I don’t follow media in my native country, but by all accounts David Attenborough makes great documentaries. So did Leni Riefenstahl. Any errors of appreciation she may have made in making films of Nazi propaganda were compensated for by her later photographic work among the Nuba of Sudan. She was 98 when she suffered broken ribs in a helicopter crash while seeking to come to the aid of her Nuba friends during the Sudan civil war. She died at the age of 101. There’s still time for Attenborough to rectify the errors in his film “Climate Change – the Facts.”
Leni was a member of Greenpeace in the last years of her life. Say what you like about “Triumph of the Will” but at least all those blond uniformed Apollos really existed, which is more than you can say for the speculations of Mann and Stott in “Climate Change – the Facts.” And in her 1936 film of the Berlin Olympic Games Leni Riefenstahl showed the black American athlete Jesse Owens. Can you imagine Attenborough and the BBC including Lindzen or Pielke or Curry in their programme? Of course not. This is Britain 2019, not Nazi Germany, 1936. Think about it.
I’ve finally received a substantive reply to my complaint to the BBC about the Attenborough programme “Climate Change – the Facts.” I published my first complaint (limited to 2000 characters – approximately 300 words) here and added the BBC’s entirely irrelevant stock reply, and the substance of the reply I intended to make to the BBC’s reply. (I said I’d be writing to Rapley and Stott too, which I haven’t so far.)
My actual reply to their stock reply (limited to 2000 characters – hence “Ozzy” for “Australian” etc.) was as follows:
Your reply to my complaint doesn’t even mention the dozen factual errors I identified, which would suggest to an average person that you accept my criticisms. If so, please withdraw the programme, rectify the mistakes, and apologise to your viewers.
If you do dispute my criticisms, and continue to assert that we are experiencing “greater storms, greater floods extreme sea-level rise;”that “at the current rate of warming, we risk a devastating future”; that the heatwave that killed Ozzy bats is unprecedented; that a fire in Montana in 2009 is relevant to last year‘s fires in California; that Louisiana land loss is due to man-made sea rise and not to land use and water management; etc. please furnish evidence for your claims.
Your statement: “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” is a straw man argument. Hardly anyone disputes that climate change is happening. Many scientists and others dispute the likely scale or effects. You ignored them.
You could have interviewed prominent climate scientists like Spencer and Christy (responsible for the NASA satellite temperature data) Linden and JudithCurry, or experts in the economic consequences of climate change like Pielke and Lomborg, none of whom dispute the reality of climate change.Are they also covered by your ban? If not, why were their dissenting opinions not mentioned? By ignoring their existence, you gave a deliberately biassed view of the science.
Please answer factually my objections to your so-called facts quickly so we can get on to the interesting bit with Ofcom. There I shall be arguing that your documentary has been a key factor in getting a parliamentary motion passed declaring a fantasy climate emergency; that it is a mendacious political tract; that many of your so-called experts are charlatans; and that the BBC has broken its statutory duty ofpolitical neutrality. Then it gets interesting.
I reproduce the BBC’s reply below in full, with a first draft of my reply in italics. Emphasis is mine, and I’ve altered the paragraphing where it was odd.
Dear Mr Chambers
Thank you for contacting us again about Climate Change – The Facts. We are sorry you remain unhappy following our previous response.
In producing its Fifth Assessment Report in 2014 the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) drew on the expertise of a large number of the world’s top scientists to assess the scientific evidence of climate change and concluded: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
All the national academies of science agree on the existence of man-made climate change and the vast majority of international and national bodies involved in the study of climate change are also in agreement on this point.
While we note that you disagree with these assessmentsthere is no requirement on the BBC to reflect opposing views. The BBC seeks to achieve due impartiality by giving “due weight” to the range of opinions on a subject. This means that minority views do not have to be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus.
