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BBC Panorama: The Balance of a Banana

July 6, 2010

Last week, the BBC aired a Panorama programme called What’s up With the Weather (this is a sly reference to that arch-denier – weatherman Anthony Watts). Panorama is a well-respected current affairs programme that has run on the BBC for many years, with a fine track record for investigative journalism.

Trouble is, the media is too frequently caught up in the attempts by deniers to obfuscate, to sow seed of doubt. They attack the science to create this doubt, but their ambition is to delay any kind of mitigating action that might address the cause of climate change. So by casting doubt on science and scientists, discussions about mitigation and adaptation are derailed, delayed, or postponed. In my view, this is a serious problem because the clock is ticking. The longer we delay taking mitigating steps, the harder it will be to adapt to the changes that are already inevitable, and the less time we’ll have to make adaptations. In other words, we are making this harder for ourselves.

It’s instructive to consider the premises for the Panorama investigation:

Despite governments, scientists and campaigners telling us the world’s climate is changing, opinion polls suggest growing uncertainty about global warming. It hasn’t helped that recent weather forecasts of a barbecue summer and a mild winter have been spectacularly wrong. Panorama’s Tom Heap has gone back to basics to ask what we really know about our climate and how it affect us.

Look – this didn’t happen last year! We’ve been talking about this since the 1980s. 30 years on, and we’re still having to get back to the basics, like ‘does CO2 trap heat’, ‘is there a greenhouse effect’ or ‘are humans increasing the amount of CO2 in the air?’ What next: The Periodic Table – did Mendeleev get it wrong?

Surely the question Panorama should be asking is this: why after 30 years are we still asking such basic questions? Some of which were answered a century ago.  How is it the public appear so woefully ill-informed, especially considering how pervasively self-important the media sees itself?

And if we’re looking for an agency to blame for this shocking state of ignorance, isn’t the media the obvious choice?

The reason we’re talking about the basics is because that’s where the conversation is stuck right now. This suits the agenda of denialists, because the more it appears to the public that there is doubt about such basic concepts as greenhouse gases, the easier it is to convince them that many scientists doubt the whole climate change theory, that there are opposing arguments of equal merit, and that some insidious forces are at work, conspiring against the common good.

By giving form and name to our anxieties, climate change becomes the vehicle for all our fears and disaffections. At the end of this weary road is doubt about knowledge itself, about education, about learning and discovery. This is the agenda of the anti-science lobby, who fear that which they don’t understand. It is time we stopped pandering to the fearful, and accept as fact what our intelligence tells us is so.

They say that the first step in curing an addiction is admitting you have a problem, so presumably the opposite it true – denying we have a problem is a good way to avoid implimenting any cure. Time for us to admit our addiction to fossil fuels, and the damage it is causing.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2010 12:27 am

    Hi Graham,

    Climate change is happening now, and the current fight against climate change is like the story of King Canute.

    I suggest we adopt a mantra “Fight Climate Ignorance” .

  2. gpwayne permalink*
    July 7, 2010 5:57 am

    Ah good – I’m glad you saw this piece Hengist, since it was you that brought the programme to my attention. Thanks for the tip (next up, mitigation v adaptation)

  3. July 7, 2010 2:44 pm

    You know the Russell Report is out today exonerating the CRU. A lot of time in this film was wasted going over the same old climategate conspiracy crap. It’s a shame Panorama couldn’t have waited for a week before going to air.

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