Last night Channel Four kindly gave an hour and half and a large budget to the international network of professional climate change deniers. ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’ was a propaganda gift to the various vested interests who seek to undermine the fragile political and social will to take action on this global crisis.
And it was sometimes very convincing, as strongly worded opinions often are when they are not subject to any verification or external challenge. For example, there are excellent rebuttals against the contention that global warming is correlated to cosmic rays (for example see… ) At the bottom I list the growing number of well referenced and detailed rebuttals of the scientific claims in the programme.
There was only one scientific advisor on the programme, Martin Livermore, whose sole scientific qualification is that he is the Director of a web-based think tank, The Scientific Alliance. The Alliance was set up by in 2001 by Robert Durward, the fiercely anti-green director of the British Aggregates Association, and Foresight Communications, a Westminster public relations and lobbying company, to “counter scare-mongering by the so-called green lobby”. (For more…)
The Scientific Alliance has no affiliation with any recognised scientific body but, like most of the contributors to the programme, it does have very strong links with the US public relations and lobbying organisations that have been so effective in setting the Bush agenda on climate change.
The writer and presenter of the programme was Martin Durkin. Although it was written in a highly personal and opinionated style- speaking freely of “lies”, and the “shrill frenzy” of “scare stories” – we never saw Durkin or discovered his personal credentials. As George Monbiot has revealed Durkin is closely affiliated with the Revolutionary Communist Party which has a strong ideological opposition to environmental science (more on Durkin and the RCP.
In 1997 Channel Four was forced to issue a humiliating public apology over a previous series of anti-environment programmes directed by Durkin called “Against Nature”. The Independent Television Commission found that “the views of the four complainants, as made clear to the interviewer, had been distorted by selective editing” and that they had been “misled as to the content and purpose of the programmes when they agreed to take part.”
For this programme Durkin drew up a dream team of scientists who have built personal careers as media pundits debunking the peer-reviewed work of their colleagues. There are few of them, but they are well supported by the Washington lobbies and kept very busy with media debates, documentaries and opinion pieces. (I have personally debated with five of them in media debates).
Is it any surprise then, that they were so persuasive. Most of the people on the programme are professional communicators who are more familiar with the chat show than the lab. Of course they give good interviews – it is what they do for a living.
And let us not forget that we all want to believe them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to believe that the science is unsettled, that all that carbon dioxide that we are pumping into the atmosphere really has no effect, and that we do not have to worry about the future.
It would be entirely possible to put together a similar programme, with a string of credible former academics, to argue that smoking does no cause cancer, that HIV does not cause AIDS, or that black people are less intelligent. However, Channel Four would not dare broadcast the programme and we would not believe them if they did. Is it not a reflection of the deep public ambivalence about climate change that these dissenters are given such a prominent and uncritical showcase and that we are so keen to listen to them?
Make up your own minds from their track records. Here is a little more information on some of the people who appeared on the programme:
Fred Singer. Despite the caption on the programme, Singer has retired from the University of Virginia and has not had a single article accepted for any peer-reviewed scientific journal for 20 years. His main work has been as a hired gun for business interests to undermine scientific research on environmental and health matters. Before turning to climate change denial he has argued that CFCs do not cause ozone depletion and second hand smoke does not cause cancer (more… ). In 1990 he founded “The Science and Environment Policy Project”, which aggressively contradicts climate science and has received direct funding from Exxon, Shell, Unocal and ARCO. Exxon is also among the funders ($20,000 in 1998 and 2000)
Patrick Michaels is the most prominent US climate change denier. In the programme he claimed “I’ve never been paid a nickel by the old and gas companies” which is a curious claim. According to the US journalist Ross Gebspan Michaels has received direct funding from, among others German Coal Mining Association ($49,000), Edison Electric Institute ($15,000), and the Western Fuels Association ($63,000) an association of US coal producing interests (more…). The WFA is one of the most powerful forces in the US actively denying the basic science of climate change, funding, amongs other things, the Greening Earth Society which is directed by Patrick Michaels. Tom Wigley, one of the leading IPCC scientists, describes Michaels work as “a catalog of misrepresentation and misinterpretation”. (More on Michaels…)
Philip Stott was captioned as a Professor at the University of London although he is retired and is therefore free of any academic accountability. Stott is a geographer by training and has no qualifications in climate science. Since retiring Stott has aimed to become Britain’s leading anti-green pundit dedicating himself to wittily criticizing rainforest campaigns (with Patrick Moore), advocating genetic engineering and claiming that “global warming is the new fundamentalist religion.”
Patrick Moore is Stott’s Canadian equivalent. Since a very personal and painful falling out with Greenpeace in 1986 Moore has put his considerable campaigning energies into undermining environmentalists, especially his former friends and colleagues. Typical of his rhetoric was his claim in the programme that environmentalists were “anti-human” and “treat humans as scum”. Throughout the 1990s Moore worked as lead consultant for the British Columbian Timber Products Association undermining Greenpeace’s international campaign to protect old growth forest there. Whenever he has the chance he also makes strong public statements in favour of genetic engineering, nuclear power, logging the Amazon, and industrial fishing- all, strangely, lead campaigns for Greenpeace (more on Moore..)
