on which will specialise in how the BBC cover climate change.
It won’t be because of the complaints flooding in about this programme, but the fact there are actually some rational, sceptical people working at the BBC who are appalled at and distinctly uncomfortable with this campaigning.
This is about trust – one of the BBC’s much-trumpeted values.
This supposedly impartial broadcaster employed a partisan in the climate debate (Oreskes) to provde the words and editorial angle of this programme AND then allowed her and the programme’s producer to submit a subjective, almost polemical piece in The Times about it.
This is staggering.
Heads are gonna roll…
Why is it always that OTHERS have to start first? I mean, if he is so convinced that global warming is real and that a grass-root movement should be started, then, well, do it! And if you can convince enough people that they have to live in poverty to curb global warming, then so be it.
But he demands that other people have to succumb to his whim, in old empire style tyranism…
No thanks “Dr.”
“Heads are gonna roll…”
I doubt it, Pete, the “documentary” makers will claim the same defence as at Kingsnorth
An excellent article which sums up my own view as I watched this dreadful programme. The likes of Dr. Iain Stewart make me almost ashamed to admit to being a scientist. Almost. However, as a scientist, I am proud to call myself a long-time sceptic regarding the pseudo-scientific nonsense of anthropogenic global warming.
The BBC, New Scientist, Nature, The Royal Society, old uncle Tom Cobley and all who have espoused this scientific rubbish, have destroyed the notion of ‘reputable sources’ of scientific information. Thankfully, there is a silent and large majority of scientists who recognise this – but, sadly, the political powers that be just refuse to listen.
I watched this with growing disinterest – it was certainly an answer to the Great global warming swindle in that both were pretty dreadful – this was shockingly over simplistic and you knew from the start who was going to win – even Eastenders can manage a bit more intrigue – but then look what kind of rubbish passes for a subject on things like Panorama; Having over done every other exciting angle on the ‘credit crunch’ they did a program on how it’s effecting us – based super scientifically on a small sample of people moaning sorry responding to panorama online which somehow justified a whole program of what some people were doing like driving less or renting a room out – totally pointless.
Very good article. If I had to list all the comments I could make about this egregious piece of TV propaganda, I’d be sitting here all night (thankfully, you have pretty much covered them already.)
That effortless segue of Dr Stewart’s (“The problem is there are a lot of people who don’t want global warming to be true. The fact is, I’m one of them. I wish there was no such thing as global warming, because taking action to prevent climate change is going to affect all our lives and mean giving up some of our freedom.”) took my breath away.
I could just imagine viewers, who have already been bombarded by countless messages about their carbon footprint, all nodding blankly. Yes… global warming is true… taking action to prevent… affect our lives… giving up our freedom… Hopefully, there were some who emerged from the trance and engaged their critical faculties at that point.
Re Part 3 this Sunday, I think we all know the score. Half expecting to hear the good doctor expound like thus: “The human brain is a miracle of nature, representing millions of years of evolution. And thereby lies a problem. The fact is, the fight to tackle climate change is going to mean giving up our powers of rational thought…”
Alex, yes, as if the viewer didn’t already feel the program’s bias, the scientist goes ahead and lectures us on our selfishness.
The BBC is getting close to jumping the shark.
I particularly liked the filming of the sceptics. The film-maker used the Batman and Robin camera method to skew the faces of the enemy to look like bug eyed space monsters. Close up camera work showing a pixellated image on a television screen only means one thing……….Nutcases.
Never in the history of broadcasting have I witnessed such a blatant piece of propaganda by the BBC. Truly disturbing when you consider that many people watching the programme will now take as Gospel the views of this pop scientist making no future debate necessary.
Yes, just think, the producers sat down and discussed how to portray the skeptics as a rabid babbling noisy bunch, and chose the pixellated video effect. I think they forget that the modern TV audience is quite sophisticated and not prone to being duped by trickery.
