BBC Climate Show: What David Attenborough Got Wrong

  • Date: 21/04/19
  • David Rose, Mail on Sunday

Climate change is too important to be handled in this apocalyptic manner. It needs rational, well-informed debate. Too often, cheered on by the eco-zealots of Extinction Rebellion, the BBC is intent on encouraging quite the opposite.

One of the most talked-about programmes of the past week – a primetime documentary on BBC1 – featured two people many seem to regard as living saints.

One was the presenter, Sir David Attenborough, the other Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage activist inspiring climate change ‘school strikes’ in several countries, including Britain.

The film’s title was Climate Change: The Facts, and these, Sir David claimed, are now ‘incontrovertible’. The film’s message was so bleak it could have been made by Extinction Rebellion, the eco-anarchist protest group which has brought Central London to a standstill.

No one has done more to convey the marvels of the natural world than Attenborough, and his long career has rightly earned him public acclaim.

Sadly, on this occasion, I believe he has presented an alarmist argument derived from a questionable use of evidence, whose nuances he has ignored….

The film rounded off a week which had already seen the BBC invite Extinction Rebellion extremists on to its news shows to expound the message – without serious challenge – that unless we cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, ‘our children will die’.

Last year, the BBC issued guidelines instructing editors that inviting comment from ‘climate change deniers’ was ‘false balance’. In practice, this has meant that those who accept climate change is real, but less threatening than some such as Attenborough claim, have effectively been banished from the airwaves.

Now the Corporation has given acres of airtime to protesters demanding the overthrow of democratic governments and an almost immediate end to fossil fuel-derived power, heating and transport – in other words, the abrupt termination of civilisation as we know it….

Watching it did fill me with horror, but not at the threat from global warming. It was at the way Sir David and the BBC presented a picture of the near future which was so much more frightening than is justified…

One of the film’s most questionable aspects was its claim that extreme weather events such as floods and storms have already got worse and more frequent, thanks to global warming, along with wildfires.

It did say that attributing reasons to any single event is difficult, and derived from probabilities. But in the words of interviewee Michael Mann, a US climate scientist, the effects of climate change are ‘playing out in real time’, and are ‘no longer subtle’. Cue images of monster waves and hurricanes, accompanied by doomy music.

But is this true? The IPCC, regarded by mainstream scientists as the world’s most authoritative source, says there have been some changes, such as higher rainfall. But its Fifth Assessment Report, published in 2013, stated there are ‘no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century’. It added: ‘No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricane counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin.’

A separate IPCC report last year said that cyclones in the tropics would in future be less numerous, although some would be stronger.

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