Climate skeptics advise: Don't mess with Attenborough

  • 08 Dec 2011, 13:00
  • Christian Hunt

Source: BBC

At a meeting at the House of Commons last week, climate skeptic Dr. Philip Stott warned against criticising David Attenborough's views on climate change. Going after a "national treasure", he suggested, could "backfire".

It's advice that skeptic journalist Christopher Booker ignores in the Daily Mail today as he launches an attack on 'Frozen Planet', fronted by Attenborough, in order to promote his new report on climate change "bias" at the BBC.

Booker is clearly aware that 'national treasure' Attenborough is a tricky target, and this makes for a rather disjointed article which praises Frozen Planet for its "breathtaking footage", while criticising Attenborough for a "deeply disappointing" show that put over an "apocalyptic message" about climate change.

Unfortunately it's clear that Booker probably hadn't watched the episode before writing his piece, or if he had, he's chosen to misrepresent it.

There was a notable absence of 'apocalyptic messages'. Don't take our word for it. Here's a review from the Telegraph, (Booker writes for the Sunday Telegraph):

"...Attenborough remains a BBC man to his bootstraps. At times, indeed, the result felt virtually like a parody of the Corporation's determined commitment to the sort of balance that proves its worth by annoying both sides."

In Booker's version of Frozen Planet:

"Sir David used the awesome shots of the frozen polar wastes to hammer home his belief that the world is facing disaster from man-made global warming."

The Telegraph note:

"At no point did he suggest any human involvement in climate change - and whenever possible he pointed out the animals that have benefited from the warmer conditions."

As far as we can see, Frozen Planet's take on climate change was careful and accurate. Indeed, throughout his piece, Booker does not present any criticisms of the science contained in the episode.

Stirring up controversy

This article is the product of an effort by Booker, his fellow travellers at the Global Warming Policy Foundation and the Daily Mail to whip up a bit of controversy on two of their favourite subjects - the BBC and climate change.

Of course, it is precisely because Frozen Planet has been such an excellent piece of science communication that it has been treated as a threat by the climate skeptic lobbyists, many of whom promote confusion and uncertainty about science as a way to bolster their political aims.

The GWPF Report

This article might raise suspicions about Booker's forthcoming report for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, for which the Mail piece is essentially an advert.

The GWPF has been openly criticising Frozen Planet for its scientific content, with founder Lord Lawson taking Attenborough to task on matters of science in the pages of the Radio Times last week, and the GPWF timing their new report to segue nicely with the last episode. (Lawson's critique contained basic errors, as we showed last week.)

This weighing in on scientific matters sits uneasily with the GWPF's mission statement, which notes:

"The GWPF does not have an official or shared view about the science of global warming... We regard observational evidence and understanding the present as more important and more reliable than computer modelling or predicting the distant future."

Given their endorsement of "observational evidence and understanding" to predict the effects of climate change, you might expect the GPWF to welcome the kind of detailed and compelling evidence Frozen Planet presents, but apparently not.

The GWPF's website even states "We are in no sense 'anti-environmental'", and yet in the Mail Booker lays into 'Blue Peter' for suggesting ways children might be able to help the environment. This, apparently, is evidence of the BBC's systematic bias against climate skeptics.

Booker's report - ''The BBC and Climate Change - a Triple Betrayal' - is published this afternoon. Should you want a preview, you can read Booker's views on the BBC here, or here, or here, or here, or here, or in any one of a slew of articles he has written on the topic. Presumably packaging them up into a report isn't going to change them.

Finally, it might seem like a strange time to launch a report about climate journalism, with the majority of the UK's environment correspondents off at Durban. But perhaps this is the aim of the exercise? Ex-Daily Mail environment correspondent David Derbyshire tweeted yesterday:

...environment journos will be in Durban unable to ask Booker questions about the science. Coincidence or not?

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