Also, the wording of the narration betrayed its bias. When he refers to the predictions of the scientists from the 70s, he says that “we now know in hindsight that they were spot on”… a phrase which suggests that those scientists’ predictions have been borne out by REALITY. But in the very next sentence, he says that modern scientists still think the same about the future… ie. they were “spot on” only in the sense that current scientists are still making the same predictions…. none of which have actually come true yet. So what exactly were they “spot on” about?
As soon as I heard the term skeptics instead of skeptical scientists I knew what would follow and changed channel, I was not about to waste my evening watching what I envisaged would be a total load of crud, was I right or was I right.
If you can’t get Ofcom to take this on board, try writing to The BBC Trust, 35, Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4AA
Back in the 1990s I read an essay by an historian who spelled out the 5 steps that all despotic rulers and regimes of the 20th century used to come to power and gain control of the populace.
1. Adopt a noble cause
2. Exaggerate the threat to that noble cause
3. Demonize anyone who questions you or your arguments and never engage in debate.
4. Proclaim that you have the one and only solution to the problem.
5. Convince the population that, in order to enact that solution, they must sacrifice and/or give up some of their freedoms.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a noble cause, and sometimes, the population does have to sacrifice to achieve a goal. The allies defeat of Nazi Germany is a fine example. But it is not difficult to tell the difference between the legitimate defense of a noble cause and the mechanations of the power hungery. Future despots follow steps 2 through 4 every time.
Has the AGW crisis crowd exaggerated the threat of man made global warming? Have they demonized those who disagree while avoiding any legitimate debate at all costs? Have they insisted that there is only one thing that can save the world from a terrible fate, namely carbon mitigation? A resonding YES to all three!
Ever since I read that essay, I have been more terrified of those pushing the AGW crisis than of any possible climate change. The world hardly noticed the warming of the 20th century, but will never forget the likes of Hitler, Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot, to name a few. It is much easier to adapt to a few degrees warming (that isn’t actually going to happen), than a global, despotic ruling class that very well could. Don’t believe me? Just look at human history over the last 100 years!
That presenter makes Zippy and Bungle look like heavyweight intellectuals…
This is docudrama. On the surface it shows that when you put science aside,it all comes down to one man give more credence to ideas that he agrees with, than to ideas he doesn’t agree with.
Add the science and the real plot of docudrama isn’t global warming. It’s a study in Behaviorism, where a few men construct a new program that’s nothing more than Piltdown Man Scam, Version 2.
Let me get this straight, Editors, you’ve written a critical article about as long as the transcript of the entire documentary you’re criticising. Yet, short of pointing out some general weaknesses in the way the debate has been handled, you have basically no facts to back up your claims about the lack of AGW. You seem to be content to pick out vagueness in the presentation of the AGW case, and to be fair there is certainly some present in the aforementioned documentary, however, can you defend your position – either with a hypothesis or with some facts? Truth is – this whole issue has clouded the fact that scientists are supposed to be sceptical by nature – it’s not an approach (or a camp) in itself, it’s not really possible to be a non-skeptical scientist. The fact that when it comes to climate change – where the top pro-AGW scientists lead the citations rankings by an absolute mile – would tend to suggest that these guys are the ones who understand their field best, and are likely to be Nobel Prize winners in the near future. If you reject this, then effectively you’d be claiming that the whole field of science is crooked – and every field would fall under the same suspicion, essentially you’d be rejecting the validity of the scientific process itself. That is exactly what Dr. Stewart is getting at when he describes a “consensus” in the science.
All the best,
You appear to have missed the point of this post. The point of this post is not to rehash yet again all the skeptical arguments. The point is in the title: ‘Biased Broadcasting Climate’. The BBC is required to present unbiased impartial material, and it has failed to do this in this documentary. The programme misrepresented the views of some of the skeptics, only broadcasting tiny snippets of their views and in some cases even cutting them off mid-sentence with a freeze-frame. The completely false premise of the programme was that there used to be some sceptics but now there are hardly any left – the reality is that scepticism is growing stronger all the time.
The programme promoted the completely discredited hockey stick, in its most dishonest form (with the instrumental record spliced on to the proxies), abandoned even by the IPCC.
