Central to the case put forward in the 90 minute documentary, is the claim that the sun is responsible for all fluctuations in global temperature, with anthropogenic factors playing an insignificant role in recent warming trends. Such a delightfully simple explanation, why didn’t the worlds finest minds realize this before? Graph’s do show a correlation between solar irradiance and global temperature, but what the film crucially omits is the fact that once non-anthropogenic factors - such as solar sunspot changes, cosmic ray cloud nucleation changes and volcanic activity - have been taken into account, it is apparent that the earth should at present be cooling, not warming (1).
The sun’s energy alone does not create our climate, the atmosphere traps heat in what is known as the greenhouse effect. It is the quantifiable anthropogenic changes made to the atmosphere which explain the present rise in temperature. Theories of Cosmo-climatology such as those advanced in the film have not remained credible under peer scrutiny, and as such are not taken that seriously in the scientific community (2). Furthermore, the graph used to prove the relationship between solar rays and temperature turns out to be a little less accurate than was claimed (3). To retain balance in this article, it is necessary to say that Durkin might respond by suggesting that climate scientists who disagree with the cosmic rays theory (the majority) are not doing so due to lack of credible evidence, but as part of a conspiratorial proto-fascist resurgence led by environmentalists, as Durkin effectively claimed in a 1997 documentary “Against Nature”, aired on channel 4.
Prior to bringing the spurious cosmic rays theory into play, Durkin displays ice core data proving that increases in temperature precede increases in atmospheric CO2 levels. From this it is inferred that humanity can‘t be involved in global warming…thus, it must be the sun! Again only part of the story is told. CO2 and temperature are presented as entirely un-correlated, rather than as strongly coupled variables in a feedback relationship. CO2 is not responsible for initiating warming, but amplifies it once it is underway, as we are now witnessing (4). The film should also have mentioned that there is a considerable lag between emitting CO2 and the increase in temperature – we will not witness the effects of current emissions for some time yet.
A further attempt to sever the link between human activity and global temperature came with a focus upon the plateau in global temperature between 1940 and 1980, a period when CO2 emissions were rising. Again lying by omission, there was no attempt to explain that this plateau has been attributed to the greater prevalence of sulphate aerosols (which cause cooling) during this period.
Many of the most potent weapons in the pub climate skeptics arsenal were also brought out over the course of the film. Firstly, the medieval warm period, where one could grow grapes in the UK -. The film neglected to mention that this was a regional fluctuation rather than a global change (5). Secondly, the so called mini ice-age, again a regional fluctuation, specific to Western Europe, and insignificant compared to the global trends we are now experiencing (6). Thirdly, the claim that volcanoes are responsible for greater CO2 emissions than humans - something that flatly contradicts all available evidence, which shows the sum total of all CO2 emitted by active volcanoes amounts to about 1/150th of anthropogenic emissions (7).
Anybody even scratching the surface of contemporary debates on climate change would be aware of the weak foundations of the case put forward. However, the content is understandable given that the only scientific advisor employed for the documentary was a certain Martin Livermore, whose sole scientific qualification is as the Director of The Scientific Alliance, an organization that has no affiliation with any recognized scientific body. The Alliance was set up by in 2001 by Robert Durward, the fiercely anti-green director of the British Aggregates Association, and Foresight Communications, a Westminster public relations and lobbying company, to “counter scare-mongering by the so-called green lobby”. The Scientific Alliance, like most of the contributors to the program, has strong links with the US public relations organizations that have been so effective in setting the Bush agenda on climate change. Indeed, many of the scientists used as authoritative voices on the documentary will be familiar to those with an eye on corporate greenwash, as figures who have received direct funding from fossil fuel industries (Fred Singer, Patrick Michaels, Patrick Moore) or lack credentials as climate scientists (Philip Stott, Piers Corbyn) (8).
