A few days ago I sent a complaint to the BBC about the Attenborough programme “Climate Change – the Facts.” Complaints by email are limited to 2000 characters (about 300 words.) I wanted to get the maximum factual criticism in, so it’s written in Twitterspeak. Here it is, as posted, except that I’ve added numbers to each paragraph for ease of reference:
1. Most “facts” quoted false, some irrelevant or misleading in context. Examples:
2. There are no “Greater storms, greater floods extreme sea-level rise.” according to the IPCC, nor, according to the IPCC, is this “happening far faster than any of us thought possible.”
3. “At the current rate of warming,” we risk, not the “devastating future” mentioned by Atters, but the same temp rise as last century: < 1°C.
4. Bats dying in thousands from heat first recorded in Australia in 1791, not our fault.
5. Temp rise at the equator is less than elsewhere. Highly habitable (unlike the poles.)
6. Wildfires in Ca last year caused by sparks from electric cables, not clim change. Film of wildfire was from 2009 in Montana, but Atters introduced it with “The fires that swept through California last year…”
7.“Antarctica is losing 3X as much ice today as it was 25 years ago.” But it was gaining 25 yrs ago.
8. Louisiana land loss due to subsidence, also silting, river course changes, deforestation. Not climate change.
9. Orang utan being killed off by deforestation to grow palm oil to satisfy green policies to save climate.
10. Graph falsely attributed to IPCC. Real temps go up to 2018, so can’t be from last IPCC report.
11. On Paris summit, no mention of fact that countries responsible for 70% of emissions are not bound to make any reductions at all. Europe and white commonwealth are to do all the reductions. Absurd.
12. “rapid falls in the price of renewable energy. Solar power has led the way with this.. Germany went first.. and China really picked up the baton.”
13.Germany has 2nd highest electricity prices in Europe. China will continue increasing coal use until 2030.
14. “Solar power is now the cheapest form of newly installed electricity in more than 60 countries” because coal and gas are not “newly installed”and no-one is installing nuclear.
15. 1 fact quoted from a scientific source: “..huge benefits from a warming planet. In the IPCC’s own report, there’s fewer deaths from cold-related diseases.” Lawson
Six of the fifteen paragraphs, numbers 2, 3, 7, 8, 10, 12, mention what I consider to be false statements.
Paras 5, 11, 13, 14 refer to statements which are wildly misleading, since they leave out important context.
Paras 4, 6, 9 refer to the long sequences on bats, forest fires, and deforestation, which are not relevant to “the facts” of climate change.
Here is the reply from the BBC complaints team:
Dear Mr Chambers
Thank you for contacting us about ‘Climate Change – the Facts’ and your concerns surrounding the accuracy of the programme.
Climate Change – the Facts represented the work of a wide range of scientists from the UK and US, as well as other countries, demonstrating the scale and scope of scientific endeavour and thinking around this complex subject.
Their interviews were based on their research, describing what it has revealed and in some instances expressing personal reactions based on their deep insights. The overall content of the programme was also based on peer reviewed scientific research, which was rigorously checked by an independent scientific consultant, a leading academic at University College London. Inevitably in a 60 minute programme there were some subject areas which could not be addressed in greater detail or which we did not feature.
The vast majority of climate scientists agree on the fundamentals of human induced climate change and this was reflected in the film. As climate change is accepted as happening, the BBC no longer seeks to ‘balance’ the debate by interviewing those who do not agree with this position.
There are many complexities in communicating climate change to a mainstream audience; the film sought to balance potentially alarming scenarios with scientific analysis on attribution (the extent to which extreme weather events and other phenomena such as sea level rise can be linked to climate change), climate modelling and projections of what may happen in the future (in which inevitably there are many uncertainties) and actions aimed at reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change going forward. While Sir David Attenborough drew on his own experience of reporting on this subject over many years, he also balanced a sense of urgency with optimism that there are ways of addressing the serious issues we undoubtedly face.
