Correspondence with Hamish Mykura

Head of History, Science and Religion, Channel 4  

Letter from George Monbiot to Hamish Mykura, 16th March 2007

Dear Hamish,

I deeply regret your attempt on the Today programme on Wednesday to use my programme for Dispatches as your justification for broadcasting Martin Durkin’s film The Great Global Warming Swindle.

I do so for three reasons.

1. You claimed that both programmes were commissioned as part of “a season of opinionated polemical films about global warming”. This is untrue, as I am sure you know. The films were commissioned quite separately, by different departments. The Great Global Warming Swindle must have been commissioned long before my programme. Neither I nor anyone else on the production team has ever been told that my programme was part of “a season of opinionated polemical films about global warming”, or that it would be in any way linked to The Great Global Warming Swindle. If I had been aware of this, I would have withdrawn my cooperation. If this claim reflects your general standards of honesty, it might explain how The Great Global Warming Swindle came to be broadcast.

2. I am also resentful of the association between my film and Martin Durkin’s. My film was subjected to a rigorous process of fact-checking. Any claim which would not stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny was dropped. The production team was determined to ensure that every part of the film was robust and unchallengeable, and were supported in this by Channel 4’s current affairs department. Somehow the same standards do not seem to have been applied by your department. Durkin’s film contained a number of fundamental errors, some of which, it seems, could only have been made deliberately. Some of the graphs had plainly been “modified” by the production team. He suggested that the cooling after the Second World War was unexplained by climate scientists, while in truth climate scientists know that it was caused by global dimming as a result of sulphate pollution. As one of the contributers to the programme, Professor Carl Wunsch, has pointed out, the film was “as close to pure propaganda as anything since World War Two”, while the way it used his remarks “comes close to fraud”. How dare you associate me with this?

3. You suggested that my film in some way “balances” Durkin’s. But my film was not about the science of climate change. It was about the policies arising from it. I was not asked to demonstrate that manmade climate change was taking place. Neither was Mark Dowd, whose film you also cited. I am sure you can tell the difference between a film about science and a film about policy.

I would like to ask you three questions:

A. Could you please give me a list of the programmes about climate change your department has broadcast over the past 10 years.

B. In your letter to the Guardian you state that “we are presenting a range of programmes on the environment, many of which have as their premise the influence of CO2 as a driver of climate change”. Could you please let me know what these programmes are, and whether any of them are devoted to explaining the science of climate change, as understood by the great majority of the world’s scientists?

C. Could you please tell me whether you or any other commissioner in your department possesses a science degree?

Yours Sincerely,

George Monbiot

 

 

Letter from Hamish Mykura to George Monbiot, 20th March 2007.

Dear George,

Thank you for this. I’m happy to respond to the points you raise.

Firstly on your general points, ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’ was indeed commissioned as part of a season of polemical films about climate change. The others were your film and Mark Dowd’s ‘God is Green’. I discussed these films at an early stage with Dorothy Byrne and other colleagues. It is usual for Channel 4’s seasons to originate from different departments, for example our Adoption Season and Bloody Foreigners Season comprised programmes from the News and Current Affairs and Documentaries departments.

‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’ was subject to the same legal and editorial scrutiny as your film, which you agree is rigorous.

Carl Wunsch was not misrepresented or misled about the programme and our correpondence with him clearly establishes this.

On your specific questions

1. I do not have a list of climate change programmes covering ten years. However in the last two years Channel 4 transmitted ‘A World Without Water’ on the global scarcity of water supply, ‘The Year the Earth Went Wild’ on increasing climate and geological volatitlity, ‘The End of the World as we Know It’ which was Marcel Theroux’s essay on global warming, ‘Seven Days that Shook the Weathermen’ on the effects of climate change, ‘Britain’s Tornado’ on the increase in volatile weather in the UK, and ‘What would Jesus Drive’ on the debate over US fuel consumption.

2. Channel 4 announced to the press in January that the environment would form the focus of a range of different programmes and series in 2007. As well as the three polemics which deal with climate change, we announced the series ‘Dumped’ – in which participants see how well they can live on the household waste that we throw away every day; the series ‘River Cottage Market’ which addresses the concept of ‘food miles’ and offers practical solutions to using local produce. There was also the series ‘Animal Farm’, which is an investigation of the pros and cons of genetic modification.

3. My own PhD devises mathematical predictive equations to assess soil erosion and environmental impacts of rainforest clearance in the tropics. Regards

Hamish Mykura

Head of History, Science & Religion

 

Letter from George Monbiot to Hamish Mykura, 22nd March 2007.

Dear Hamish,

thank you for your reply.

On the first point, as this is news to those of us who made my film, I would be grateful if you could provide me with some evidence: some memos or publicity material, for example, which show that it was commissioned as part of “a season of opinionated polemical films about global warming”.

On the issue of editorial scrutiny, you are plain wrong. Every fact in my programme stood up to examination, and remains standing today. The film you commissioned, by contrast, was a concatenation of mistakes so evident that some of them could only have been made on purpose. Let me give you some examples:

1. “Volcanoes produce more CO2 each year than all the factories and cars and planes and other sources of man-made carbon dioxide put together.”

This is simply wrong, as the most basic fact-check would have established.

