On Thursday night, Channel 4 broadcast what it described as a “controversial documentary”. It was essentially the same rather elderly climate denialist arguments that have been seen many times before – and assessed, and refuted – but packaged up with a bit of drama, as if they were new and unheard of.
That wasn’t the only problem with it.
Climate scientist ‘duped to deny global warming’
Ben Goldacre and David Adam
Sunday March 11, 2007
Annoyingly this got very badly cut for space in the paper. Link above is to the paper’s version, pasted here is the last version me and David saw, with lots more quotes from Wunsch. There’s excellent coverage in the Independent below too.
A leading US climate scientist is considering legal action after he says he
was “duped” into appearing in a “misleading” Channel Four documentary,
which claimed that man-made global warming is a myth.
Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at MIT, said the film, The
Great Global Warming Swindle, was “grossly distorted” and “as close to pure
propaganda as anything since World War Two”.
He says his comments in the film, screened on Thursday night, were taken
out of context and that he was misrepresented. He also says that the
project was misrepresented to him by the film makers, and that he would not
have agreed to participate if he had known what it was to be called, or
that it would argue that man-made global warming was not a serious threat.
“I thought they were trying to educate the public about the complexities of
climate change,” he said. “This seems like a deliberate attempt to exploit
someone who is on the other side of the issue.”
He has demanded that his comments are removed from the program, and says
that Channel Four “owes an apology to its viewers”. He is also considering
legal action and a complaint to Ofcom, the broadcasters regulator.
The film was made by Martin Durkin. In 1997, Mr Durkin produced a similar
series for Channel Four called Against Nature, which attacked many of the
claims of the environmental movement, and characterised them as comparable
Channel Four was forced in 1998 to broadcast a lengthy apology after
several interviewees complained that they had been deceived . The
Independent Television Commission (now part of Ofcom) upheld the complaint
and found that “the views of the four complainants, as made clear to the
interviewer, had been distorted by selective editing”, and that they had
been “misled as to the content and purpose of the programmes when they
agreed to take part.”
Professor Wunsch did not see Thursdayâ€™s program before it was broadcast,
and watched it only after colleagues in the UK contacted him with their
concerns. “The company I keep in this film makes me very uncomfortable,” he
said. “Why Me? I was duped. Perhaps my English colleagues might have
recognised Martin Durkin’s name and said no. I didn’t recognise the name.”
The film claimed that the role of human emissions in climate change has
been exaggerated, and that changes in the sun and cosmic rays could be to
blame instead â€” claims that have been repeatedly discussed and rejected by
climate scientists. In February, the UNâ€™s Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change said that a sharp rise in temperatures seen in the twentieth
century was â€œvery likelyâ€ to be caused by human activity.
The film introduced Professor Wunsch by describing his current and previous
academic affiliations. He was then shown talking about how the oceans
release carbon dioxide as they warm.
He told the Observer: “I explained that warming the ocean was damaging
because it will release more carbon dioxide. They used it to claim that
carbon dioxide is all natural.” He added: “I could forgive someone not
understanding the issues. This seems like a deliberate attempt to exploit
“We should be trying to explain to the public what we do and do not
understand. I feel my time was wasted, the public were misled, and an
opportunity was kicked away.”
Martin Durkin said: â€œCarl Wunsch was most certainly not “duped” into
appearing in the film, as is perfectly clear from our correspondence with
him. Nor are his comments taken out of context. His interview, as used in
the programme, perfectly accurately represents what he said.â€
Channel 4 said: â€œThe film was a polemic that drew together the well
documented views of a number of respected scientists. We feel it is
important that all sides of the debate are aired. If one of the scientists
featured now has concerns about his contribution, we will look into it in
the normal way.â€
Now to me, this is a rather interesting story from a public understanding of science perspective, because what defines Wunsch is that he is a man who has always been critical of hysteria on both sides of the debate, specifically criticising, for example, that slightly childish BBC program where the world froze over as a result of the evils of mankind. He is somebody who openly and honestly questions certainty and hysteria, whilst still clearly coming down on the side of man made climate change, but his very sceptical and critical approach to the evidence has been, as far as I can see, hijacked, to portray him as someone who is a friend of the climate “sceptics”, “dissidents”, or “denialists”.
So. Realclimate.org is always a good resource on climate stuff, and written by proper climate scientists.