We hope this helps to address your concerns and we thank you for taking the time to contact us.
Kind Regards, BBC Complaints Team
This is unsatisfactory. The next step is a complaint about their reply, followed by a complaint to Ofcom if they don’t reply satisfactorily to that. I’ll also be writing to Chris Rapley, who was the scientific advisor to the programme, and to Peter Stott, who also had some advisory input, I believe. Since my complaint about the insufficiency of the BBC’s reply to my complaint is also limited to about 300 words, there’s lots I won‘t be saying, so I thought I’d get it off my chest here.
You can send a written complaint of any length you like, but the simple fact of it being on paper means that it will inevitably (and quite literally) go to the bottom of the pile. So I’ll be replying by email, and linking to this article, (and to a couple of forthcoming articles here by other clisceppers.) That way I hope to be able to make my point within their absurd limits. What follows is the basis of my objection to their reply to my complaint, as if addressed directly to the BBC. The paragraphs are numbered in order to aid reference in my reply to the BBC.
1.The presenter of a TV nature programme is not testifying on oath, and no-one expects him to cite a peer reviewed source for each statement. However, a programme with “the Facts,” in the title should surely be held to higher standards than one which simply expresses the opinion of the presenter.
2.Your reply states that the interviews with scientists“were based on their research, describing what it has revealed and in some instances expressing personal reactions based on their deep insights” That would be fine in a programme titled “Climate Change – Personal Reactions of some Scientists based on their Deep Insights.” But that wasn’t the case.
3.You continue: “The overall content of the programme was also based on peer reviewed scientific research, which was rigorously checked by an independent scientific consultant, a leading academic at University College London.”(Why they fail to name Professor Chris Rapley is a mystery. We know perfectly well who he is.)
3.1 .My last brush with Rapley was when his lawyer wrote to me demanding that I remove from my blog a samizdat transcript of a monologue he had delivered at the Royal Court – a theatrical piece entitled 2071, in which he explained to enthralled London theatregoers why the world was going to end before his granddaughter had attained the age he was at then. My justification for infringing his copyright was that if you’re going to announce the end of the world to a few privileged theatregoers, and receive a subsidy from the European Union for doing so, then the least you could do would be to let the rest of the world in on the secret. The lawyer didn’t see it that way, but she told me that the script would be available free on the site of the Royal Court. I don’t know if it is, but you can buy the script on Amazon for 1 cent, so honour is saved.
3.2I also had a go at Rapley for chairing a conference of psychoanalysts discussing how to make their patients more neurotic and miserable than they already were by bolstering their belief in the imminent end of the world. This probably contravenes some professional code of conduct. I must look into it some time.
3.3 But even before that I had written to the Science Museum demanding the sacking of Rapley from his post of Director. The story, briefly, is this. In late 2014 he had organised a forthcoming exhibition on Climate Change at the London Science Museum. Then an election was called for early 2015, and the environment minister Ed Milliband asked Rapley to bring forward the exhibition to occur before the election. This was impossible, so Rapley asked a public relations firm to put on a scratch exhibition, which they did, in six weeks. It was rubbish, apparently, and resulted in a minor scandal when an online questionnaire on belief in climate change went wrong for the organisers, and was hacked. I wrote to the Science Museum trustees pointing out that directors of major cultural bodies do not normally jump to it when requested to by government ministers, except perhaps in North Korea, and demanding that Rapley be sacked. They didn’t reply, but soon after Rapley resigned, to take up a chair in my old university. By chance, my granddaughter was a student recently in the department to which Rapley was attached. She’d never heard of him. She’d hardly ever seen most of the professors, since the courses were given mostly by doctorate students. That’s the world’s fifth best university for you. It wasn’t like that in my day.
