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Complaint on the BBC Panorama programme,

‘What’s up with the weather?’ 5th July 2010


The BBC recently aired the Panorama documentary 'What's up with the weather?' which questioned climate scientists and the public on how certain they were about climate change.  Whilst the programme correctly portrayed that all climate scientists agree that man is partly responsible for climate change, but differ to the extent of his influence, it still gave far too much time to those views which see him  only as a minor player. This misrepresents the informed scientific opinion and inadvertently bolsters the Climate Denialists strategy of creating doubt in the minds of the public. Their purpose is to establish just enough public scepticism to undermine political will and prevent the concerted significant action we most urgently need.  


Unfortunately the public don’t really understand probabilities, and unless advice is presented as ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ they will gain the impression of a continuing informed debate on this subject. This time might never come, since there will always be a few scientists who have vested interests in the carbon industry or simply retain a dogmatic attitude. These few percent of climate scientists, and the far greater number which masquerade as them, will continue to occupy the media's interest through the continual marketing of sceptical and denialist propaganda funded by the carbon industry and right wing institutes.  Perhaps this pressure is the real reason why a ‘balanced view’ of climate change is often presented.  This reasonably sounding term is placed into perspective in Okrent's law:


The pursuit of balance can create imbalance because sometimes something is true’


In the programme, John Christy suggested 10-30% of scientists don't support the scientific consensus on climate change.  However, he is mostly referring to non-climate scientists, including many with vested interests such as Petroleum geologists!  In fact 97-98% of Climate scientists who regularly publish in the peer reviewed literature support the scientific consensus, therefore Christy represents only a very small minority of those who are qualified to advise on this subject!  So why does the amount of documentary time given to these contrary views not reflect this?  It is also unclear why Bjorn Lomberg was included at all since his background is in politics not science, and the scientific community has largely discredited his views.


I notice the manufactured hysteria of 'climategate' based on the stolen Emails from the UEA was mentioned.  There are some excellent explanations of these available which could have been used to reduce their propaganda value, but none was offered.  Also mentioned were a few errors contained in the latest IPCC report.  In fact there was only two of which only one could be blamed on the IPCC, the third has since been discredited.   These large documents may occasionally contain accidental errors due to the sheer volume of material and reliance on supposedly reputable sources.  Needless to say these rare cases are mercilessly milked and taken out of context by Denialists with a political agenda. Perhaps it have been far better to compare these few mistakes with the concerted campaign by the carbon lobby and right wing groups to undermine climate science and deliberately confuse the public with false information?


Headlines are also vitally important. It is no use using a title such as 'What's up with the Weather?' then briefly mentioning that 'climate isn't weather' somewhere in the middle of the programme, the damage is already done!  If the concept of weather has to be introduced at all why not contrast the cold areas of the earth with the high temperatures recorded at the same time.  Better still the record global temperatures recorded during the last 12 months should be placed in context with the long-term trends in temperatures and Arctic sea-ice volume illustrated in graphical form.


There was also a bias in suggesting that climate mitigation measures are expensive.  In fact energy conservation schemes such as basic home insulation are usually highly cost effective, whilst downsizing and avoiding excessive consumption can save on capital costs as well. Perhaps it is our political focus on economic growth, encouraged through advertising that is fundamentally at fault and this should have been emphasised in this part of the programme?


Rather than ridiculing electric cars, it may have been more useful to mention that most journey lengths are potentially within the range of cheaper more basic electric vehicles, that some people rarely travel long distances, and alternative transportation strategies could be made available such as using car pools as a back up for these longer journeys.  Perhaps the lack of range of electric cars is an advantage anyway since we should be discouraging the motor car in favour of telecommunications and more environmental forms of transport.


Finally the measurements of carbon dioxide concentrations from petrol cars and gas boiler exhausts were meaningless since these concentrations should remain approximately constant for the fuel used.  The volume of gas flow needs to be additionally measured to calculate the mass emitted!




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