But I never said I disagreed with these assessments. Why should I, given that nowhere in the programme did anyone (except climate “denier” Lord Lawson) mentioned the IPCC, and no-one among the many scientists in the programme made the point that: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”? You have invented my disagreement in order to be able to dismiss my arguments as those of a climate denier. This has been the BBC’s constant ploy since the report on science coverage for the BBC Trust by Professor Jones. In attributing views to me that are not mine you simply demonstrate your bad faith. Please stop it.
The interviewees who did feature in the programme came from a wide range of disciplines and are among the leading experts in their fields.
Apart from Oreskes, who is a historian of science, and Black, who is an ex-BBC journalists and currently a climate activist, the experts interviewed were all climate scientists, which would have been fine if the programme had stuck to Climate Change – the Facts. But the programme wandered very far from “the facts” into areas of policy, which require the expertise of economists and others. Here, it would have been necessary to balance the views of those, like Stern, who think that immediate action is necessary to avoid far more expensive action in the future, and those, equally qualified, like Nordhaus and Lomborg, who think that actions envisaged are absurdly expensive, or would have a negligible effect on global warming, measurable in hundredths of a degree.
Certainly Mann, James Hansen, Stott, Maslin etc. can be counted as “leading experts.” But they didn’t reveal any expertise in your programme. They simply stated, as if it were an established fact, that the effects of climate change are going to be disastrous. Again, the programme was called “..the Facts.” But your “leading experts” failed to mention a single “fact” between them. Only Shepherd on glaciers and Matthew Hansen on loss of forests (not linked to climate change) presented material which could be considered factual.
We note that you are concerned about the statement that “at the current rate of warming, we risk a devastating future”. This statement is based on evidence that climate change threatens human wellbeing and prosperity now and in the future in a wide variety of ways that together constitute an unprecedented menace. It is our view that the statement and the level of “alarm” of the film is supported and justified by statements from the UN, and other science, policy, economics, business, security, health and environmental communities.
The statement: “at the current rate of warming, we risk a devastating future” is not supported by the evidence and authorities you cite. “The current rate of warming”is, according to NOAA, WMO and the different global temperature data sets based on their data (GISSTEMP, HADCRUT) 0.9°C for the past century, (revised upward from half a degree from the estimates of the same experts twenty years ago, due to a downwards revision of historical data – but let it pass) By cherrypicking the data one can obtain decadal rises of anywhere between zero and 0.2°C. In no case can one point to a “current rate of warming”which can be described as“devastating.” Only the projections from climate models are “devastating.”
The programme did not claim that “the heatwave that killed Ozzy bats is unprecedented”. Historical evidence shows that Australian fruit bats have been living at their habitat heat limit for a long time – and as a result have experienced occasional irregular heat death events even back as far as the 18th century.
What the programme sought to explain was that while not every single weather event is due to climate change, global warming is changing baseline temperatures in Australia; this relatively small change in mean temperature results in a higher frequency of extreme temperatures. It follows that fruit bats are now increasingly at risk of multiple major heat death events, as indeed occurred in Queensland last year, when an estimated 20,000 died. This was the first time this species – the more northerly Spectacled Flying Fox – has been affected in such numbers.
Thanks for quoting some facts – like the name of the species – absent from the programme. Let’s grant that a relatively small change in mean temperature results in a higher frequency of extreme temperatures, and that it follows that fruit bats are now increasingly at risk of multiple major heat death events. So what? We’ve been experiencing a “relatively small change in mean temperature” globally since about the seventeenth century, long before man-made global warming. Species are affected by such things, and no doubt some may die out, and no doubt some extinctions may be attributed to human action. Again, so what? No-one wants to see species extinction, but the view propagated among your millions of viewers is that we’re facing the Sixth Great Extinction, that thousands of species are disappearing every year, and that it’s all the fault of climate change. No mammal species has disappeared as a result of climate change. Total known species extinctions over the past century is measured in dozens, not thousands. Total species are measured in millions or possibly hundreds of millions.Your images of dying baby bats only served to reinforce the false beliefs propagated by thousands of unscientific media articles.