Piers Corbyn has no academic status and his role in such programmes is to promote his own weather prediction business. He has steadfastly refused to ever subject his climatological theories to any form of external review or scrutiny.
Richard Lindzen. As a Professor of Meteorology at the credible Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lindzen is by far the most reputable academic among the US climate deniers and, for this reason, he is heavily cited by sympathetic journalists such as Melanie Phillips and Michael Crichton. His arguments though are identical to the other deniers – for example an article in the Wall Street Journal (June 11 2001) he claims that “there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long-term climate trends or what causes them”.
He is strongly associated with the other people on the programme though co-authored reports, articles, conference appearances and co-signed statements.
Tim Ball was captioned as the University of Winnipeg. In fact he left in 1996 since when he has run political campaigns through two organisations he helped found: the Natural Resources Stewardship Project and the Friends of Science which, according to their websites aim to run “a proactive grassroots campaign to counter the Kyoto Protocol”; and “encourage and assist the Canadian Federal Government to re-evaluate the Kyoto Protocol”. Ian Clark is also on the board of the NRSP.
REBUTTALS OF THE ALLEGATIONS IN THE PROGRAMME
I have received a lot of postings from people criticising me for not dealing with the specific allegations in the programme. I am not qualified to do so, but here are links to people who are. I am not going to accept any more postings making this point. This website is a discussion of why we find it so hard to come to terms with climate change, not a bulletin board for people who people who are still not prepared to accept the conclusions of 20 years of research by every scientific insitution in the world.
1. Sir John Houghton, one of Britain’s leading climate scientists and former chair of the IPCC. Link… He states baldly that virtually every allegation was false.
2. The Royal Society. In a press release the Royal Society is very critical of the programme and concludes that “Those who promote fringe scientific views but ignore the weight of evidence are playing a dangerous game. They run the risk of diverting attention from what we can do to ensure the world’s population has the best possible future” link….
3. In the Sunday 11th issue of the Observer, six leading climate scientists from four universities criticise the conclusions of the progamme. They say: “we defend the right of people to be sceptical, but for C4 to imply that the thousands of scientists and published peer-reviewed papers, summarised in the recent international science assessment, are misguided or lying lacks scientific credibility and simply beggars belief” link…
4. In 13th March edition of the Guardian, George Monbiot takes out the claims of the programme one by one. Link… On his website full scientific references are given for his article which, unlike the Swindle, was checked by professional climate scientists before publication
5. Realclimate, an excellent blogsite run byclimate scientists in large part to deal with climate skeptic arguments also goes through the allegations point by point link…
6. It took a long while for Sir David King the UK government chief scientist to catch onto the damage done by this programme but at long last he has pulled together a very well argued science based analysis and refutation. Link…
I have to say that anyone reading this who still wants to believe that the Swindle film was based on strong science really is desparate to believe that climate change is not happening- there is a reason why this website is called Climate Denial after all.
7. One of the few real scientists to appear on the programme (that is to say he really does do climate science rather than working for a public relations company) was Professor Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the Independent Wunsch claims that “They completely misrepresented me. My views were distorted by the context in which they placed them….I am the one who has been swindled…The movie was terrible propaganda. It is characteristic of propaganda that you take an area where there is legitimate dispute and you claim straight out that people who disagree with you are swindlers. That is what the film does in any area where some things are subject to argument.” link…
According The Times when the director Durkin was challenged by Dr Armand Leroi from Imperial College on his use of dubious data in the programme he replied by e-mail saying “you’re a big daft cock”. When Dr Leroi persisted Durkin wrote back telling him to “Go fuck yourself”. Maybe those people who have written posts to this item complaining about the “character assassination” of Mr Durkin would like to drop him a line and congratulate him on his reasoned engagement in the scientific debate link…
Well no surprise that Durkin lied to the participants about the programme and then edited what they said to misrepresent their views. This is exactly what he did last time he got a major programme and it led to the public humiliation of Channel Four, The question is this: what reputable broadcaster would ever give another major commission to this man. Obviously the same channel that thinks that subjecting an Asian woman to racist bullying makes good entertainment.
Let’s answer that last question another way. If you want a painful laugh, have a look at Channel Four’s own website on the programme link…
On the left side of the page is the information about the rubbish in the Swindle film. On the other side are links to other pages on climate change including “Explore the issues around the greatest challenge of our time”, which tells us that “little doubt exists among the scientific community that human activity is changing the climate…For the first time in our history the whole human species is under threat from the alarmingly powerful forces of climate change” Another featured link take us to “Environmentalism: A brief history of this powerful movement”.