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.