The great climate change swindle “swindle” swindle

On Sunday night Prime TV aired the controversial British documentary, The Great Climate Change Swindle and hosted an hour of discussion about the programme and the issues.

I watched it and now I feel like I was swindled. The film was as one-sided as it’s possible to be. Absolutely no voices arguing against the “science” that “disproves” any human responsibility for global warming. The debate was pretty lacklustre too.

The doco was first aired in March last year on Channel 4 in the UK. It sparked a number of complaints to OfCom, the broadcasting commission. Several scientists who’d been in the film claimed to have been misrepresented and tried to distance themselves from the views of the producer.   On the other hand, producer Martin Durkin claimed a conspiracy of vested interests was trying to prevent the truth about climate change from getting out.

So was Prime right to broadcast the doco, given it has been discredited, or are vested interests really out to kill the truth – that human-produced climate change is a hoax?

There’s a rich and rewarding cybertrail on this now. It’s worth documenting some of it for posterity and for research purposes.

Prior to the programme being screened Eloise Gibson wrote a piece in the New Zealand Herald noting that a NIWA report supported a global warming thesis. She wrote about the programme screening the following Sunday and sought a comment from me.

I said that if the programme is put in context and the audience is made aware of the controversy then it might be balanced. I saw no problem with Prime showing the documentary if the controversy around some of its science claims was acknowledged. Eloise asked me if I thought there might be complaints to the BSA about balance, bias and accuracy when programme screened. I said I didn’t know, but I could imagine complaints being made, though the panel session might provide the balance that would mitigate complaints.

At the same time, the Aotearoa blogsophere was buzzing with commentary, some of it OK, but most posters/commenters had not, at that point, seen the movie.

Poneke took umbrage at Frogblog taking umbrage that Prime would even dare to screen the climate change denial story. I think Poneke’s right to a degree. The green-leaning Frogblog was encouraging people to watch something else – The Virgin Queen on TV1. Frogblog described the night’s TV viewing choices as a  “swindle” as “two fictional fantasy myths with thinly hidden conservative agendas”. A bit harsh I think. I’m also a bit worried that the Froggers would be suggesting a boycott of the movie. I’d rather take the claims in the doco on head-on. Asking people not to turn it on seems a bit churlish.

There’s an interesting review and a sort-of interview with Martin Durkin by Brendan O’Neill at spiked online.

The Cedar Lounge Revolution blog has some interesting, if tangiential, information about Martin Durkin that’s well worth a scan through. It’s hard to believe that someone who claimed political affinity with something called the Revolutionary Communist Party could make such a pro-business movie.

Noiseboy over at Digital Spy reaches much the same conclusion without the juicy sectarian gossip.

The Royal Society weighed into the debate at the time of the UK screening, pointing out merely that science tends to support the human (anthropogenic) cause of most global warming – importantly CO2 emissions.

When the programme was screened on the ABC in Australia, it created a deal of controversy at the government-funded network. Respected science reporter, Robyn Williams argued that the corporation should not screen the documentary. According to media reports, he was over-ruled by the ABC Board. Ironically, that allegation was reported in Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, The Australian.

The irony here is that until very recently Murdoch’s media organisation globally was part of the climate change denier camp. In a speech to News Corp employees in May 2007 Murdoch acknowledged, for the first time, the risks associated with climate change:

Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction.

We must transform the way we use energy, and of course not only because of climate change…

Murdoch had a change of heart, but I can’t help wondering if someone forgot to tell the programmers at Prime.

There’s also something of a free speech issue around this? Should we be attempting to prevent the “anthropogenic cause deniers” from airing their views? I don’t think so. It’s not a matter of life or death here. The denial camp is not affiliated with the Nazi movement and is not advocating beating up environmental campaigners.But there might be an argument for exposing the dubious funding sources and corporate backers of Durkin’s film – if there are any. Certainly this is an allegation made by people like Cindy Baxter, but I’ve not seen any hard proof yet.

So was it any good?