2. The closing statement was as follows: “There will still be people who believe that this is the end of the world. Particularly when you have, for example, uh, the chief scientist of the UK telling people that by the end of the century, the only inhabitable place on the Earth, will be the Antarctic and it may, humanity may survive, thanks to some breeding couples, who moved to the Antarctic, I mean this is hilarious, it would be hilarious actually, if, if, if it weren’t so sad.”

These are not the views of the chief scientist, Sir David King. They are the views of James Lovelock. Singer appears to have confused them. Again, even a cursory fact check would have established this.

3. Almost every graph in the film was manipulated. In some cases, the time-line was extended beyond the available data, in others the curve had been smoothed to the extent that it became misleading. It looks as if these instances were deliberate attempts to fit the data to the argument.

4. The credentials of several of the scientists in the film were inflated. The worst example is Tim Ball, who is described as “Professor Tim Ball, Department of Climatology, University of Winnipeg”. As far as I can discover, there is no Department of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg. In fact he was a Professor of Geography at that university from 1988 until he retired in 1996. He has not since held an official position there or at any other university. Nor has he been granted an emeritus professorship.

Then there are the distortions by omission:

5. There is the suggestion, for example, that the standard climate model cannot explain the relative cooling between the 1940s and the 1970s. Any reputable climate scientist could have pointed out that the mechanism – global dimming – is well known and consistent with the models.

6. There is the claim that as rising temperatures, as shown in the Antarctic ice cores, pre-date rises in CO2, CO2 cannot be a driver of climate change. Again, as I suspect both you and Durkin knew perfectly well, this too is explained by the models.

7. There is the deliberate evasion of the question of funding. The film asks the contributers who have NOT received funding from the oil industry whether or not they have, and they reply in the negative. It does not ask Fred Singer, who HAS received such funding. It claims that Pat Michaels came “under attack from climate campaigners” for “conduct[ing] research which was part funded by the coal industry”. In fact, as the most cursory check would have shown, he came under attack for acting as a paid advocate for the coal industry, without declaring his interests. If you want documentary evidence for this, I can send it to you. But, again, your fact checkers – if there were any – should have found it.

Who was the scientific adviser on this film? Who were the fact-checkers? What qualifications did they have?

As for Carl Wunsch, surely he is better placed to decide whether or not he has been misrepresented than you are? Anyone watching the film would have concluded – as I did when I first saw it – that Wunsch subscribed to its thesis that CO2 was not a driver of climate change. Can you tell me that this is not the impression it creates? In other words, what depths of intellectual dishonesty are you prepared to plumb in defending this film?

But the most shocking information in your email is contained in the last line. When I asked whether anyone in your department had a degree in science, I confidently expected that the answer would be no – this might have explained quite a lot. Some of the errors in the film might even have been understandable. But discovering that you have a PhD in maths/environmental science, I realise that you must have gone into this with your eyes open. You know what the scientific process involves. You know what science looks like. You must also know what scientific fraud looks like. You appear to have chosen fraud.

Yours Sincerely, George Monbiot.

Letter from Hamish Mykura to George Monbiot, 26th March 2007.

Dear George,

Thank you for this.

With regard to the points you raise about the content of the programme ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’, this film was subject to the same degree of editorial scrutiny as your programme ‘Greenwash’, which you yourself describe as ‘rigorous’. The film was indeed commissioned as one of several polemical films dealing with global warming issues in our season of films on the environment.

You question my decision to commission this film. However ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’ represented the views of the significant minority of scientists and commentators who don’t subscribe to the view that anthropogenic CO2 is driving climate change. The very significant debate which the film has started is to be welcomed.

Regards, Hamish Mykura

 

Letter from George Monbiot to Hamish Mykura, 1st April 2007.

Dear Hamish,

Thank you for your message. I note with regret that you have not answered my questions; indeed that you have simply repeated the assertions made in your previous email, which I have already shown to be incorrect.

I listed seven evident and substantial “mistakes” made by The Great Global Warming Swindle. I could have listed several more. Your claim that it was “subject to the same degree of editorial scrutiny” as my programme, Greenwash, could be substantiated in one of only two ways. The first would be to show that Greenwash was also riddled with wildly misleading claims. I challenge you to name one respect – let alone seven – in which its assertions have been proved wrong.

The second would be to accept that the editorial scrutiny offered by your department is deficient. If it were true that The Great Global Warming Swindle was subject to rigorous scrutiny, then the people responsible for that scrutiny are in the wrong job. As you are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the programme was ready for transmission, that surely includes yourself. How many “mistakes” does a film have to make before you consider that it has NOT been subject to rigorous scrutiny?

I asked you in my last letter to justify your claim that both my film and Martin Durkin’s were commissioned as part of “a season of opinionated polemical films about global warming”. You have failed to do so. Why? If your claim were true, the evidence would surely not be hard to come by. Nor would it constitute a state secret. There is surely only one explanation for your failure to support this claim: you are unable to do so because it is untrue. If that is the case, then not only did the film you commissioned mislead its viewers on several substantial points of science, but you misled the listeners to the Today programme about the commissioning process. I will be forwarding our correspondence to the Today programme and asking that a correction be made.

Finally, you state that “the very significant debate which the film has started is to be welcomed”. You give yourself too much credit: the debate about whether or not anthropogenic global warming is happening was not started by the Great Global Warming Swindle. It has been taking place for over 20 years. Your film has indeed started a debate: about whether or not it was fit to be broadcast. I think your failure to provide credible responses to my questions answers that point.

Yours Sincerely,

George Monbiot

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