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March 12, 2007

Richard D. North wanted Martin Durkin's Great Global Warming Swindle to be a wonderful piece of work - it wasn't: The Great Global Warming Swindle - Martin Durkin

Posted by Richard D. North

The Great Global Warming Swindle, 2007
Directed by Martin Durkin
Channel 4, 8th March 2007
Available on DVD from WAG tv

Richard D. North - who has himself frequently been described as a climate change sceptic and even a climate change denier - wanted Martin Durkin's contrarian The Great Global Warming Swindle to be a wonderful piece of work. It wasn't - indeed it was almost as bad as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Arguments about climate change are about uncertainties and dealing with uncertainty, argues Richard D. North. From their very different perspectives Al Gore and Martin Durkin claim to have answers - they don't.

A clutch of reasons suggests that it would be shrewd to leave off writing this review. One is that the quality of Martin Durkin's film won't be known for some days or months. Another is that I admire Durkin, and I'd much rather not do his cause any harm. But the tough one is that when I first saw a preview of the piece, I told Durkin that he was a genius (he is) and that his film was a wonderful piece of work. It's that last bit I was wrong about.

The Swindle argued several points:

1. The present rise in the Earth's temperature are pretty normal and survivable.
2. Carbon dioxide is a minor greenhouse gas and man's output of it is insignificant.
3. Historically high CO2 levels were an effect and not a cause of rising temperature.
4. Carbon is an ill-chosen villain and we should instead look at the sun.
5. The whole alarmist nonsense is an industry.

None of these views is new. Numbers 1-4 have all been attacked in detail by the fans of the IPCC "consensus". So here's the difficulty. The argument is further advanced than Durkin's treatment implied. If this were a boxing match, we might say it was Round 1 to the IPCC, Round 2 to the Contrarians. But Round 3 is well advanced, and Durkin didn't report it.

I certainly agree with Durkin that the IPCC's policy-makers' summaries (the only bit most people see) have generated a sense of certainty and omniscience - an orthodoxy - which is deeply flawed in almost all its parts. But it is part of the point that the IPCC summaries don't convey the richness of the IPCC science which has been gathered in a process which is not quite as flawed as some contrarians suppose. Certainly, the IPCC summaries and their promoters seem to assert a flawed account of the underlying science of climate change, and its likely impacts, and of policy options. That whole orthodoxy very badly needs to be challenged. But I fear this film constructed an overly confident counter case which has at least as many uncertainties and would be at least as absurd an orthodoxy and is as contestable. I hate to say it, but it is nearly as bad in its way as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. It certainly makes the same class of mistake.

What's more, I am not sure that all or most of the scientists in the film would go along with the certainties it gave us. I have looked around online at some of their views, and I find a bit more diversity than might be supposed. They are a varied bunch of sceptics, critics, and straight deniers. I found some who do not deny the general idea of anthropogenic carbon-influenced climate change. There is already some evidence from the Independent on Sunday and the Observer that one vital contributor, Carl Wunsch, is not happy with his treatment by Durkin.

Another, Ian Clark of Ottawa University, has signed-up to the Fraser Institute's Independent Summary for Policy Makers, which explicitly relies on IPCC material and is itself more nuanced both than the IPCC's summaries and Durkin's film.

In a way, it's a pity that broadcasters have done so badly on climate change that it fell to Martin Durkin to pick up the challenge. We know he can work with science material, since his 2000 Channel 4 film The Rise and Fall of GM was a pretty good account of that issue. (I was in it, and proud to be.) But the analogy quickly breaks down. The row about genetically-modified crops was more or less one between "mainstream" science and green campaigners who talked a good deal of palpable nonsense. The "mainstream" was itself nuanced, as will be the way almost always, but still Durkin could have a characteristically robust romp around the material.

Because everyone else has, it's a good moment to recall Durkin's C4 series from 1997, Against Nature, which provoked a deal of fuss when it was shown. Durkin was accused of not playing fair with his green contributors, who he sent up rotten having - apparently - misled them as to his purposes. I remember thinking that they were treated rather better than they treat anyone they oppose and am now glad that Dominic Lawson has unearthed an account of the affair which has Simon Hoggart agreeing with this view.

Climate change is different. Both the alarmists and the best of Durkin's sceptical sources are mostly impeccably mainstream. It is the nature of the collision between these forces which is of interest. Sure, IPCC has been politicised and rendered deeply suspect, and sure the sceptics are so far as we can tell completely honest. Sure, right-minded serious people should be vastly sympathetic to the so-called contrarians. But this remains an argument which is mostly about uncertainties and dealing with uncertainty. I don't trust anyone who claims to have the answers.

This is where Durkin seems to go wrong. He believes the whole anthropogenic greenhouse theory - all of it, every jot, from start to finish - will prove to be bunk. Good luck to him. But his case will have to survive a good deal of serious challenge, and he hasn't bothered to give us much of a sense of whether it will.

There is a good chance climate change will turn out to be full of surprises, including the possibility that the greenhouse alarmists' explanation of it was complete bunk, or - more likely - importantly wrong, but also including the possibility that we come to wish we had never unleashed our carbon orgy. And we may regret it knowing that once kicked-off, there was precious little to be done about its awesome capacity to run on by itself.