And it failed to mention one of the strongest sceptic arguments – temperatures havent risen at all in the last 10 years (there’s a fact for you!)
Apart from the pro and con arguments re human-caused GW, most of the posts above show a complete lack of understanding of the economic realities involved. Decisive action to curb pollution does not necessarily mean great sacrifice to humanity in general – it means a readiness to change patterns of consumption and production (and the earlier it is done the less disruptive it needs to be). With a little imagination we can all imagine a life-style which is both pleasant and less dependent on fossil fuels. And the argument about loss of liberties is meaningless. None of the people ADVOCATING change is arguing for dictatorship. The entire process of civilization is the giving up of liberties and controlling that process so that it doesn’t get out of hand. That is what democracy is about!
JM – “you have basically no facts to back up your claims about the lack of AGW”
Could you tell us, JM, where we have claimed that there is no such thing as AGW?
That’s right, you can’t. That’s because we haven’t made any such claim. That’s because we’re not particularly interested in AGW as a ‘fact’. What we’re interested in is how scientific ‘facts’ are used to make political arguments.
The vagueness of the AGW presentation wouldn’t be a problem, we beleive, if the presentation of the debate by the likes of Stewart was not as one characterised by goodies and baddies – ‘scientists’ and ‘sceptics’ respectively. It is by dividing the debate into two such camps that the scientific meaning of all arguments are lost. This polarisation, if not a ‘tactic’ as such, polticises the scientific debate, and makes it impossible for nuanced positions to be understood, as your comment here demonstrates.
Joe – “most of the posts above show a complete lack of understanding of the economic realities involved.”
What have the economics got to do with anything? They weren’t really mentioned in the film, other than to say that interests infleunced one putative ‘side’. So why should the ‘economic realities’ feature in criticism of the film?
You can imagine what you like. We happen to think that, with or without alternatives to fossil fuels, any argument for lifestyles which are less dependent on energy use are a bad thing, with bad political and tragic human consequences. In other words, political and material liberty are inextricably linked. What is freedom, when you are only as free as far as you can walk?
And there is no need to. A population which is deprived of material liberty necessarily lacks the means to organise itself against its government/opressor.
As Rousseau points out, the exhange of natural liberty for civil liberty is (or ought to be) a mutually rewarding social contract – otherwise it is slavery. A stable social order may be acheived by limiting the potential of individuals to express material liberty. You can call that ‘democracy’ if you like. We call it retrogression.
You have fallen back on the same error you accuse your opponents of making – ie there are only 2 positions – liberty v no liberty! In fact I did say that the process of civilization included the control of the process of surrendering liberties to make sure that it does not get out of hand. We accept that we give up the freedom to drive at any speed we want, on any part of the road we want, and that we are all better off for it. Thanks for engaging in the debate, which is always healthy.
Please expand on “You have fallen back on the same error you accuse your opponents of making – ie there are only 2 positions – liberty v no liberty!”
You say “In fact I did say that the process of civilization included the control of the process of surrendering liberties to make sure that it does not get out of hand.”
But in fact you said,
“The entire process of civilization is the giving up of liberties and controlling that process so that it doesn’t get out of hand. That is what democracy is about!”
This seems to have been a poorly expressed conception of civilisation, liberty, and democracy.
You say that “We accept that we give up the freedom to drive at any speed we want,”
Yet if it were the case that ‘we’ accept the need to give up the freedom to drive at any speed we want, there would be no need to. But people speed. Clearly, ‘we’ don’t accept it.
But in what sense is reckless driving a ‘liberty’ anyway? Why wouldn’t someone want to drive in such a way as so ensure that he wasn’t endagering others? Do you need a law to ensure that you don’t behave recklessly? Is it the threat of punishment that makes you behave in a civilised manner? What kind of ‘civilisation’ is that?
“The entire process of civilization is the giving up of liberties and controlling that process so that it doesn’t get out of hand. That is what democracy is about!”
