Wednesday, August 29, 2007

BBC news chiefs attack plans for climate change campaign

It shows how much pressure they have been under that the Beeb wants to return to impartiality

Two of the BBC's most senior news and current affairs executives attacked the corporation's plans yesterday for a Comic Relief-style day of programming on environmental issues, saying it was not the broadcaster's job to preach to viewers. The event, understood to have been 18 months in development, would see stars such as Ricky Gervais and Jonathan Ross take part in a "consciousness raising" event, provisionally titled Planet Relief, early next year.

But, speaking at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival yesterday, Newsnight's editor, Peter Barron, and the BBC's head of television news, Peter Horrocks, attacked the plan, which also seems to contradict the corporation's guidelines. Asked whether the BBC should campaign on issues such as climate change, Mr Horrocks said: "I absolutely don't think we should do that because it's not impartial. It's not our job to lead people and proselytise about it." Mr Barron said: "It is absolutely not the BBC's job to save the planet. I think there are a lot of people who think that, but it must be stopped."

Planet Relief appears to contradict BBC guidelines on impartiality. In June a BBC-endorsed report set out 12 principles on impartiality, warning that the broadcaster "has many public purposes of both ambition and merit - but joining campaigns to save the planet is not one of them". A BBC spokeswoman said: "This idea is still in development and the intention would be to debate the issue and in no way campaign on a single point of view."

Meanwhile, in a session at the festival yesterday titled How Green is TV, the documentary producer Martin Durkin attacked the BBC as stifling debate on climate change. Durkin, whose film The Great Global Warming Swindle attracted a large number of complaints when it was shown on Channel 4 this year, said: "The thing that disturbs me most is that the BBC has such a leviathan position ... that if it decides that it is going to adopt climate change as a moral purpose, I have got a lot of trouble with that. I don't think it is the role of the BBC to spend my money on a moral purpose."


Social acid has burnt the heart of Britain

Fifty years ago I was a schoolboy in a Liverpool suburb and a strong supporter of Everton like Rhys Jones. My parents were cautious and loving, but they had no qualms about letting me follow the team around the country. That a boy might be killed by a drive-by shooter as he was returning from his local soccer practice would have struck them as an episode in a Latin American coup rather than a possibility in their relatively tranquil lives.

Not unreasonably. In 1955, the anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer described this tranquillity in his book Exploring English Character: "When we think of our faults, we put first, and by a long way, any lapse from our standards of non-aggression, bad temper, nagging, swearing and the like. Public life is more gentle than that reported for any society of comparable size and industrial complexity."

Swearing? Yes, though omni-present in all-male milieus such as the Army, swearing didn't occur in mixed company. Class was irrelevant. My grandmother served behind the bar in a pub on Liverpool's Dock Road before and after the First World War. On only one occasion did someone swear in her presence. The miscreant was promptly taken aside by other dockers and given a talking-to. He returned and apologised.

Next week, I'll be making one of my regular trips from the United States to a different Britain. Like the Jamie Bulger murder of 14 years ago, also in a Liverpool suburb, the casual killing of Rhys Jones has driven home to the British the extent of their social decline - the rise of an underclass, the high rate of crime, especially violent crime, the vandalisation of public spaces, the spread of public drunkenness, and the coarsening of popular culture.

My returning American friends sugar-coat their vacations to me. They enthuse over the historic monuments, the superb theatre, the cathedral cities, the improvement in British cuisine, the precision of the Royal Horse Guards, Fortnum & Mason, and the kindness of almost everyone they met. Almost everyone? Yes, after a while, they admit sadly to the odd disappointment: the snide anti-American remarks directed at them, the warnings against crime near their hotel, the vomiting young people dominating the centres of every town at night. "Going to a West End play today is like going to Broadway in the 1970s," said one. "You thread your way past the same sleazy porn shops, over the same junkies, and past the same drunks, except that the swearing doesn't stop when the play starts."