The bit where I am much more confident is policy. There'll be too little of it to make much difference. In other words, we will probably find out if man caused some climate change because we will live through it and because we will understand the processes better. Quite a lot of Durkin's sources seem to think much the same. Others, of course, are fundamentalist refuseniks and we should be glad of them. But they are no more an infallible guide than anyone else.

Richard D. North is the author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence and the just published Scrap the BBC!: Ten Years to Set Broadcasters Free.

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This is a very good piece. I would differ slightly on the Wunsch situation though. He is upset at not having been told that he was going to be taking part in an sceptic programme. But this would seem to imply only that he is upset about having his own words used against him. The fact that underhand methods were used to obtain the evidence he gave doesn't mean that it's false evidence does it?

Posted by: bishophill at March 12, 2007 02:48 PM

Regarding Carl Wunsch - he is not just complaining about not being told the true nature of the programme. He is complaining that his remarks were taken completely out of context and - which is worse - inserted into a different context by means of the voiceovers which were interspersed with his comments.

Nothing that Wunsch actually said was controversial, but the narrator's dialogue made it sound like he was adding his weight to the argument that climate change was not caused by CO2, which is not at all what he said or intended to imply.

See this link for his full statement:

Posted by: Catherine at March 12, 2007 11:51 PM

It is a common mistake to think Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth” is not pro-corporate. It is produced by a division of huge Paramount-VIACOM, it is guided by ‘Alliance for Climate Protection”, a subsidiary of Rockefeller Philanthropy, whose members include prominent officers of the Council on Foreign Relations, a policy propaganda front for BP and Shell.
There is huge money in regulating CO2 and trading emission credits, a business under heavy investment by BP-Shell, and the transnational investment banks. Now Gore’s propaganda has been endorsed by the Hollywood elite and been nominated by the Nobel foundation. It is far from any type of grass roots research film, rather it is official policy propaganda which will result in trillions of dollars of profit for the transnational oil companies.

Please listen to this interview to understand this better, and follow the links to the web page for documentation and references.

Video: Global Warming Money Scam

Tracking of Finance and Personnel documented also at:

Posted by: gk at April 7, 2007 12:58 AM

As a journalist who's spent years interviewing leading climatologists, glaciologists, meteorologists, botanists, biologist and forest ecologists, I'm sorry, but all this pseudo-intellectual veneer to climate change denial, and blather about the IPCCs politicization, is bullshit, pure and simple.

CO2 levels are 30 - 50% higher than pre-industrial times. Methane and nitrous oxide levels have risen substantially as well. That has virtually ALL been due to anthropomorphic sources, and in places where people actually interact with nature (i.e. not in the UK) the changes in climate regime are obvious - particularly at higher latitudes, and in the upwind/western portion of continents like North America and Australia.

But don't take my word for it. Wait 3-5 years. When the boreal forests of Canada and Siberia burn to dirt level (it's already happening, large-scale wildfires have quadrupled in the western U.S. since 1985, and no, it's not due to fire suppression.) then maybe some denialists will believe.

But you guys go ahead. Call Al Gore names. Rag on the IPCC SMPs (the conclusion of which are gleaned from thousands of peer-reviewed studies). Ignore important researchers like Westerling, Parmesan, Root, Hansen, Juday, Gillette, Cook, Swetnam and Mohan. Cling to a couple contrarian cranks, and a half-handful of doddering senior scientists who pontificate denialist theories from their tenured positions.

I'd rather trust several hundred serious researchers than Mr. North, the author of two pop sociology books.

And as to the Social Affairs Unit: "We research, challenge and debate issues from welfare to warfare, always seeking to draw out the role of the individual's obligations. The SAU is a charity. This means that its role and ambitions are wholly unpolitical. So we don't toe or promote any party line. More than that, we have no "corporate" party line...."

Sounds like you're just an institution full of 'cranks' and contrarian megalomaniacs, spending lots of time telling yourselves how dogma-free you are.

Yeah, Right.
Ciao tuggers

Posted by: atlas spanked at May 5, 2007 04:27 AM

Like second-hand car salesman or pharmaceutical company reps, I never to believe anyone who is making money out of something. So when a scientist financed by government agencies set up to investigate climate change, their explanation ain't worth listening to. Same as if an "expert" who has written books (from which he earns money) on climate change.

So make up your own mind without being influenced by "experts". Clearly the sun is what affects the earths temperature. The sun is a massive exploding burning hot thing that the earth is sitting next to. If makes sense if the sun gets hotter, the earth will get hotter. Don't need any dodgy graphs or pseudoscience to prove that one. The sun's heat will fluctuate, at times rapidly, as any burning exploding hot thing would, as will ours.

Also I've not seen any comments about the final quarter of the film, that makes the point that the developed world is trying to stop Africa and the developing nations from developing. Its a valid point. If you believe in global warming, go and live in a hut with no electricity for the rest of your life.


Posted by: Toby at May 27, 2007 10:35 AM
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