Here they specifically address the rather elderly claims in The Great Global Warming Swindle:
And here are a couple of more general guides to arguing with a climate sceptic, that cover the same ground:
If you prefer books, Mark Maslin’s Global Warming – A Very Short Introduction is also very good, explains the science, and specifically addresses the climate sceptics claims.
The Independent Did It Very Well
Climate change: An inconvenient truth… for C4
This expert in oceanography quoted in last week’s debunking of the Gore green theory says he was ‘seriously misrepresented’
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Published: 11 March 2007
It was the television programme that set out to show that most of the world’s climate scientists are misleading us when they say humanity is heating up the Earth by emitting carbon dioxide. And The Great Global Warming Swindle, screened by Channel 4 on Thursday night, convinced many viewers that it is indeed untrue that the gas is to blame for global warming.
But now the programme – and the channel – is facing a serious challenge to its own credibility after one of the most distinguished scientists that it featured said his views had been “grossly distorted” by the film, and made it clear that he believed human pollution did warm the climate.
Professor Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said he had been “completely misrepresented” by the programme, and “totally misled” on its content. He added that he is considering making a formal complaint.
A Channel 4 spokesman said: “The film was a polemic that drew together the well-documented views of a number of respected scientists to reach the same conclusions. This is a controversial film but we feel that it is important that all sides of the debate are aired. If one of the contributors has concerns about his contribution we will look into that.”
Any complaint would provoke a crisis at Channel 4, now recovering from the Jade Goody Big Brother storm. It had to make a rare public apology after the Independent Television Commission convicted previous programmes on environmental issues by the same film-maker, Martin Durkin, of similar offences – and is already facing questions on why it accepted another programme from him.
The commission found that the editing of interviews with four contributors to a series called Against Nature had “distorted or misrepresented their known views”.
Professor Wunsch said: “I am angry because they completely misrepresented me. My views were distorted by the context in which they placed them. I was misled as to what it was going to be about. I was told about six months ago that this was to be a programme about how complicated it is to understand what is going on. If they had told me even the title of the programme, I would have absolutely refused to be on it. I am the one who has been swindled.”
When told what the commission had found, he said: “That is what happened to me.” He said he believes it is “an almost inescapable conclusion” that “if man adds excess CO2 to the atmosphere, the climate will warm”.
He went on: “The movie was terrible propaganda. It is characteristic of propaganda that you take an area where there is legitimate dispute and you claim straight out that people who disagree with you are swindlers. That is what the film does in any area where some things are subject to argument.”
Mr Durkin last night said that Professor Wunsch was “most certainly not duped into appearing into the programme” and that it “had not in any way misrepresented what he said”.
Before the programme was shown, the IoS asked Channel 4 why it had commissioned another film from Mr Durkin and, further, whether it was making any special checks on its accuracy.
A spokesman said the programme made by Mr Durkin for which it had had to apologise was a decade old, adding: “We treat Martin as any other film-maker.”
* David Cameron will tomorrow unveil three schemes to tax air travel in order to combat global warming. He is to consult on whether to impose VAT or fuel duty on domestic flights, institute a flight tax targeted at the most polluting engines, or to set up a “green miles scheme” to tax frequent flyers at a higher rate. The revenue raised would be used for tax cuts to help families.
The cold, hard facts about global warming
What do most scientists believe caused global warming?
The vast majority are convinced it is human emissions of carbon dioxide. It was established scientifically 180 years ago – and has never been seriously disputed – that natural levels of the gas given off by decaying vegetation and the oceans help to keep the Earth warm; without it, and other natural greenhouse gases, the planet would be some 20C colder and we would freeze. Adding even the so far relatively small amounts from human activities makes us warmer.
Has the world warmed before?
Yes, and big warmings over prehistoric times were not started by increasing CO2 levels; changes in solar activity are more likely. Levels of the gas started rising some 800 years into the warming, but then probably reinforced it, making it bigger and longer. Temperature and CO2 are interdependent; when one goes up the other follows. This time it is different because vast amounts of the gas are being artificially put into the atmosphere by humans.
What about more recent history?
There was a warm period in Europe in the Middle Ages, again probably caused by solar activity, but it does not seem to have been a worldwide phenomenon, although records are scanty.
So is the sun responsible now?
Some sceptics say so and probably it played the major role until quite recently. But over the past three decades, solar activity has scarcely risen, while temperatures have shot up – a fact disguised in the film. What has gone up is CO2 and even top sceptic Nigel Lawson admits it is “highly likely” that the gas has “played a significant part” in global warming this century.