Some months ago I started this blog to document a correspondence with the BBC caused by a controversial radio documentary that I took exception to. It was entitled "Are environmentalists bad for the Planet?" and it was about a lot of things but , oddly, put forward no evidence to justify the title. The BBC have now admitted that the title was to hook in the listeners , perhaps what journalists would call "sensationalist". It's an explanation but not a satisfactory one.
My contentions only start with the title. So what was the documentary about. Well , one account from the producer of the documentary ( Helen Grady ) says it was lamenting the use of religious language in environmental campaigning. The BBC complaints department divulge "The original intention was to explore whether the assertion by some prominent environmentalists such as Jonathon Porritt that capitalist economic model and tackling climate change are (i) really justified and (ii) in danger of alienating some people who might be persuaded to take the issue of climate change more seriously. " And the presenter (Justin Rowlatt) says it was about hidden agendas in the environmental movement. So that's four things that it could have been about. Which makes the focal point of the documentary hard to pin down.
But one angle stands out. Anthropogenic Global Warming . Humanity has never before faced a threat quite like it. Our scientists, the brainiest people on the planet are saying and have been saying for years that the planet , our life support system is endangered by our habitual use of fossil fuels. Consensus was reached long ago , indeed Jim Hansen head of NASA's climate science unit testified before Congress that he was 99 per cent certain that the signal for anthropogenic climate change was being detected above the background noise. That was in 1988. Since then the political football has been kicked in to the long grass. And the science has become more exact , the warnings more stark. But the public are, to this day, largely misled into doubting the science that prophesises the demise of life as we know it.
In such circumstances to adopt a contrarian view of the science (without fully understanding the science) is to argue from a position of ignorance.
Justin Rowlatt asserts his credentials as someone who passionately wants to fight global warming with words like "the urgency and scale of the climate issue " , but delivers a conclusion that takes us back to the skeptics point of view.
Comparison of climate science with the mainstream media's representation of it reveals a startling anomaly. We are being lied to. This is to be expected of the Daily Mail and Murdoch stable which most of us would take with a pinch of salt but the malaise goes much deeper. Try it for yourself. You have already been exposed to the mainstream media's version, now look at what the scientists are saying . Ninety-seven per cent of climate scientists agree that humans are the cause of global warming. But they express themselves in hard to read scientific papers so we have journalists to understand it for us. Let's ask scientific institutions at national level . Well it's worth noting that there is 100 per cent agreement amongst these scientific institutions. You wont have read that in the Daily Mail. OK I reccomend NASA which gives a no-nonsense summary of the evidence causes and the impacts of global warming.
Here are two ways of evaluating a hypothesis , starting out with no prejudices and solely going by evidence to arrive at a conclusion ; or , searching for evidence to support one's favoured theory whilst ignoring or downplaying evidence which is contrary to such a theory. The first is (broadly) the scientific method and the second is called 'confirmation bias'.
The documentary's claim to being impartial is a pretence. In his conclusion Rowlatt delivers a monologue detailing improbable conditions , false allusions and fictitious premises to arrive at the words "that will only serve to confirm their scepticism. " A clear example of confirmation bias.
Now one might argue that Rowlatt is just making an observation of how a skeptic's brain might work. But climate science has to stand or fall as science, there is a scientific method for arriving at a conclusion and this is not it. A skeptic might well choose to reject climate science because he doesn't like the political, social , or economic ramifications but that would not be rational . The only valid opposition to the science is better science, and the skeptics are conspicuously short of that commodity.*
Justin Rowlatt's conclusion is biased because it rationalises this fallacious dogma. He doesn't cauition that such thinking flies in the face of cause and effect, nor does he remind us of the concensus mentioned above . He boldly leads the listener to a conclusion that climate science can be rejected on terms he has invented which defy all logic. That is not impartiality.
In doing so he posits the words "hidden agenda".
Now, Ive got to take issue with this. By definition a movement (in this sense) is diffuse . Of course there are many agendas in the environmental movement. But just because the BBC has chosen to ignore them for so long does not make them "hidden" . Examination of this requires a definition of hidden agenda , Dictionary.com gives "An undisclosed plan, especially one with an ulterior motive." Pretending to endorse anthropogenic global warming whilst subverting public confidence in it would seem to fit that definition . Which is exactly what Justin Rowlatt has done.
* GP Wayne 2010