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Tim Dodd

05.10.2011 | 3:00pm
ScienceGlobal Warming Policy Foundation promotes shale gas on the BBC
SCIENCE | October 5. 2011. 15:00
Global Warming Policy Foundation promotes shale gas on the BBC

Energy company Cuadrilla Resource says that it has found “vast” reserves of shale gas near Blackpool, and the company claims that 800 wells could be drilled in the region creating 5,600 jobs. Shale gas has come to town, and with it the need to pundits to sound off about it.

Step forward the Director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Dr Benny Peiser, who last week appeared on BBC North West discussing the recent discovery. The GWPF have recently been active attacking the impacts of green energy measures on energy bills and promoting shale gas as the new miracle energy source, so perhaps they were an obvious choice to provide a bit of background for BBC North West.

In a phrase trailed by the presenters, Peiser described the development as “the best news the north-west has had for thirty years”. In the interview he makes some fair points about some of the knee-jerk responses to shale gas, noting that the recent enquiry by the Environment and Climate Change Committee into the implications of fracking (the controversial methodology by which shale gas is extracted from the ground) concluded that the safety implications are manageable.

However, the framing of Peiser’s appearance by the BBC was odd, especially given the recent BBC trust review of their science coverage. Peiser was described as ‘independent environmental academic’, and the GWPF as an ‘independent charitable think-tank”. During the interview, the presenter referred to Peiser directly as a “obviously a global warming expert”.

This positioning is strange given the pointed criticism in the BBC Trust Review of the amount of space given to climate skeptics by the corporation. The Review name-checked the GWPF specifically, which it characterised as an organisation “active in casting doubt on the truth of man-made climate change”.

We’re not sure what qualifications it takes to be described as a ‘global warming expert’ these days – Peiser is an anthropologist, and his academic qualifications are in sports science.   Dr Peiser’s peer-reviewed publications include an article on on the frequency and consequences of ‘cosmic impacts’, one on the effects of environmental factors on the Olympic games, and one on how human activity levels vary with the seasons.

Peiser is not a climate scientist and does not claim to be, although he has appeared on a list of ‘global warming experts’ – one published by the US free-market think tank the Heartland Institute. Similarly, describing Peiser and the GWPF as ‘independent’ seems difficult when they have been so notoriously opaque about who they are funded by – there isn’t enough information to say this confidently.

We have documented examples of how the GWPF (and its founder Lord Lawson) has cast doubt on the science of climate change. The Daily Mail recently printed a correction to a series of high-profile articles about the impact of green measures on energy bills, which were based on figures supplied by the GWPF, but not explained or substantiated by the organisation.

Peiser’s positive stance on shale gas was unsurprising given the sustained lobbying the GWPF have been undertaking in favour of shale gas over recent months. In May they released a report – ” The Shale Gas Shock” authored by popular science writer and  climate skeptic Matt Ridley. The report was given an enthusiastic foreword from contrarian physicist Freeman Dyson, which stated:

“Because of shale gas, the air in Beijing will be cleaned up as the air in London was cleaned up sixty years ago. Because of shale gas, clean air will no longer be a luxury that only rich countries can afford. Because of shale gas, wealth and health will be distributed more equitably over the face of our planet”.

In the interview, Peiser presented shale gas as a “clean” fuel because it produces approximately half the emissions to coal. Fair enough – but it’s not that straightforward, as the Chair of the UK’s Energy and Climate Change Committee Tim Yeo has noted:

“Shale gas could encourage more countries to switch from coal to gas, which in some cases could halve power station emissions. But if it has a downward effect on gas prices it could divert much needed investment away from lower carbon technologies like solar, wind, wave or tidal power.”

If shale gas diverts investment from the renewable sector (a prospect which seems to please the GWPF) it is likely to threaten, rather than assist, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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