The scientific community is never unified on any issue, and if you have the money it is possible to assemble a team of scientists to defend your vested interests should they be threatened by other scientific discoveries. This happened in the past when the link between lung cancer and smoking emerged, and in recent times a denial industry has arisen to confuse the issue of climate change. Although by no means perfect, the IPCC was established to remedy the confusion that results from a multitude of different voices pitching into the debates on global warming, with agendas concealed beneath a façade of scientific neutrality. It presents us with a moderate line on climate change, taken from the thorough examination of contemporary peer-reviewed scientific literature. It happens to be the case that even the moderate line on climate change is extremely troubling (9), and the IPCC is most frequently criticized for under-stating the problems faced (10).
Understandably, many people would rather listen to comforting assurances that the carbon economy can continue in full swing. Many will also pay handsomely for them, as channel 4 has demonstrated.
Given the serious implications of any discussion surrounding global warming, how was it that such an obviously misleading documentary came to be broadcast? Of course anti-dogmatism is the lifeblood of science, all theories must be continually challenged, and this is to be encouraged in the public arena - but only when these challenges are based upon theories proven by credible evidence -something this film conclusively failed to provide.
Unfortunately this was not simply a case of well meaning ignorance on the part of those involved. Durkin is well known to channel 4, in the past they have aired a number of his clumsy forays into the world of scientific controversy, none of which have passed without incident. They include 1997’s “Against Nature” which attempted to paint environmentalists as proto-fascists (later reprimanded by the Independent Television Commission for misleading interviewee’s over the purpose of the documentary and misrepresenting their opinions through selective editing ) (11), an edition of Equinox which linked silicone implants to the prevention of breast cancer (rejected by the BBC whose in house researcher stated that Durkin was ignoring evidence contradicting his claims), and a hopelessly ill informed portrayal of the GM crop debate in 2000 (multiple signatories from the Third World complained in a joint letter following the programme that it was a propaganda vehicle that made use of the Third World's rural poverty to support the monopoly control and global use of genetically modified food production by transnational corporations and emotionally blackmail the UK public into using GM) (12). Serious complaints about the misinformation distributed in these films has obviously not deterred channel four from once again giving Durkin funding and a primetime slot. The complaints have begun to accumulate, including one from Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the most credible sources used in the film, who is considering legal action against channel 4, claiming that his views have been “completely misrepresented” to imply that pollution has nothing to do with global warming, calling the film “as close to pure propaganda as anything since World War Two” (13).
The final section of the documentary was the most enlightening. Neglecting to mention the environmentalist mantra of contraction and convergence (allowing people living in poorer nations to increase their emission levels up to a sustainable level, should they want to, whilst the biggest polluters contract dramatically to sustainable levels), nor the fact that the Kyoto protocol does not apply to the worlds poorest nations, nor that the less economically developed regions of the world will be worst affected by climate change, Durkin claims that anthropocentric global warming is a conspiracy drawn up by the global elite to lock poorer nations into ‘under-development’, to the benefit of the wealthy. Therefore ceaseless growth of the carbon economy must continue! Durkin’s political background involves strong ties to the (now disbanded) Revolutionary Communist Party, a group that went so far left it came out again on the right (14). The RCP believed, similar to fundamentalist Christians seeking to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem to usher in the apocalypse, that the demise of capitalism will be speeded by exemplifying its worst effects on the human population of the world and its ecosystems. All attempts to bring about social and environmental justice are opposed as delays to the revolution, but hidden beneath right wing libertarian rhetoric of extreme opposition to state interventionism. It is no wonder then that many associated with this group have been welcomed with open arms by the corporate press, and others whose interests are threatened by the curtailment of consumption necessary as a response to global warming. ‘The Great Climate Swindle’ provides a perfect accompaniment to the advertisements upon which corporate media entities such as channel 4 rely upon for their survival.
As it stands, the coming century is likely to bring droughts, floods, famines, resource wars and mass migrations on a scale never seen before. Responses to the impending crisis are at present hopelessly inadequate, and if one doesn’t feel motivated to join the growing protest movement in some capacity, perhaps it would be best to pray that Durkin and co. are correct.
(10) IPCC for policy makers, 4ar http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/docs/WG1AR4_SPM_PlenaryApproved.pdf