On March 13, we published a Media Alert analysing some of the gross flaws and distortions in The Great Global Warming Swindle, a Channel 4 film written and directed by Martin Durkin.
The film has been subject to intense criticism. Dr Armand Leroi, from Imperial College, London, wrote to Durkin:
“There is much more that could be said about your programme - such as the gross caricature that it gave of a scientific community which, contra your film, continually debates the various causes of global warming - but, as I said, I am not a climate scientist. But it does show - what abundant experience has already taught me - that, left to their own devices, TV producers simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth. I am very disappointed.”
Durkin responded with a single sentence:
“You’re a big daft cock.” (Ibid)
Simon Singh, the author of Fermat’s Last Thorem, who had received both the above emails, sought to reason with Durkin:
“I suspect that you will have upset many people (if Armand is right), so it would be great if you could engage in the debate rather just resorting to one line replies. That way we could figure out what went wrong/right and how do things
better/even better in the future.” (Ibid)
Durkin replied at greater length but signed off with:
“Go and fuck yourself ”. (Ibid)
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“The ice-core data was the jewel in the global-warming crown, cited again and again as evidence that carbon dioxide 'drives' the earth's climate. In fact, as its advocates have been forced to admit, the ice-core data says the opposite. Temperature change always precedes changes in CO2 by several hundred years. Temperature drives CO2, not the other way round. The global-warmers do not deny this. They cannot.” (Durkin, ‘'The global-warmers were bound to attack, but why are they so feeble?', March 17, 2007)
As we discussed in our previous alert, the ice-core data show that the initial warming that ends an ice age is caused by a change in the Earth's orbit around the sun, allowing more solar heat to reach the planet. The point is that rising temperatures then release CO2 from the ocean back into the atmosphere, so creating even stronger warming under the usual greenhouse effect. The ice-core record of glacial-interglacial events is well understood by climate scientists, but Durkin persists in misrepresenting the science.
“During the post-war economic boom, while industrial emissions of CO2 went up, the temperature went down (hence the great global-cooling scare in the 1970s). Why? They say maybe the cooling was caused by SO2 (sulphur dioxide) produced by industry. But they say it mumbling under their breath, because they know it makes no sense. Thanks to China and the rest, SO2 levels are far, far higher now than they were back then. Why isn't it perishing cold?” (Ibid)
Durkin asserts, without evidence, that "SO2 levels are far, far higher than they were back then". In fact, although China and other nations have experienced rapid industrial growth, the Clean Air Acts in the United States, and equivalent legislation in Europe, have significantly cut levels of sulphate aerosols in the developed world. Scientists have observed that the global dimming trend of previous decades reversed in 1990. Since then, global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions has been clearly seen in rising temperatures.
The Ties That Bind - Furedi, Durkin And Sense About Science
In our previous alert, we noted that Durkin was responsible for the 1997 series Against Nature. He has also been involved with the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), founded and chaired by Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent. RCP published a magazine called Living Marxism (LM) to which Durkin claims to have had no connection. However, the connections between Durkin and Furedi, and other RCP personnel, are clear, as George Monbiot has noted:
“The assistant producer of Against Nature, Eve Kaye, was one of the principal coordinators of the RCP/LM. The director, Martin Durkin, describes himself as a Marxist, denies any link with LM, but precisely follows its line in argument. The series starred Frank Furedi, previously known as Frank Richards, LM’s regular columnist and most influential thinker, and John Gillott, LM’s science correspondent, both billed as independent experts. Line by line, point by point, Against Nature followed the agenda laid down by LM...” (Monbiot, ‘Living Marxism’s interesting allegiances,’ Prospect Magazine, November 1998)
Fast forward to March 17, when the BBC highlighted comments by two scientists which appeared to support Durkin‘s thesis that claims of human-induced climate change have been hyped. The BBC website gave the story top billing, reporting that:
“Two leading UK climate researchers say some of their peers are ‘overplaying’ the global warming message.”
The Independent on Sunday explained further:
"The comments of the two meteorologists, Professor Paul Hardaker and Professor Chris Collier, both of the Royal Meteorological Society... threatened to revive the row over the scientific view of global warming after the broadcasting of Channel 4's polemic The Great Global Warming Swindle 10 days ago, which took issue with the view set out in Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth.” (Lean, ‘Climate experts hit back after being accused of overstating the problem,’ Independent on Sunday, March 18, 2007)
As well as being covered by BBC radio, TV and online, Hardaker and Collier’s comments were mentioned in the Observer, Telegraph, Mirror, Sunday Express, Sunday Times, and the Sunday Star.
