Note to Stoat on Earth: The Climate Wars P.S. 11 days left to watch onlineSeptember 17, 2008 at 4:35 pm | Posted in Climate change, Environment, Global warming | 5 Comments
Tags: Audiences, Climate change, Documentaries, Global warming, Public perceptions, TV, Viewers
N.B. Watch the programmes online here.
I just watched the first programme, and in my ignorant opinion Iain Stewart does a great job explaining, as an overview to laypersons who are not climate scientists, the climate story as it unfolded. He helps people understand how the twists and turns in the emerging ‘plot’ happened and how hurdles and delays were introduced for political reasons. When I read your comments, it is as if you watched an entirely different programme from the one I saw. (I watched part 2 too …)
First of all, it is good to see a geologist tackling this issue, because in my experience it seems that—of all the disciplines that have a hard time accepting evidence of climate change—older geologists and atomic physicists have formed a large proportion of the more vocal group with contrary climate views … not to mention classicists, who curiously have performed roles as influential elder statesmen, e.g. Energy Ministers in HM Government 😉
Anyway, when you wrote:
[Whether he is a scientist or not will depend on how he reacts to having his errors pointed out to him -W]
Dr. Stewart is a geologist. He explained clearly why he thought Steve Schneider should get credit for changing his mind:
“The summer of 1976 broke all records. … the planet began to warm up. And as the warming trend strengthened, it became clear that the science behind the ice age theory was flawed.
You know, it’s easy to criticise Schneider, but to me there is nothing wrong in what he did. This is how science works: you’ve got a theory, you look for evidence, and if the evidence doesn’t fit, you change the theory. The ice age theory was based on what was known at the time. When new data came in, Schneider changed his mind. I think he deserves a bit of credit for that.”
That, for me, is an important point in the sense that it contrasts sharply with the way others in the climate story respond to new evidence as it became/becomes available …
When you wrote:
[Basically its just a rather thoughtless “everyone predicted global cooling until 1976, when there was a hot summer and everyone switched to warming”. He starts off fake-typing the 1972 letter …]
It was not thoughtless, at least not in the way you describe, and not if you consider the target audience.
Iain Stewart did not say, as you suggested [“everyone predicted global cooling”].
What he actually said is in my transcript of the opening sequence (see blockquote below). Later in the same programme, Stewart tells us that another group of scientists were working on an alternative theory. (This provides the context that I guess you think is lacking.)
The typing was, I felt, effective—it gave viewers a sense of the seriousness with which the topic of climate change (albeit cooling in this case) was raised with the president in the first place. The scene was like a flashback, recreated for effect. You may describe that as “fake-typing”, but I think most telly viewers get the idea, without feeling they have been misled … 😉
In any case, my ‘best guess’ as to the letter referred to was the one prepared by (glaciologists? and) geologists Kukla and Matthews and sent to President Nixon in December 1972, as described and displayed in this document.
The programme simply used a good hook to grab audience attention at the start, stating (my transcript):
“In 1972 a group of eminent scientists sat down to write a letter to the President of the United States. They were frightened. The earth’s climate seemed to be going haywire. They worried that war, pestilence and famine were on the way. For the first time, climate change had become a hot political topic. The letter warned the President he had to prepare not for global warming—but for the complete opposite: a new ice age.” Yep. 36 years ago, a lot of leading scientists really thought that an ice age was just around the corner. And yet today, they’re all apparently convinced that global warming is a big threat. But if scientists were so wrong back then, how can we be sure they’ve got it right today? In this series I’m going to explore some simple big questions: How do we know the climate’s warming up? How do we know humans are causing it? And how do we know what’s going to happen next? As the story of global warming has unfolded, we’ve learned that the very nature of scientific truth (and about how that) has been falsified, manipulated and twisted—and even bought.
Sceptic voiceover: “As close to scientific fraud as you can get.”
This is the story of how science discovered global warming. Perhaps the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced.
Later in the programme, Stewart did not express anything as outrageous as your paraphrase [there was a hot summer and everyone switched to warming].
Instead, he introduced the situation thus:
“With cooling off the agenda, the question now was very different: Why was the planet warming up? For many years, a group of scientists had been working on an alternative theory about what was happening to the climate. Now, their time had come.
The roots of this alternative theory lay with an obsessional genius by the name of Dave Keeling. If the scientific discovery of global warming has a hero, then Keeling is probably it. …”
This three-part series on climate change provides a valuable addition to the documentaries available to the public. Unfortunately, I feel you have misrepresented the entire first programme in such a way as to put people off watching the three parts. That is not the best approach when we need the public to support policy to combat climate change. You are encouraging people to dismiss the programme, and that is counter-productive if you want this topic better understood (in layman’s terms) and scientists’ advice acted upon (by members of the public).
P.S. What did you say in your letter to Dr. Iain Stewart and BBC2?