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The BBC bungles crucial climate report

Posted by Richard D North in Global Warming / Green / Interrogating the Media / Media on 14 November 2007

Why we posted this: It’s a clue to why the BBC’s handling of climate change policy is poor.

The original story:
online climate change portal
Climate Change: news, opinion and explanation from around the BBC
BBC Online

Summary of the story:
In November 2007 the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published its latest summaries on its current thinking on this colossal issue.

These were correctly reported by everyone (including the BBC) as saying that mankind is very likely having a warming effect on the earth’s climate. They were also correctly reported by everyone (including the BBC) as saying that dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would be needed to make a difference to man’s influence on the climate. There was much less analysis of the politicial realities of any response. These include the enormous problem that there is no sign whatever of serious policy to bring about anything like the reductions the IPCC says are needed.

In preparation for the latest UN/IPCC report on climate change, the BBC’s News Online site said it would address the issue of climate scepticism. As usual, the site’s writers bigged-up the IPCC consensus on the science and impacts of climate change. And as usual, they paid hardly any attention to the real-world poltical and economic realities which are discussed by some of the most serious sceptics.

Extracts from the BBC’s material:
Here is an important note from two senior BBC specialists on how the wider BBC should frame this issue. It stresses that the total climate change deniers are now a very small minority. It assumes the problem is to balance these deniers against the majority view. It ignores the much more interesting aspect of climate change discussion: how to get serious about what will actually happen and what are the realistic chances of infuencing these outcomes with policy?

Here is the site’s editor discussing his investigation of climate scepticism. He mostly notes that he expected to find his task demanding, but it was actually quite easy (because, he implies, climate change scepticism is plain wrong about nearly everything).

Here is the site’s chosen climate sceptic (he’s a near-denier, by the way, which is different).

Here is the site’s chosen IPCC “consensus” representative.

Here is the site’s best assessment of the balance of the argument. It is mostly fair and resaonble as to the science. But only point 10 is of real interest. That’s because it asks a detailed question about who will suffer, where and when – and notes that maybe the “North” will suffer much less than the “South”. Quite. But how many rich Northerners now alive will really do much to head off possible (or even probable) problems for Southerners yet to be born?

livingissues comment:
BBC News Online is keen on tackling climate change – but its approach is hardly useful. Its analysts do not interrogate the IPCC with any scepticism, and they especially do not interrogate the Something Must Be Done school of rhetoric.

In the BBC’s defence, the IPCC’s own account of the issue is either very poorly summarised in the recent documents, or very bad altogether. Spend an hour with the IPCC Summary for Policy-makers and you will find that they are woefully lacking in the detail which policymakers actually need. Where the important issues are addressed, it is with a dangerous shallowness.

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