3.4 So I shall be writing to Professor Rapley too. A 93 year-old nature reporter can be forgiven for going a bit over the top on “the facts.” Rapley was paid out of the BBC licence fee to rein him in. I wonder what advice he gave, and whether it could be retrieved via a FOIA request? We know the BBC doesn’t like that, since they fielded five barristers to prevent Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery from discovering the identity of the 28 climate scientists responsible for establishing their policy on reporting climate change.
4. “Inevitably in a 60 minute programme there were some subject areas which could not be addressed in greater detail or which we did not feature.” Certainly. These will be listed in a forthcoming article here. Not to have mentioned climate sensitivity, for example, is a serious omission. The fact that the IPCC estimates climate sensitivity to CO2 as anywhere between 1.5°C and 4°C, and that there has been no progress in identifying a more precise value of this key concept in forty years, is a serious problem for climate science. But not, apparently, for the BBC.
5.“As climate change is accepted as happening, the BBC no longer seeks to ‘balance’ the debate by interviewing those who do not agree with this position.” Please name one person, anyone, who claims that climate change isn’t happening. The main claim of us climate sceptics, (or denialists, if you prefer,) is that climate change is happening all the time. Your policy, as demonstrated in this programme, and in all your output on the subject, is to ignore the opinions of all those who refuse to conform to the catastrophic view of climate change. Among those whose views were not mentioned in the programme, and can never be mentioned in any programme on the BBC, according to the criteria you announce, are respected climate scientists like Richard Lindzen, Judith Curry ,and John Christy and Roy Spencer of the university of Alabama, who produce the main satellite data base of global temperatures. As climate change is accepted as happening, the BBC no longer seeks to ‘balance’ the debate by interviewing climate scientists who do not agree with Michael Mann, Naomi Oreskes, and Peter Stott. Michael Mann and Naomi Oreskes hold opinions which are .. controversial.
6.“The film sought to balance potentially alarming scenarios with scientific analysis on attribution (the extent to which extreme weather events and other phenomena such as sea level rise can be linked to climate change), climate modelling and projections of what may happen in the future (in which inevitably there are many uncertainties) and actions aimed at reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change going forward.”
6.1“The film sought to balance potentially alarming scenarios..”The logical follow-on would have been: “..with less alarming scenarios.” Because, as you go on to say of what may happen in the future: “inevitably there are many uncertainties…” But instead, you balance your “potentially alarming scenarios”with“scientific analysis on attribution … climate modelling and projections of what may happen in the future … and actions aimed at reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change going forward.” This is not balancing. This is assuming the truth of the potentially alarming scenarios, and deciding what must be done to mitigate their effect. At no point were the “potentially alarming scenarios” balanced. And why should they be? As you say yourself in your reply: “the BBC no longer seeks to ‘balance’ the debate.”
7. “While Sir David Attenborough drew on his own experience of reporting on this subject over many years, he also balanced a sense of urgency with optimism that there are ways of addressing the serious issues we undoubtedly face.”Sir David Attenborough is 93. No-one is going to take him to court for being somewhat economical with the truth in a script that he may not even have written himself. But once again, the balance is unbalanced, because “the BBC no longer seeks to ‘balance’ the debate.”
8. The credits are extraordinarily vague for a programme claiming to reveal “the Facts” on a subject which numerous world leaders have identified as the most important problem facing the world. Three people responsible for producing the programme are identified as working for the Glasgow-based TV production company IWC Media. Only one of them, Jonathan Warne, features on the IWC Media website. Before helping to produce “Climate Change – the Facts” he was an estate agent. Nothing wrong with that, but one would like to know exactly what was his input into a programme about “the facts” of the science of climate change, and also what was the input of his two colleagues at IWC media who don’t even feature at their employer’s website.
9. The longest section of the programme is devoted to the opinions of Greta Thunberg, a child suffering from Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, who rose to fame when her mother wrote a book accusing the Swedish government of not doing enough to help her daughter. How this fits into a programme entitled “Climate Change – the Facts” is a not explained.