It didn't happen overnight. Breaking down a strong culture of civic self-control takes time and several social acids. The first such acid was the cultural liberalism generally associated with the 1960s: the attempt to free people from irksome traditional moral customs and the laws that reflected them. Anthony Jay has recently described how the "media liberalism" of the BBC - an institution founded in part to promote social virtues and British institutions - increasingly undermined them all: from military valour to the monarchy.

Assuredly, this revolution had its worthwhile side, especially for the educated and prosperous. Britain today is a freer and more relaxed society with less supervision from maiden aunts and aldermen than in 1955. Combined with a welfare state that picked up the tab, however, cultural liberalism promoted social irresponsibility - more voluntary workless, more divorces, children with fewer opportunities because they live in homes without two parents, a growing underclass, a society that is cruder, more disordered, less gentle. Less neighbourly, too, because of the second social acid: the ethnic and religious diversity introduced by mass immigration.

You may be surprised to learn that "diversity", which is usually discussed as an undeniable social good, has any drawbacks. But Robert Puttnam, an American social scientist, has established from a major survey (and to his own distress) that ethnic diversity makes people less trustful of each other. Worse, people feel this distrust towards those from their own ethnic group as well as towards "the Other". Diversity, it transpires, is a recipe for bad neighbourliness.

This growing distrust might have been lessened, even overcome, by an effective policy of American-style "assimilation" - that is, getting everyone to think of themselves as "British first" and to embrace a common British history and culture. That policy worked well in the US until the 1970s. Instead government promoted the third acid: a "multiculturalism" that encourages minorities to retain their culture and identity. Thus, our rulers set out, eager and well-intentioned, to maximise the differences and therefore the tensions inherent in diversity.

America has so far avoided the worst effects of its own multiculturalism because it has a proud national identity. Most immigrants still want to become Americans as they once wished to become British. Except for the Thatcher years, however, the British establishment, from a blend of multiculturalism and Europeanism, drained all pride and meaning out of Britishness. No one, not even the Scots, wants to assimilate to a nullity.

The result is a fractured, distrustful and disorderly society. And because a diverse society lacks agreed values and standards, governments regulate the behaviour of all, including the law-abiding, to maintain social peace. Thus, we have far more officials supervising us than in the 1950s, but they are anti-smoking social workers and ethnic diversity officers rather than park wardens. The police have become little more than the paramilitary wing of The Guardian, sniffing out "racist" or "Islamophobic" attitudes rather than investigating serious crimes that have some "cultural" excuse. Society gradually becomes more governed and less self-governing.

Rebuilding a united democratic nation that governs itself with decency will be a difficult task. As Geoffrey Gorer pointed out in 1955, however, his gentle Britain had been sculpted by the Victorians from the recalcitrant marble of a brutalised society very much like today's Britain. It will take leaders in the Victorian mould to do it, though.


Dental desperation in Scotland

Desperate North-east dental patients could be bumped down the NHS waiting list if they go private. NHS Grampian has now admitted it has a policy of pushing people down the waiting list if they discover the person has signed up for private care. This follows Evening Express revelations last week that the waiting list in Grampian now stands at 25,000 (the equivalent of a 13-mile queue), meaning it could take years before an NHS dentist is available. The one big hope appears to be the proposal to build a new surgery in Tillydrone which could take 12,000 people, as reported by the Evening Express yesterday.

One North-east patient, who wants to remain anonymous, was told that by signing on for Denplan he would be shoved down the waiting list. Denplan is a form of private health insurance for teeth which gives people a guaranteed two check ups a year for a minimum monthly fee of 10 pounds. He lost his NHS dentist when he went completely private and was forced to join the long waiting list.

"As I was in need of fillings I signed up for Denplan, seeing no other option," he explained. "However, I kept my name on the waiting list as I'll be a pensioner quite soon. "When I phoned to ask how far up the list I was, I was shocked to be told that by signing up for Denplan I would drop well down."