We believe the programme was clear that the extraction of oil and gas and sea level rise have both played a role in Louisiana land loss. However, evidence suggests that climate change is often a threat multiplier in already vulnerable places and for already vulnerable communities. Hence the inclusion of the Isle de Jean Charles as an example of this.
Indeed you made it clear that “ the extraction of oil and gas and sea level rise have both played a role in Louisiana land loss.” when Attenborough said: “The Isle de Jean Charles was once home to 400 people, but subsidence caused by oil and gas extraction, and now, rising seas, means that in the last six decades, much of it has disappeared.” But what was the point of your long interviews with Colette Battle and Chief Albert Naquin about a patch of swamp sinking faster than other patches of swamp because of subsidence? Every block of council flats demolished because of land subsidence, crap building practices, or the need for a new ring road results in 400 people losing their homes. What’s special about Chief Naquin and his reminiscences about his grandparents’ home that made it relevant to Climate Change – the Facts? Fact is, average sea level rise is 3mm per year, and has remained constant before and after massive CO2 emissions. The rate of sea level rise is not rising.
The footage of the wildfire in Montana was captioned with the location and date, clearly distinguishing it from the footage of wildfires in California. The date of the Montana footage was 2018, not 2009 as you’ve suggested here.
My apologies for the error. I took the 2009 date from a Radio Times article. You are no doubt familiar with the graph (it’s all over the internet) showing that the area lost to forest fires in the USA was far greater in the early 20th century, due to less efficient fire fighting methods. To link the Montana fire to climate change it would have been necessary to establish some facts about temperatures and long term frequency of droughts, wind patterns and forest fires in Montana. You didn’t do that. You had film footage of frightened people trapped in a forest fire. They were ten times less likely to die in a forest fire in 2018 than in 1918, because of a little thing called Progress, but they were a million times more likely to have the means to record their ordeal. Nice footage. Shame about the logic.
We hope this response addresses your concerns. Having offered the above, I’m afraid we cannot correspond with you further at this first stage of the complaints process. If you are still dissatisfied, you can contact the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU). The ECU is stage 2 of the BBC’s complaints process.
Details of the BBC complaints process are available at
where you can read the BBC’s full complaints framework.
If you wish to contact the ECU, please write to it directly within 20 working days of receiving this reply. Please explain to it why you believe there may have been a potential breach of standards or other significant issue for it to investigate.
You can email email@example.com, or write to: Executive Complaints Unit, BBC, Broadcast Centre, London W12 7TQ. Please include the case reference number we have provided above in this reply.
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I do like the idea of a BBC Executive Complaints Unit (ECU).
The ECU is stage 2 of the BBC’s complaints process.
These chaps have read their Kafka. The BBC Executive Complaints Unit is on the floor above the normal department for complaints about how the jury for Strictly Come Dancing was biassed. There’s wall-to-wall carpet and the replies to complainants are written personally by executives with a fountain pen, and not copied and pasted by spotty interns. And there’s no limit on the number of characters complainants can use. So I’ll be letting myself go with a detailed response.
I recommend any of you still interested in the BBC programme to address your complaints directly to the Executive Complaints Unit. There your bleats will be read and replied to by graduates, and not spotty bots.
My initial complaint missed the mark, because of the 2000 character limit. I listed errors of fact in telegraphic form. But the real problem is not there. This was the BBC Science Unit. They held a meeting at which it was decided to establish the official truth once and for all about Climate Change ((i.e. “the Facts.”)
“But please, don’t quote the IPCC. No-one believes official authorities.”
“But can’t we interview experts?”
“Sure. As long as they only express their opinions.”
“But what about data?”
“You can show just one graph, but not for more than five seconds, and it must be one prepared by the BBC’s own graphic designers.”
“So what are we going to use as fillers between the experts?”
“Disasters. Floods. Fires. Whatever. Just make sure it’s sexually and ethnically balanced.”
The more you think about it, the more you realise that the gaga Attenborough and his supporting cast is nothing like the Nazi genius Riefenstahl.
There’s another civil war in Sudan. I wonder who’s there photographing and defending the Nuba?