The great Channel 4 climate swindle

With a much-touted documentary telling the British public that climate change is all an unsubstantiated myth, Andy Bowman unpicks the shady politics and cod science of Channel 4's latest attempt to up its ratings

May 1, 2007
4 min read

Global warming caused by human activity is a giant hoax. Bush and the oil companies were right all along. So said the Channel 4 documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, produced by Martin Durkin and broadcast in March. It effectively attributed to the green movement a neo-imperialist agenda to prevent the world’s poorest regions from developing.

Like Al Gore’s recent venture into factual film making, Durkin’s account is staggeringly one sided, and has as much to do with a personal political agenda as it does with a discussion of climate science. Unlike Gore, however, Durkin utilises extremely dubious information, much of it discredited long before the documentary went to air.

Anybody scratching the surface of contemporary debates on climate change would be aware of the weak foundations of the documentary’s case. However, the content is understandable, given that the only scientific advisor employed was Martin Livermore, whose sole scientific qualification is as the director of the Scientific Alliance, an organisation that has no affiliation with any recognised scientific body. The Alliance was set up in 2001 by Robert Durward, the fiercely anti-green director of the British Aggregates Association, and Foresight Communications, a Westminster public relations and lobbying company, to ‘counter scare-mongering by the so-called green lobby’.

The Scientific Alliance, like most of the programme’s contributors, has strong links with US organisations that have been so effective in setting the Bush climate change agenda. Indeed, many of those featured in the film will be familiar to anyone with an eye on corporate greenwash as figures who have received funding from fossil fuel industries (Fred Singer, Patrick Michaels, Patrick Moore) or lack credentials as climate scientists (Philip Stott, Piers Corbyn).

If you have the money it is possible to assemble a team of scientists to defend any vested interests, as tobacco firms did for decades over the link between smoking and lung cancer. A similar denial industry has arisen over climate change.

Understandably, many people would rather listen to comforting assurances that the carbon economy can continue in full swing. Many will also pay handsomely for them, as Channel 4 has demonstrated.

Unfortunately this was not simply a case of well meaning ignorance on the part of those involved. Durkin is well known to Channel 4. In the past the channel has aired a number of his clumsy forays into the world of scientific controversy, none of which have passed without incident. They include 1997’s Against Nature, which attempted to paint environmentalists as proto-fascists. The programme makers were later reprimanded by the Independent Television Commission for misleading interviewees over the purpose of the documentary and misrepresenting their opinions through selective editing.

Durkin was also responsible for an edition of Equinox that linked silicone implants to the prevention of breast cancer. This was after being rejected by the BBC, whose in-house researcher stated that he was ignoring evidence contradicting his claims. Another of his programmes, a hopelessly ill informed portrayal of the GM crop debate in 2000, was condemned in a protest letter by multiple signatories from the developing world as a propaganda vehicle that made use of rural poverty to support transnational corporations, emotionally blackmailing the UK public into using GM products.

Repeated complaints have obviously not deterred Channel 4 from giving Durkin further funding and a prime-time slot, so it will be interesting to see how the channel responds to those arising from The Great Global Warming Swindle. These include one from Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the most credible sources used in the film. He is considering legal action against Channel 4, claiming that his views were ‘completely misrepresented’ and calling the film ‘as close to pure propaganda as anything since World War Two’.

Durkin’s political background involves strong ties to the (now disbanded) Revolutionary Communist Party, a group that went so far left it came out again on the other side. Like fundamentalist Christians seeking to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem to usher in the apocalypse, the RCP believed that the demise of capitalism would be speeded by exacerbating its worst effects. All attempts to bring about social and environmental justice were opposed as delays to the revolution but hidden beneath a libertarian rhetoric of extreme opposition to state interventionism.

Many of those associated with this group have been welcomed with open arms by the corporate press and others whose interests are threatened by the action required to respond to global warming. The Great Climate Swindle provided a perfect accompaniment to the advertisements upon which corporate media entities such as Channel 4 rely for their survival.


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