An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said the policy existed as those who could not afford private care had to take precedence. But she added: "We do have a helpline for people who need emergency treatment and can usually fit them in within 24 hours. "The waiting list is based on time waited and need. Need is seen to be greater if somebody cannot afford private dental care."



MPs and Jewish leaders have condemned a high-profile British charity which has unveiled plans for a world-wide anti-Israel boycott. A document, described as a guide for boycott, divestment and sanctions, appears on the War on Want website, and as a booklet, laying out a strategy for those planning sanctions against the Jewish state. MPs have called on the Charity Commission to investigate the publication, described as a handbook of hate by Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Jeremy Newmark.

It suggests that the boycott movement needs to gain greater popular support in order to grow into a truly global movement. Comparisons are drawn between sanctions against Israel and those imposed against apartheid-era South Africa. Investment in Israel should be presented to the public as investment in a system of occupation, injustice and apartheid, it says in the booklet, co-published with the Palestinian Stop the Wall organisation.

Lorna Fitzsimons, former Labour MP and chief executive of BICOM, the Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre, said that to equate the Palestinians situation with the absolute powerlessness of black South Africans under the apartheid regime is at best misguided, and at worst an insult and a tragedy. Liverpool Riverside Labour MP Louise Ellman said the publication was very questionable for a charity. Ilford North Conservative MP Lee Scott found it disgraceful. I'm going to ask the Charity Commission to look into it.

Labour peer Lord Janner suggested that if the charity wanted to attack anyone they should concentrate on the non-democracies of this world. They seem to be existing on another planet.

Zionist Federation president Eric Moonman warned that those who thought that pressure for boycotts only came from academics and the unions have made a mistake. This is much more serious. It shows that well-meaning people are buying into the boycott too.

Despite the criticism, a War on Want spokesman told the JC: This [document] is produced with our partner organisation Stop the Wall. We helped fund it and we are happy to promote it. It was to be be followed up, by a more extensive study of boycott strategy to be published later this year.

A government spokesman said that War on Want had received government backing of 1.1 million pounds from the Department for International Development, but none of this was for projects in the Middle East.


"Consensus"? What "Consensus"? Among Climate Scientists, The Debate Is Not Over


It is often said that there is a scientific "consensus" to the effect that climate change will be "catastrophic" and that, on this question, "the debate is over". The present paper will demonstrate that the claim of unanimous scientific "consensus" was false, and known to be false, when it was first made; that the trend of opinion in the peer-reviewed journals and even in the UN's reports on climate is moving rapidly away from alarmism; that, among climate scientists, the debate on the causes and extent of climate change is by no means over; and that the evidence in the peer-reviewed literature conclusively demonstrates that, to the extent that there is a "consensus", that "consensus" does not endorse the notion of "catastrophic" climate change.

The origin of the claim of "consensus"

David Miliband, the Environment Minister of the United Kingdom, was greeted by cries of "Rubbish!" when he told a conference on climate change at the Holy See in the spring of 2007 that the science of climate and carbon dioxide was simple and settled. Yet Miliband was merely reciting a mantra that has been widely peddled by politicians such as Al Gore and political news media such as the BBC, which has long since abandoned its constitutional obligation of objectivity on this as on most political subjects, and has adopted a policy of not allowing equal air-time to opponents of the imagined "consensus".

The claim of "consensus" rests almost entirely on an inaccurate and now-outdated single-page comment in the journal Science entitled The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change (Oreskes, 2004). In this less than impressive "head-count" essay, Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science with no qualifications in climatology, defined the "consensus" in a very limited sense, quoting as follows from IPCC (2001) -

"Human activities . are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents . that absorb or scatter radiant energy. . most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."