Yes! Because if we didn’t people would drive five-miles-per-gallon SUVs to Wal-Mart to buy made-in-China goods before heading to the polls to vote Republican and then heading home to watch the results on Fox News!
And that’d be tragic!
“Do you need a law to ensure that you don’t behave recklessly? Is it the threat of punishment that makes you behave in a civilised manner? What kind of ‘civilisation’ is that?”
One that takes a very dim view of humanity; that thinks it’s better to criminalise Everything We Don’t Like because it saves them the trouble of reasoning with other people about The Best Way Forward For Society.
Thankfully not everyone thinks like that.
Dear Editors (& PaulM), thanks for the responses. I did indeed wade into a debate on climate change science, when the post wasn’t principally aimed at that.
I’d like to come back and address a few points though, if I may!
Editors, you haven’t been trying to disprove AGW, however you do refuse to accept a scientific consensus (which you didn’t really reject in your first reply). If your nuanced position is to claim institutional bias against all free-thinking people in the world, surely such a position rests on using a scientific argument in this case to bolster a political opinion? Politicising a scientific argument as Ian Stewart has done is certainly dangerous, but aren’t you guilty of the same thing in the main article? In terms of the content of this article, describing the scientific argument in the documentary as being unfairly one-sided as you have done would imply that there is a body of scientific opinion as weighty and well-formed (and peer-reviewed) that contradicts the AGW hypothesis. Your position, then, instead of relying on a rational counter-claim, actually is politicising slight differences of opinion and lingering uncertainty on the magnitude of AGW, as shown in your highlighting of IPCC quotes.
Why would you do this, other than simply to cast doubt on the political motives of the scientific argument? If this is not a clear scientific refutation (i.e. rejecting a hypothesis based on contradictory evidence) – then are you not just as guilty of making politics out of science as Ian Stewart is?
It seems to me that you like the idea of a rational, libertarian society, so why be selective on which parts of the scientific approach you like, then turn your back on parts that don’t agree with your personal ideology?
Secondly, PaulM, to some extent I agree with you on the hockey-stick curve, more a political tool than an effective scientific one. However far Mann et al. may have overstepped the mark with promoting this curve, doesn’t necessarily make it completely irrelevant.
I’d say the main problem is that it’s hard to quantify how relevant (statistically) the curve is, indeed many of the environmental proxies are of dubious statistical certainty, and MacIntyre is certainly correct to point these things out.
But to really discredit the hockey-stick curve, one would need to show that the proxies selected were entirely unrelated to the processes they claim to be sensitive to, which is probably more difficult to prove. Which is why, as Editors have pointed out, the IPCC 2007 report doesn’t rely on it as a centre-piece of the argument, but doesn’t feel the need to defend it either.
All the best,
Re the division of the argument into 2 mutually exclusive alternatives with no in-betweens I quote your reply
– A population which is deprived of material liberty necessarily lacks the means to organise itself against its government/opressor –
In effect you seem to be saying that any restriction on civil liberty means that the population is “deprived of material liberty”.
Effectively you are saying that all laws are immoral and should be scrapped! That also seems to be the point that JMW is making. If that is what you are aruing you should make it clear that you are anti- all existing legal restrictions, because very few people agree with you on that point. It seems to me that that is what is bothering most of the people who are outraged by the BBC programme – they realise that a very large majority of people, if they are convinced that our present way of life is damaging the future prospects for the planet, and that there are ways of avoiding some of this danger by accepting general non-voluntary restrictions upon the behaviour of the population, would gladly accept those restrictions. So, as you agreed yourselves, the argument isn’t really about AGW, or about the accuracy of one TV programme (how many do you see which are totally above criticism and debate?) but is essentially about a right-wing liberal (in the UK sense of the word) political position versus a more left wing, social-democrat position. As long as we can agree on that then the debate is a fair and open one.
JM – “you haven’t been trying to disprove AGW, however you do refuse to accept a scientific consensus (which you didn’t really reject in your first reply).”
