One of the most talked about programs of the past week – a primetime documentary about BBC1 – contained two people who many considered living saints.
One was the presenter, Sir David Attenborough, the other Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage activist who in various countries including Great Britain, & # 39; school strikes & # 39; against climate change.
The title of the film was Climate Change: The Facts, and these were, according to Sir David & # 39; irrefutable & # 39 ;. The film's message was so bleak that it could have been made by Extinction Rebellion, the eco-anarchist protest group that has brought Central London to a halt.
No one has done more to convey the wonders of the natural world than Attenborough, and his long career has rightly given him public acclaim.
Unfortunately, on this occasion, I believe he has put forward an alarmistic argument that is derived from a doubtful use of evidence, the nuances of which he has ignored.
1: In the film, an orangutan bends along a felled tree trunk to a bucket in a forest in Borneo
According to Sir David, climate change is the & # 39; greatest threat & # 39; for humanity in thousands of years. & # 39; We are facing the collapse of our societies, & # 39; he said, insisting that we all have to share responsibility … for the future of life on earth & # 39 ;.
Attenborough is about to turn 93, while Thunberg is only 16, but they issued the same warning. & # 39; It's our future and we can't just let it slip away from us & # 39 ;, she told viewers. But & # 39; nothing is being done, nobody is doing anything & # 39 ;.
The film ended in a week in which the BBC had already invited Extinction Rebellion extremists to its news shows to explain – without a serious challenge – that unless our greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to zero by 2025, our children will die.
Last year the BBC issued guidelines instructing editors to invite & # 39; deniers of climate change & # 39; an & # 39; incorrect balance & # 39; used to be. In practice, this means that those who accept climate change are real, but less threatening than some as Attenborough claims, have been effectively banned from the ether.
Now, the company has made broadcasting time available to demonstrators demanding the overthrow of democratic governments and an almost immediate end to fossil fuel, heating and transportation – in other words, the abrupt termination of civilization as we know it.
Thunberg has become a worldwide media favorite, cherishing her statements as if they were a sacred act.
& # 39; I want you all to panic & # 39 ;, she told the Davos Economic Forum in January: and Attenborough & # 39; s film may have persuaded viewers to do exactly that – and maybe to to become a member of the barricades of the extinction uprising.
2: After the orangutan reaches the machine, it desperately grabs for it because a tree is about to be crushed
Watching it filled me with horror, but not with the threat of global warming. It was during the way in which Sir David and the BBC sketched a picture of the near future that was so much more frightening than justified.
Climate science remains a field characterized by deep uncertainties. The film largely obscured this – and where faced with alternatives, it infallibly fought for the most pessimistic version of the & # 39; truth & # 39 ;.
Let me be clear: I am not a & # 39; denier & # 39 ;. Global warming and climate change are real, largely caused by people. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), our emissions were responsible for more than half of the global average temperature rise of 0.6C – 0.7C recorded between 1951 and 2010.
But I am also convinced that the & # 39; panic & # 39; who wants Thunberg and will encourage the Attenborough film, does not help when it comes to making policies to tackle it. Moreover, it is a grotesque caricature of the truth to claim that there is & # 39; nothing & # 39; has been done: for example, since 1990 British emissions have fallen by 43 percent, according to the government committee for climate change. Not only that, government statistics say that 56 percent of our electricity comes from low-carbon sources in 2018, our last coal-fired power plant will close in six years and the government has promised to make electricity by 2030 low-carbon.
In addition, the Climate Change Act requires Britain to reduce its 1990 CO2 emissions by as much as 80 percent by 2050, making us the first major economy to make such a dramatic effort. To say that there is & # 39; nothing & # 39; is as dangerous as it is unfair.
3: The digging arm is lifted by the controller and the animal falls to the forest floor
One of the most questionable aspects of the film was the claim that extreme weather conditions such as floods and storms have already become worse and more frequent due to global warming and forest fires.
It was said that assigning reasons to a single event is difficult and is derived from opportunities. But in the words of Michael Michigan, an American climate scientist, the effects of climate change are played out in real time & # 39; and & # 39; no longer subtle & # 39 ;. Boulder images of monster waves and hurricanes, accompanied by doomy music.
But is this true? The IPCC, considered by regular scientists to be the world's most authoritative source, says there have been some changes, such as higher rainfall. But the fifth assessment report, published in 2013, stated that there were & # 39; no significant observed trends in the frequency of the global tropical cyclone in the last century & # 39 ;. It added: & # 39; No robust trends have been observed in the annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricane scenarios in the North Atlantic catchment area over the past 100 years. & # 39;
A separate IPCC report said last year that cyclones in the tropics will be less numerous in the future, although some would be stronger.
In 2014, a group of IPCC experts published a paper about floods. So far they said: & # 39; No level-based evidence was found for climate-controlled, widespread global change in the magnitude / frequency of floods. & # 39;
Another memorable segment of the film showed a father and son who nearly escaped one of the many devastating fires in California last year. These were also attributed to the greenhouse effect. Surprisingly, several recent scientific papers suggest that forest fires have declined in recent years – even in California, where statistics collected by the local agency, Calfires, say that the state has roughly halved since 1987, after a peak in the 1970s .