The documentary itself was full of dramatic announcements that the science community and mainstream media were conspiring to convince the public of the human causes of global warming. All the scientists in the film vigorously disputed the human cause argument and said that climate change (not global warming) was natural and caused mostly by the sun. I was convinced they were right – but given that there was no alternative science discussed, of course anyone would be. so no, it wasn’t any good!

I thought the most comic moments were supplied by former Greenpeace leader Patrick Moore who tried to make the claim that Marxists and Thatcherites conspired to develop the global warming industry. The global warming science is the product of the failure of socialism and Maggie Thatcher’s desire to have nuclear power in Britain.

Then there’s the argument that those who support the argument for human contributions to global warming are somehow responsible for the lack of economic development in Africa. This is a totally fallacious charge. It denies more than 300 years of imperialism.

In the discussion that followed, host Eric Young looked totally out of his depth. At one point in the discussion segment, coming back from an ad-break, he totally fcuked up and had to be corrected by one of the guests.

The three scientists were like a trio of squabbling siblings who were keen to dob each other in for some misdemeanour, but were worried they’d get found out for something worse.

Leighton Smith is appalling. Cindy Baxter was believable. In the end I think Cindy’s comment summed it up for me: those who are arguing that there is strong disagreement between scientists on the human contribution to global warming (and Smith is in this camp) make their point because at the end of the day if you can sow confusion in the public mind then it means less pressure for change.

I think this is close to the discredited “intelligent design” argument too.

I also think that arguments about a so-called media conspiracy are fanciful, but I’m no clearer on the science than I was a week ago. I’m sure the sun’s got something to do with global warming and climate change, but I also think that human society, particularly our carbon-dependent industrial society, must play a role.

At the end of the day I’m fairly sure that Prime would have gained some sort of spike in its ratings, given all the publicity anyone with a vague interest in climate change science would probably have tuned in.

I thought the disclaimer that the views in the film were not those of Prime or Prime News was interesting. There could well be some form of backlash – complaints which at some point might go to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Now that would be worth watching.

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12 Responses to The great climate change swindle “swindle” swindle

  1. James says:

    Just why should the Doco have presented the other side….? Thats already been done and the doco was a RESPONSE to that side…..duh!

    The Doco presented many aspects of counter science and was very well done.At the very least any reasonable person could see quite clearly that there IS a debate and the science is far froom being settled.

  2. James says:

    Oh….and I see its been the coldest Ma since 1992….but thats still Global warming too huh?

  3. Falafulu Fisi says:

    Does Cindy Baxter have a scientific background? I mean a background in Physics, so it warranted her being part of the debating panel? Or is she perhaps a poster girl for the anti-capitalist GreenPeace movement?

  4. Dr Mark Hayes says:

    How come NZ TV ran this nonsense 18 months after it polluted UK television and almost a year after the ABC was severely embarrassed by it too; and has UK OfCom released its investigation of the “doco”? This thing has as much credibility as my favorite conspiracy theory spoof “Alternative Three”, with “Alternative Three” being more entertaining.

    The funniest part of the ABC’s audience discussion after they ran this thing was how it was seeded with stooges from The Lavoisier Group. That was serious comedy!

    Seriously, dissecting this “doco” and the controversy surrounding it would make a good topic for a student assignment or project, including on how to do good science reporting. Most journalists and journalism students are scientifically illiterate, and don’t know how good science is really done, hence bad science reporting as critiqued on Bad Science and elsewhere.

    Unbelievable this “doco” is still oozing its way around the world’s TV screens.

  5. Dr Mark Hayes says:

    PS – the very widely used term “climate change” was coined by that master Republican communications adviser, Frank Luntz, who told his clients that “climate change” sounded less hysterical, more comforting, than what is actually occurring, anthropogenic global warming. I never use the term “climate change” for precisely that reason, despite the very widespread currency of “climate change”. Even Luntz has repudiated his creation of the “spread doubt” term because even he’s acknowledged that the best, and most reliable, applicable science (eg., IPCC) conclusively shows escalating anthropogenic global warming is occurring albeit with maddeningly complex and still developing understandings of its complex and manifold effects, probable, and projected.