What is the ‘scientific consensus’? As we point out in this post, Stewart doesn’t correctly identify it. Or, at least, if he does correctly identify it, then it is a consensus which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. As we point out in other posts, many (if not all) political arguments for action on climate change seem to be out of kilter with the ‘consensus’ – take, for example, our many posts on Caroline Lucas, who invents the ‘consensus’ on the fly. Even those who comprise the scientific consensus don’t seem to agree about its meaning. Of course, there are the IPCC, and the statements of the world’s science academies. But the IPCC doesn’t measure the consensus at all, and the academies took no poll. So what is the point of agreement, and how was its magnitude measured against any opposition? For such a powerful consensus that is supposed to be the unchallengeable basis for the total, world wide reorganisation of society, and the regulation of lifestyles, it seems spectacularly inadequately defined.
See the video of Prof. Mike Hulme for a resounding challenge to political arguments for action on climate change, based on the idea that the consensus is that global warming will cause catastrophe.
A proposition can be wrong by itself – and Stewart’s proposition is wrong by itself. We’re not offering a ‘counter-claim’ about the science, because our position is that even the concrete, incontrovertible, unassailable fact of human influence on global warming and climate change does not, by itself, make a case for action.
The fact is that the Mann Hockey Stick graph crudely grafted tree-ring readings (in the Handle) with thermometer readings (in the Blade) to show the result that Mann desired.
Any third-year science student will tell you that it flies in the face of physics and scientific logic that you CANNOT use datasets from different sources in the same curve on the same axis of a graph!
To put it simply, if you half-fill a glass with beer then top it up with lemonade, you end up with a shandy. In other words, what you start with is not what you finish up with.
Joe – ‘In effect you seem to be saying that any restriction on civil liberty means that the population is “deprived of material liberty”’
No we’re not. We’re saying that material and political liberty are inextricably linked. Therefore depriving people of the means to express material liberty is to deprive them of the means of achieving political liberty. How do you organise a political challenge to oppression while you are busy with the necessity of survival in a subsistence economy, for example? “Any” restriction on civil liberty is not a deprivation of a material liberty because not all civil liberties are material liberties. Free speech is not a material liberty. Freedom to drive really really really fast with the deliberate intention of hurting others is not a political liberty, nor even a civil liberty.
‘Effectively you are saying that all laws are immoral and should be scrapped!’
No we’re not, and that’s just silly.
We were arguing that your conceptions of ‘civilisation’ and ‘democracy’ and ‘liberty’ were ill-conceived.
“It seems to me that that is what is bothering most of the people who are outraged by the BBC programme – they realise that a very large majority of people, if they are convinced that our present way of life is damaging the future prospects for the planet, and that there are ways of avoiding some of this danger by accepting general non-voluntary restrictions upon the behaviour of the population, would gladly accept those restrictions.”
On the contrary, our argument is that the environmental movement has totally failed to resonate with the public, as with the political establishment generally. The use of science, therefore, represents less an argument to convince the public, and more an attempt to legitimise a form of politics which is estranged from human values.
“…the argument isn’t really about AGW, or about the accuracy of one TV programme … but is essentially about a right-wing liberal (in the UK sense of the word) political position versus a more left wing, social-democrat position.”
It’s about absolutely neither. Environmental ethics, values, politics, are neither left nor right wing. Environmental politics are about the suspension of conventional politics.
“But to really discredit the hockey-stick curve, one would need to show that the proxies selected were entirely unrelated to the processes they claim to be sensitive to, which is probably more difficult to prove. Which is why, as Editors have pointed out, the IPCC 2007 report doesn’t rely on it as a centre-piece of the argument, but doesn’t feel the need to defend it either.”
They do ‘defend’ it. There is a long discussion in AR4 WGI Ch. 6 about criticisms of the methodology, citing Mcintyre Mckitrick, but ignoring Wegman.
Stewart is more concerned about the effects of AGW than the safety of his daughters. One of them was not wearing a seatbelt although I think that the wearing of one is not compulsory in the USA.
Stewart is from the UK and I think his daughters were in the Uk, therefore seatbelt was compulsory.