My article from Reaction:
I was asked to appear on the Today programme on Saturday 28 December by the guest editor, Charles Moore, and made the case that the BBC’s coverage of climate change is unbalanced. Despite a lot of interruption by Nick Robinson I just about got across the point that the BBC uncritically relays any old rubbish about the environment so long as it is alarmist, even if it comes from an uninformed source like the leader of Extinction Rebellion or falls well outside the range of the scientific consensus that we are on course for a warming of 1-4 degrees this century. But the Corporation has strict rules about letting guests on who might say that the climate change threat is being exaggerated, even if their view and their facts fall within that consensus range.
The BBC now has a rule that if by some oversight a lukewarmer or sceptic does get on the air, he or she must be followed by a corrective interview from a scientist, setting the record straight. Sure enough I was followed by Sir David King, former government chief science advisor. (He’s a qualified chemist, while I am a qualified biologist.)
I sat there open-mouthed as he beautifully demonstrated my point with one exaggeration after another. He said that Europe’s dash for diesel had nothing to do with greens, when green pressure groups pushed actively for it. He said that we will see 1-2 metres of sea level rise this century, when the current rate of rise is 3.4 millimetres a year with no acceleration (or 0.3 metres per century). He said that all of Greenland’s ice cap might melt and could cause 5-6 metres of sea level rise, though at current rates of melting, Greenland’s ice cap will be 99% intact in 2100. He said that wild fires were being caused by trees dying out because of rising temperatures, rather than a failure to manage increasingly luxuriant vegetation in fire-risk areas leading to a build up of tinder. He said scientists are agreed that Calcutta will have to be moved, when the Ganges delta is actually expanding in area, not shrinking.
What readers of newspapers and listeners to the radio do not see is the sustained and deliberate pressure put on editors to toe the alarmist line on climate change. Take Bob Ward, who works at the London School of Economics, where his salary is paid by a billionaire, Jeremy Grantham. Ward is not employed to do research, but to “communicate” climate science. He chooses to interpret this as a duty to put pressure on the media to censor people like me. He complains to the Times almost every time I mention climate change, often getting his facts wrong, and kicked up a huge fuss when the Times, after publishing half a dozen of his letters declined to publish another one.
Recently he has taken to complaining to the Independent Press Standards Organisation. Whenever Charles Moore, James Delingpole, David Rose, the late Christopher Booker, I or any other journalist writes an article arguing against exaggerated climate alarmism in one of the newspapers self-regulated by IPSO, he sends in a detailed and lengthy complaint. He never complains about the myriad alarmist mistakes that appear all the time like articles saying that “the science” tells us six billion people are going to die soon because of climate change.
IPSO was invented, remember, to give redress for people whose private lives were invaded by journalists, yet Ward is never complaining on his own behalf (though he probably will after this piece). To give one example, I wrote an article in the Times in 2017 about a scientist whistleblower in the United States who said his colleagues had deliberately distorted a data set to make climate change look more alarming.
Although all of this took place in America and had nothing to do with British scientists, let alone Ward himself, and although the scientist in question was happy with my article, Ward sent IPSO 11 separate lengthy complaints about supposed inaccuracies in my article. I responded with a very lengthy reply, which took two weeks to compile. IPSO asked him to respond to my response, which he did at great length. He raised several new issues that had not been in the original article. IPSO asked me to respond. I did so, at great length and effort. Ward responded a third time. (Remember: this is his day job.) This time, six months into the argument, I and the Times refused to reply and instead asked IPSO to rule on the matter. They did so and quickly found in my favour, dismissing all 11 of Mr Ward’s complaints. Every single one.
In 2019 he tried it again over an article of mine in the Telegraph about how giving up meat would make little difference to emissions, but this time IPSO rejected all of his complaints without even asking me for a response.
Let me give you a flavour of the sort of thing he says in a complaint. My article had said “A study in rural Kenya found that eating eggs made children grow five per cent faster.” Ward complained that “although the study did find that ‘a child who ate eggs once per day during the recall period grew 5% more in height than a child who ate no eggs’”, Ward thought the “claim was misleading because the study was not making a comparison with children on vegan diet”. But I had not claimed that it was. This is a very clear example of somebody being purely vexatious, not even expecting to win the point, just to waste my time.
Indeed Ward’s aim seems to be never to win the point – that would be a bonus – but to tie us down in a time-consuming process of defending ourselves, in the hope that it deters us from offering similar articles to editors in the future, and deters editors from commissioning them. It works. He has frightened away some journalists and editors from the vital topic of climate change, leaving the catastrophists with a clear field to scare children to their hearts content.
Not surprisingly some on the other side of the argument have now learned to emulate this tactic. Though with nothing like the resources of Mr Ward’s employer, the Global Warming Policy Forum has complained about mistakes in BBC programmes and newspapers in recent years, but in this case ones that exaggerate climate problems rather than underplay them. Unlike Ward, the GWPF keeps winning its cases. It got the BBC to correct an absurd claim that flooding had grown 15 times worse in ten years and another that reindeer were in steep decline due to climate change. It pointed out that a David Attenborough programme called “Climate Change: the facts” claimed that floods and storms are getting worse – contradicting what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says. It got the BBC to admit that Lord Deben (John Gummer) was guilty of misleading Today Programme listeners that there was a “ban” on onshore wind. And so on.
It turns out that calling out catastrophists on the media is a much more target-rich environment than calling out sceptics. But the BBC and others have such a cosy relationship with the alarmist green pressure groups (the fraternisation on Twitter is in plain sight) that they keep making mistakes.
To stay updated, follow me on Twitter @mattwridley and Facebook. My new book How Innovation Works will be available May 2020.
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