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.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry


30