My Times column on the BBC’s unbalanced environmental coverage:
The BBC’s behaviour grows ever more bizarre. Committed by charter to balanced reporting, it has now decided formally that it was wrong to allow balance in a debate between rival guesses about the future. In rebuking itself for having had the gall to interview Nigel Lawson on the Today programme about climate change earlier this year, it issued a statement containing this gem: “Lord Lawson’s views are not supported by the evidence from computer modelling and scientific research.”
The evidence from computer modelling? The phrase is an oxymoron. A model cannot, by definition, provide evidence: it can provide a prediction to test against real evidence. In the debate in question, Lord Lawson said two things: it was not possible to attribute last winter’s heavy rain to climate change with any certainty, and the global surface temperature has not warmed in the past 15 to 17 years. He was right about both, as his debate opponent, Sir Brian Hoskins, confirmed.
As for the models, here is what Dr Vicky Pope of the Met Office said in 2007 about what their models predicted: “By 2014, we’re predicting that we’ll be 0.3 degrees warmer than 2004. Now just to put that into context, the warming over the past century and a half has only been 0.7 degrees, globally . . . So 0.3 degrees, over the next ten years, is pretty significant . . . These are very strong statements about what will happen over the next ten years.”
In fact, global surface temperature, far from accelerating upwards, has cooled slightly in the ten years since 2004 on most measures. The Met Office model was out by a country mile. But the BBC thinks that it was wrong even to allow somebody to challenge the models, even somebody who has written a bestselling book on climate policy, held one of the highest offices of state and founded a think-tank devoted to climate change policy. The BBC regrets even staging a live debate between him and somebody who disagrees with him, in which he was robustly challenged by the excellent Justin Webb (of these pages).
And why, pray, does the BBC think this? Because it had a complaint from a man it coyly describes as a “low-energy expert”, Mr Chit Chong, who accused Lord Lawson of saying on the programme that climate change was “all a conspiracy”.
Lawson said nothing of the kind, as a transcript shows. Mr Chong’s own curriculum vitae boasts that
he “has been active in the Green party for 25 years and was the first Green councillor to be elected in London”, and that he “has a draught-proofing and insulation business in Dorset and also works as an environmental consultant”.
So let’s recap. On the inaccurate word of an activist politician with a vested financial and party interest, the BBC has decided that henceforth nobody must be allowed to criticise predictions of the future on which costly policies are based. No more appearances for Ed Balls, then, because George Osborne’s models must go unchallenged.
By the way, don’t bother to write and tell me that Lord Lawson is not a scientist. The BBC also rebuked itself last week for allowing an earth scientist with dissenting views on to Radio 4. Professor Bob Carter was head of the department of earth sciences at James Cook University in Australia for 17 years. He’s published more than 100 papers mainly in the field of paleoclimatology. So bang goes that theory.
The background to this is that the BBC recently spent five years fighting a pensioner named Tony Newbery, including four days in court with six lawyers, to prevent Mr Newbery seeing the list of 28 participants at a BBC seminar in 2006 of what it called “the best scientific experts” on climate change.
This was the seminar that persuaded the BBC it should no longer be balanced in its coverage of climate change. A blogger named Maurizio Morabito then found the list on the internet anyway. Far from consisting of the “best scientific experts” it included just three scientists, the rest being green activists, with a smattering of Dave Spart types from the church, the government and the insurance industry. Following that debacle, the BBC commissioned a report from a geneticist, Steve Jones, which it revisited in a further report to the BBC Trust last week. The Jones report justified a policy of banning sceptics under the term “false balance”. This takes the entirely sensible proposition that reporters do not have to, say, interview a member of the Flat Earth Society every time they mention a round-the-world yacht race, and stretches it to the climate debate.
Which is barmy for two blindingly obvious reasons: first, the UN’s own climate projections contain a range of outcomes from harmless to catastrophic, so there is clearly room for debate; and second, this is an argument about the future not the present, and you cannot havecertainty about the future.
The BBC bends over backwards to give air time to minority campaigners on matters such as fracking, genetically modified crops, and alternative medicine. Biologists who think GM crops are dangerous, doctors who think homeopathy works and engineers who think fracking has contaminated aquifers are far rarer than climate sceptics. Yet Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth spokesmen are seldom out of Broadcasting House.
So the real reason for the BBC’s double standard becomes clear: dissent in the direction of more alarm is always encouraged; dissent in the direction of less alarm is to be suppressed.
I sense that some presenters are growing irritated by their bosses’ willingness to take orders from the green movement. Others no doubt justify this bias to themselves by saying that climate dissenters get plenty of exposure in newspapers. This conveniently ignores The Guardian’s and The Independent’s almost comical bias towards alarm on the topic of climate change. It also ignores the fact that the BBC, funded by a compulsory poll tax and unregulated by Ofcom, is by far the dominant source of news for most people in this country, with a market share that should have had prompted an investigation by the competition authorities years ago. And it is required by charter to be balanced.
Incidentally, I have vested interests in energy, too, but I am not asking for people who disagree with me to be silenced.