Tuesday, August 22, 2017

BBC Today Programme tries to defend its indefensible global warming stance

Yesterday, I (and I suspect many others who wrote in protest at the abysmal interview of "Lord" Lawson on the BBC Today programme, 10th August) received a brief generic fob-off letter from the assistant editor of the programme.

Here it is, and below it I have pasted the response I have just emailed to him.

From: John Neal, Assistant Editor, Today Programme, BBC Radio 4. (Emphasis added in bold)

Thank you for your e mail.

The interview with Lord Lawson was one of a number of items on Thursday's programme about climate change. Before 0700 we spoke to our Environment analyst about the science. We had a long interview at 0709 with Al Gore who was. talking about his new film, the US Government's approach and the global effort to tackle climate change and we heard from the filmmaker, Fisher Stevens, who directed the 2016 film 'Before the Flood'.

Some listeners have told us that they felt Lord Lawson was a poor choice to respond to Mr Gore, and that we did not challenge him sufficiently on some of the points he made. Like Mr Gore, Lord Lawson has been a leading frontline politician and since leaving office he has gone on to take an interest in this area as chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. In the interview our aim was to focus on the subsidy regime and Mr Gore's claim that there are policy makers who do not "join the dots", and Justin Webb challenged Lord Lawson in both these areas.

On Friday morning we fact checked the claims around levels of subsidies for renewables and fossil fuels and we ran through the latest scientific evidence on extreme weather events and the links to climate change.

We appreciate that you may disagree with the position Lord Lawson takes on this issue, but his stance is an important one and is reflected, for example, in the current US administration which has distanced itself from the Paris Agreement. As we pride ourself on hearing opinions from all sides on Today, we are confident that we have given listeners the context and facts to make their own minds up about the opinions each of our interviewees expressed.

The BBC is absolutely committed to impartial and balanced coverage on this complex issue. Our position remains exactly as it was - we accept that there is broad scientific agreement on climate change and we reflect this accordingly. We do however on occasion offer space to dissenting voices where appropriate as part of the BBC's overall commitment to impartiality.

Best wishes.

John Neal
Assistant Editor,
Today Programme,
BBC Radio 4.

Dear Mr Neal

Thank you for your email of 21/8/17.

You argue that "you may disagree with the position Lord Lawson takes on this issue, but his stance is an important one and is reflected, for example, in the current US administration which has distanced itself from the Paris Agreement." There is no merit to this argument. You would not give airtime to an advocate of sexism on because President Trump is a pussy grabber, or a Nazi on because the President thinks that many Nazis and are fine people. This is no  justification whatsoever. President Trump has no credibility in this or most other matters.

Your central argument is that of "balance".

You do not bring on a creationist every time evolution is mentioned. You do not bring on a denier of the smoking/cancer link every time that link is mentioned. Why not? Because the debate is over in those two cases. The vested interests (Church and tobacco companies) put up a brave fight, deploying the same techniques that the fossil fuel lobby is now deploying - playing up the uncertainties within the science. The pro-creation and pro-smoking campaigns delayed acceptance of the truth for a number of years in both cases, but in the end their hypotheses were overthrown by the science. As you know, science does not "prove" things, it disproves them.

It is time now to accept that the hypothesis of the climate change deniers is false.

Their hypothesis is that continuing to add vast quantities of fossil CO2 to the atmosphere will not damage the ability of present and succeeding generations to live in comfort and security.
The basic facts of the core science are these:
  1. The greenhouse effect is real. Without it, the average surface temperature would be -15*Celsius, instead of the present +15*Celsius.
  2. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the second most important after water vapour (WV). WV has a dwell time in the atmosphere measured in days, but CO2 is measured in centuries.
  3. CO2 is known to be increasing in the atmosphere, and this increase is known to be due to our burning of fossil carbon.
  4. Our burning of fossil carbon has increased the level of CO2 in the air by 40%.
  5. Already science can attribute the observed increasing frequency of heatwaves, extreme precipitation and powerful hurricanes to the human-caused component of global warming.
The first four of these points are firmly established on fundamental physics. The fifth is an emerging picture, well founded on evidence that increases year by year.
Together, these five points refute the idea that continuing to add CO2 to the atmosphere will not damage the ability of present and succeeding generations to live in comfort and security. However, if you put these facts in a methodical way to a GWPF member, other denier or lukewarmer, you would almost certainly find that they would dodge, obfuscate, counter attack or otherwise deviate from the question.

In the case of lukewarmers, you would find that they might reluctantly, and with qualifications, accept the five points above, but argue that doubling natural levels of CO2 (which is due to at sometime around 2075) would lead only to 2*Celsius of warming at worst. This is an important figure, since it is agreed by both sides; it is at the high end of the range of probability of the lukewarmers, and the low end of accepted range of the scientific community. It is also important as the threshold that scientists say we should not cross. Since are seeing adverse climatological effects at present, about 0.9*C above pre-industrial temperatures, 2*C would definitely not be the trivial change that the lukewarmers try to make out.

It is important to note that the 2*C figure is not a place where warming ends, even in the lukewarmers' belief system; all they are aguing is that serious impacts on the planet will take longer to come about. They are arguing in essence that their policies will make our grand children's lives intolerably miserable, rather than the lives of our children. This is not a defensible position.
There are many other points that can be made to show that the lukewarmers' and deniers' position is refuted by the facts. In the end, theirs is not a scientific position at all. Science creates a coherent picture of what is happening in the world, using the method of discarding disproven claims, and using consilience, the coming together of many different lines of evidence. Climate change deniers present an eclectic range of criticisms and objections, each of which they loudly proclaim as  "the final nail in the coffin of global warming". They have some 50 talking points, which come in an infinite number of variations.

If you insist that is your bounden duty bound to give airtime to climate change deniers like Lord Lawson, please use it actually to test their hypothesis in a systematic and informed way. After all, climatological science has been subject to intense criticism from the deniers for some four decades. Now would be a good time to turn things around and challenge the deniers' hypothesis that further increasing  the greenhouse effect will in no way endanger human security.
I look forward to your considered response to these points. Thank you.
Best wishes

Richard Lawson

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