According to a study published by the Royal Society in 2016, & # 39; many regard natural fire as an accelerating problem & # 39 ;. In reality, however, the research says: & the global area's burning appears to have declined in recent decades and there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape than centuries ago. & # 39;
Equally debatable was the film's claim that global warming is causing a wave of extinction, with eight percent of the endangered species only threatened by it.
This also seems to simplify the findings of the IPCC, which said in 2014: "There is low confidence that the number of species extinction has increased in recent decades. Most extinctions in the past few centuries have been attributed to habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution or invasive species.
& # 39; Of the more than 800 extinctions documented by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, only 20 are closely linked to recent climate change. It says: & # 39; In general, there is low confidence that observed types of extinction can be attributed to recent climate warming. & # 39;
The IPCC is clear that further warming will make things worse, but has & # 39; little agreement & # 39; found about which types are at risk and when extinctions could occur.
Attenborough made another dispute over corals, claiming that a third of the world's reefs in the last three years due to & # 39; heat stress & # 39; have perished.
But why are the forests of Borneo being cut down? The reason, as Attenborough said, is palm oil, a lucrative crop used in products from soap to cookies. Unfortunately, he has omitted the final phase of the argument
It is true that the record-high temperatures recorded during the powerful 2015-2016 & # 39; El Nino & # 39; event – where the Central Pacific was a few degrees warmer and weather warmer elsewhere – corals were badly damaged.
But many have begun to recover, including that of the supposed dying Great Barrier Reef.
I suppose it can be argued that this film only jumps a little over the rifle, by showing climate impacts that, although they cannot be seen yet, will be soon.
But here we must turn to his most provocative claim of all: the projections of the IPCC computer model show that by the end of this century the world average temperatures will be between three and six degrees higher than now. Needless to say this would be devastating.
In fact, the IPCC does not issue one, but four such projections, each showing what would happen with different levels of future greenhouse gas emissions.
The most pessimistic – known in the trade as & # 39; RCP 8.5 & # 39; – suggests that by 2100 the world would indeed be much hotter: according to the 2013 IPCC report, between 2.6 and 4.8 degrees above the average between 1986 and 2005.
This is of course lower than the range of 3-6 degrees as predicted by Attenborough.
In the meantime there are indications that RCP 8.5 will almost certainly not take place. Firstly, it states that population increases are much higher than those that many demographers now think are likely.
According to UN predictions, the global population will reach 11 billion by 2100, but several expert teams now say that the fall in birth rates will cause the peak to rise much sooner.
& # 39; It will never reach nine billion & # 39 ;, says the eminent futurologist Jorgen Randers. & # 39; It will peak at 8 billion in 2040 and then decrease. & # 39;
For the RCP 8.5 prediction to become a reality, a huge increase in coal use would also be needed and the reversal of emission reductions that many countries have already achieved.
All this means that the world is more likely to conform to what is known as RCP 4.5 or RCP 6. Under RCP 4.5, the IPCC says, it would be & # 39; likely & # 39; warming range at 2100 is between 1.1C and 2.6C; under RCP 6, between 1.4C and 3.1C.
A BBC spokesman said yesterday that the film said the 3-6 degree of warming was a reasonable estimate given the current emission trajectory, and said the emissions followed the RCP 8.5 curve instead of the alternatives. 6C was possible.
She added: & # 39; The film wanted to make it clear that scientists don't know exactly what can happen. & # 39;
I am not trying to claim that climate change is trivial, nor that the world is not & # 39; action & # 39; needs to deal with it. On the other hand, we've already seen what can happen if & # 39; panic & # 39; the policy determines: the introduction of measures that are understood by the need to be seen doing something under pressure from groups such as Extinction Rebellion.
Without making this clear, the film revealed one of the worst examples of this unfortunate effect. A powerful series showed an orangutan, fleeing lumberjacks who have eradicated the rain forest of Borneo.
This is disastrous for both wildlife and the climate because, as the film indicated, one third of global emissions are due to deforestation, as gigantic trees trap a lot of carbon.
But why are the forests of Borneo being cut down? The reason, as Attenborough said, is palm oil, a lucrative crop used in products from soap to cookies. Unfortunately, he has omitted the final phase of the argument.
Half of all the millions of tons of palm oil sent to Europe is used to produce & # 39; biofuel & # 39; thanks to an EU directive that stipulates that by 2020 ten percent of the fuel for the road station must come from & # 39; renewable & # 39; biological sources. Malaysia says that this & # 39; has created an unprecedented demand & # 39 ;.
In other words: misguided & # 39; action & # 39; Designed to save the planet, it actually helps to do the damage – although the EU has promised to phase out biofuels for palm oil by 2030.
Another example of a misunderstood attempt to save the planet is the Drax power station in Yorkshire, powered by & # 39; renewable & # 39; thanks to £ 700 million annual grant. wood pellets made from American American trees – while more CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere than when it only burned coal.
In theory, the trees it burns will be replaced – but much of the supply comes from hardwood forests that need 100 years to mature.
There are times when climate propaganda – because this is what this was – is reminiscent of the apocalyptic prophets of the Middle Ages, who led popular movements by preaching that the sins of human beings were so great that they could only be redeemed by suffering, in create a paradise on earth.
Perhaps this is how Attenborough, the methuselah of nature journalism, sees itself. But climate change is too important to be treated in this way. It needs a rational, well-informed debate. Too often, welcomed by the eco-fanatics of the Extinction Rebellion, the BBC intends to encourage the opposite.