The limited definition of "consensus"

Oreskes' definition of "consensus" falls into two parts. First, she states that humankind is altering the composition of the atmosphere. This statement is uncontroversial: for measurement has established that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen over the past 250 years to such an extent that CO2 now constitutes almost 0.01 per cent more of the atmosphere than in the pre-industrial era. However, on the question whether that alteration has any detrimental climatic significance, there is no consensus, and Oreskes does not state that there is.

The second part of Oreskes' definition of the "consensus" is likewise limited in its scope. Since global temperatures have risen by about 0.4C in the past 50 years, humankind - according to Oreskes' definition of "consensus" - may have accounted for more than 0.2C.

Applying that rate of increase over the present century, and raising it by half to allow for the impact of fast-polluting developing countries such as China, temperature may rise by 0.6C in the present century, much as it did in the past century, always provided that the unprecedented (and now-declining) solar activity of the past 70 years ceases to decline and instead continues at its recent record level.

There is indeed a consensus that humankind is putting large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; that some warming has resulted; and that some further warming can be expected. However, there is less of a consensus about whether most of the past half-century's warming is anthropogenic, which is why, rightly, Oreskes is cautious enough to circumscribe her definition of the "consensus" about the anthropogenic contribution to warming over the past half-century with the qualifying adjective "likely".

There is no scientific consensus on how much the world has warmed or will warm; how much of the warming is natural; how much impact greenhouse gases have had or will have on temperature; how sea level, storms, droughts, floods, flora, and fauna will respond to warmer temperature; what mitigative steps - if any - we should take; whether (if at all) such steps would have sufficient (or any) climatic effect; or even whether we should take any steps at all.

Campaigners for climate alarm state or imply that there is a scientific consensus on all of these things, when in fact there is none. They imply that Oreskes' essay proves the consensus on all of these things. Al Gore, for instance, devoted a long segment of his film An Inconvenient Truth to predicting the imminent meltdown of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice-sheets, with a consequent global increase of 20 feet (6 m) in sea level that would flood Manhattan, Shanghai, Bangladesh, and other coastal settlements. He quoted Oreskes' essay as proving that all credible climate scientists were agreed on the supposed threat from climate change. He did not point out, however, that Oreskes' definition of the "consensus" on climate change did not encompass, still less justify, his alarmist notions.

Let us take just one example. The UN's latest report on climate change, which is claimed as representing and summarizing the state of the scientific "consensus" insofar as there is one, says that the total contribution of ice-melt from Greenland and Antarctica to the rise in sea level over the whole of the coming century will not be the 20 feet luridly illustrated by Al Gore in his movie, but just 2 inches.

Gore's film does not represent the "consensus" at all. Indeed, he exaggerates the supposed effects of ice-melt by some 12,000 per cent. The UN, on the other hand, estimates the probability that humankind has had any influence on sea level at little better than 50:50. The BBC, of course, has not headlined, or even reported, the UN's "counter-consensual" findings. Every time the BBC mentions "climate change", it shows the same tired footage of a glacier calving into the sea - which is what glaciers do every summer.

What Oreskes said

Oreskes (2004) said she had analyzed - "928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords `climate change'." She concluded that 75% of the papers either explicitly or implicitly accepted the "consensus" view; 25% took no position, being concerned with palaeoclimate rather than today's climate; and -

"Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position. . This analysis shows that scientists publishing in the peer-reviewed literature agree with IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, and the public statements of their professional societies. Politicians, economists, journalists, and others may have the impression of confusion, disagreement, or discord among climate scientists, but that impression is incorrect. . Our grandchildren will surely blame us if they find that we understood the reality of anthropogenic climate change and failed to do anything about it. . There is a consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change."

It is not clear whether Oreskes' analysis was peer-reviewed, since it was presented as an essay and not as a scientific paper. However, there were numerous serious errors, effectively negating her conclusion, which suggest that the essay was either not reviewed at all or reviewed with undue indulgence by scientists who agreed with Oreskes' declared prejudice - shared by the editors of Science - in favour of the alarmist position.


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