  6. undergroundnetwork says:

    Hi Martin,

    You rightly draw a comparison between global warming deniers and ID proponents. Behind the pseudo-science there is usually some sort of agenda, be it religious or business. It is certainly important that the debate canvasses both sides of the opinion, however the tactic appears to be more about confusing the public into thinking there is an actual debate than presenting countering facts as part of a healthy debate. Clearly this tactic works, as people do believe that scientific disagreements exist where they do not, whether it be with the environment or evolutionary theory.

    What really shows their dishonesty is the way they distort and misrepresent the scientists used in the documentary. This charge is often leveled at conspiracy theory documentary makers. If the truth was on their side, I doubt they would need to be so deceptive.

    So as important as it is for both sides of a debate to be aired, I think the hidden agendas, the deception and dishonesty of these documentaries should also be exposed.

    Cheers,

    Paul

  7. Katie Small says:

    The documentary seemed to take a scatter-gun approach in its argument. First it flashed some numbers around to “prove” that global warming is not human induced. Then it set out a bunch of reasons why the anthropogenic warming theory is bad – that it started from an anti-miner, pro-nuclear plot of Margaret Thatcher and was fuelled by former communists who turned into hippies when the Berlin Wall fell; that it’s responsible for underdevelopment in rural Africa.

    I thought the panel discussion afterwards was good, to put the film-maker’s opinion into context – and will probably save Prime from an onslaught of complaints. Cindy Baxter’s comments on the political desire for big business to keep the debate churning in order to slow any real progress were interesting.

    Here’s a question though: does a documentary need to show both sides of an argument? Or is the role of a documentary to make a case to support a certain line?
    In a free society we have the ability to gather information from a variety of sources and make up our own minds. When we read a newspaper we have an idea of the paper’s perspective, from past editions and ownership data. But shouldn’t independent documentaries always be treated a bit more sceptically, given that we generally know much less about the makers’ beliefs and financial connections?

  8. truthseekernz says:

    I’d say “vested interests” are actually out to confuse the issue on climate change and that they are doing so in order to aid the National Party. They are the only party that lags the field where awareness and appreciation of the evidence of climate change is concerned.

    As the cigarette industry did over 40 years, so the climate change deniers are now doing: preying on the ignorance of the average citizen to win more time to make more money before the shit really hits the fan. They then abandon whatever business may be in peril and leave smoeone else to clean up the mess…..usually the taxpayers.

  9. Paulidan says:

    Isn’t an Inconvenient Truth one sided too?

    Fact is all political documentaries are one sided. I prefer to read things because I’m literate and don’t need a TV to tell me what to do.

  10. Paulidan : Yeah….An Inconvenient Truth “one-sidedly” focuses on the verifiably corect scientific evidence underpinning climate change.

    Not every argument has two sides. Sometimes it comes down to the evidence…and ignoring or obscuring the evidence.

    For example: Was Holocaust in Europe in the 1940s real? To claim it was is “one-sided”? Is David Irving and the other Holocaust deniers just the other side of the “debate”?

    What debate? The facts are clear.

    CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by more than 50% over the past 200 years to levels not seen for hundreds of thousands of years. There can be no debate about that .

  11. terence says:

    Hi Ethical Martini,

    I hope you’re still checking this thread as I can’t seem to find an email address for you on your site. Anyhow, given your background, I thought you might be interested in the following post (which I’ve written, in part as a response to you here):
    http://laanta.blogspot.com/2008/06/freedom-of-speach-and-its-discontents.html

    cheers

    Terence

  12. cyrus says:

    G’day, I would suggest having a look at this article here, which talks about the exchange of CO2 in the ocean and is full of scientific data. It also references a study (a study about scientific studies), which shows a real bias against publishing scientific articles which dispute man-made climate change.

    I think anybody can see and understand that we are contributing more polution to the land, sea and air. But how great is the effect? And if we are worried about global warming, is CO2 the cause? That’s where science must come in, because it’s not going to be figured out by basic logic. There are too many variables.

    See this article http://www.rocketscientistsjournal.com/2006/10/co2_acquittal.html

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