BBC: Inform, Educate And Confuse

  • Date: 18/11/15

It was with a sense of optimism tinged with experience that I sat down to listen to BBC Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin’s first of his three part series on the climate timed to coincide with forthcoming Paris talks. I know how such programmes are put together, how interviews are solicited, conducted, edited and juxtaposed to form a narrative. I also know the subjectivity involved.

At the start we get an American politician who doesn’t believe that mankind has any influence on the climate and who is also a creationist. Her inclusion concatenated climate change “sceptism” with a denial of evolution. There was no need to have her in the programme at its start except to place in the listener’s minds such an association, which was not shared by anyone else in the programme.

Near the beginning of the programme Roger Harrabin said; “Out and out rejection of climate science has mostly passed.” This is a straw man. In reality, only a very few rejected climate science, and they were regarded by most who took an interest in climate science as being eccentric, irrelevant and wrong. Their importance was often exaggerated as many in the media paraded them as being representative of the “sceptic” movement. For many years anyone who was regarded as having non-mainstream views (often arbitrarily judged) was obliged to go through the ritual of admitting that the world has warmed, that carbon dioxide was a greenhouse gas and that mankind was responsible for the carbon dioxide increase, despite these being commonly accepted and not part of the real debate. A few years ago the presenter on a BBC TV programme introduced Lord Lawson and added that for the purposes of the discussion they are all assuming that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas! Thankfully that loaded question had been assigned to the past until Roger Harrabin’s programme that is when Matt Ridley went through this credo.

Matt Ridley is described as a lukewarmer in that he favours the lower end of estimate of transient climate response, TCR (1.5°C – 4.0°C). There is nothing unusual in holding that view as it is held by many “mainstream” climate scientists. So much so that the IPCC reduced the lower bound of TCR from 2.0°C to 1.5°C in response to debates about TCR in the scientific and “sceptic” community.

Later in the programme another contributor introduced another illogical twist. She said she prefers “lukewarmist to climate denial,” as if there was a choice between the two. The implication is that deniers have become lukewarmists which is absurd. Roger Harrabin says Ridley now finds himself inside the IPCC’s big tent but misses the point that it was the IPCC that changed. Interesting isn’t it, Matt Ridley is still a lukewarmer, and not acknowledged as being within the mainstream even when Ridley’s views agree with the IPCC (the epitome of “mainstream” science opinion and “consensus”). Being a “sceptic” or a “lukewarmer” seems to be more about where you come from than the scientific views you hold.

Stubborn, Simplistic

It was also said that the debate about climate science has moved on from the stubborn and simplistic and onto what to do about it. Again, this is incorrect. The main motivation for scientists and “sceptics” is to find out what is exactly going on, and as we find out more we realise that some of we thought was wrong and that there is so much more we don’t know. For example, today we have a different view of decadal climatic variations compared to forced variations than we did a decade ago, and improving our understanding of such variations is essential to contemplating what to do. If anyone thinks the debate has been “stubborn and simplistic” they are mistaken.

Then we have a nice example of doublespeak. A professor states an opinion about climate science and then says there is too much uncertainty to decide if his opinion is correct! Another point is that lukewarmers do not, as a whole, say that the “pause” in annual average surface temperature is because we exaggerated the heating effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Another contributor was irked by the “media focus” on the “pause.” Presumably she is also somewhat irritated by those scientists who are constantly coming up with explanations for it, more than 35 at my last count, most of which are unreported by the media. She adds that she always knew it would rise in fits and starts so perhaps the real problem was that there was not enough media focus on this in the 1990′s when the world warmed fairly rapidly!

Then we have reference to the loss of sea ice in the Arctic referring to the 2007 low. Perhaps the contributor and the programme’s editor is unaware with what has been happening to Arctic ice cover in the past few years?

Roger Harrabin then talks of those suffering from extreme weather events after the 1°C increase already experienced. This is a controversial area in the journals but is also a subject on which the IPCC has already proclaimed: There is no increase in extreme weather events as a result of climate change.

Roger Harrabin concluded  the programme by saying that the world’s warming is largely driven by humans. Yet the IPCC AR5 says; “It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together. The best estimate of the human induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period.”

The observed warming since 1950 is about half of the warming observed since pre-industrial times so without mentioning timescales Roger Harrabin’s statement is misleading. It seems that one can refer to post-1950 or pre-industrial periods without qualification to get a good quote.

Thus at the end Roger Harrabin abandons mainstream science and consensus altogether in a programme supposed to be about the science of climate change. Overall the broadcast was an intellectual shambles. It is a rewriting of history worthy of the reporting of the war between Oceania and Eurasia.