Hardaker and Collier were speaking at a conference organised by an organisation called Sense About Science (SAS). The director of SAS, Tracey Brown, has worked with Frank Furedi for a number of years. The website GMWatch.org comments that Brown is “of course part of the climate-change denying LM network to which Martin Durkin also intimately connects“. (‘Another LM network swindle’)
The assistant director of SAS, Ellen Raphael, has also studied in Frank Furedi's department at the University of Kent.
A glance at the SAS website reveals that financial contributors include AstraZeneca, BP, Dixons, GE Healthcare, GlaxoSmithKline, Halifax Bank of Scotland, Pfizer, Unilever, and so on. (Donors list and funding policy)
The BBC described Hardaker and Collier as “leading UK climate researchers”, but this is not the case. Writing in the Independent on Sunday (IoS), Geoffrey Lean noted of Hardaker:
“He pointed out that he and his colleague were not experts on climate change.” (Lean, op. cit)
Lean also reported that confusion surrounded the views of Hardaker and Collier after Hardaker told the IoS “he could not think of a case where a scientist had overstated the position“ on climate change.
How convenient that the big-business funded Sense About Science - linked to Furedi and RCP, which are linked to Durkin - produced two scientists appearing to challenge the consensus on climate change.
Whatever the views of Hardaker and Collier, the fact remains that most serious climate experts are in broad agreement on climate change. In December 2004, Naomi Oreskes of the University of California at San Diego reported in the leading journal, Science, on her analysis of a sample of 928 papers published in scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 under the keywords "climate change". (Quoted, Naomi Oreskes, 'Beyond The Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,' Science, 3 December 2004: Vol. 306. no. 5702, p. 1686, DOI: 10.1126/science.1103618)
Of all the papers, 75% either explicitly or implicitly accepted the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or climate issues in the geological past, taking no position on current human-induced climate change. Remarkably, not one of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.
By contrast, consider climate reporting in the mainstream media. In the November/December 2004 issue of Extra!, Jules Boykoff and Maxwell Boykoff reported on their study, ‘Balance as Bias: Global Warming and the U.S. Prestige Press,’ published in the July 2004 issue of the journal Global Environmental Change. They analysed articles about human contributions to global warming that appeared between 1988 and 2002 in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal. Their findings:
53 per cent of the articles gave roughly equal attention to the views that humans contribute to global warming and that climate change is exclusively the result of natural fluctuations. 35 per cent emphasised the role of humans while presenting both sides of the debate - thus more accurately reflecting the scientific consensus on climate change.
Boykoff and Boykoff, then, found that media coverage “significantly diverged from the IPCC consensus on human contributions to global warming”. In other words, they found that “the US press systematically proliferated an informational bias”. (Jules Boykoff and Maxwell Boykoff, ‘Journalistic Balance as Global Warming Bias - Creating controversy where science finds consensus,’ Extra! November/December 2004)
The deeper point being:
“By giving equal time to opposing views, the major mainstream newspapers significantly downplayed scientific understanding of the role humans play in global warming.” (Ibid)
This is no accident. In exact contradiction to Durkin’s thesis, state-corporate power is in fact loath to recognise, much less tackle, the climate change crisis. The reason is simple enough - the corporate system is legally and structurally tied into generating maximum revenues in minimum time at minimum cost. Action to avert climate change threatens to massively raise costs, and to undermine traditional centres of power in the fossil fuel industries. Noam Chomsky explains:
"The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist." (Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, Hill and Wang, New York, 1992, p.79)
If the threat of climate change is at last beginning to exist for the mainstream media, it is thanks to the sheer weight of evidence provided by climate scientists warning of impending disaster. But again, the truth is the exact reverse of Durkin’s claim - these scientists have struggled mightily to be heard because they are “writing against the bias”, to use Graham Greene’s phrase, not with it.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you decide to write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to Steve Herrmann, editor of BBC Online. Ask him why the website describes Hardaker and Collier as “leading UK climate researchers” and why it gave their views such prominence.
Send a complaint to Channel 4
See material on 'Complaining to C4', including a model letter
Send a complaint to Ofcom
Please send a copy of your emails to:
Media Lens has published an article on the BBC’s Newsnight website.
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