BBC lost at sea as Radio 4 mocks climate change science

BLOG: Science drenched with a water pistol as sceptical MPs and weathermen line up to bash Met Office

(Pic: BBC website)

(Pic: BBC website)

By Ed King

This was the week when the BBC took the piss out of the biggest scientific peer reviewed study produced on climate change.

In the space of 28 minutes it managed – with some elan – to pour scorn on the work of thousands of scientists involved with the UN’s IPCC climate science reports in 2013 and 2014 and rubbish their work, without offering an opposing view.

It did this rather effectively, masking what was a sustained assault on mainstream science and its warnings of the potentially catastrophic impacts of soaring carbon emissions with a spot of humour.

The half-hour show in question, presented by Quentin Letts, a Daily Mail columnist and occasional climate sceptic, was expertly produced and edited.

Letts, a fabulous broadcaster, witty sketch writer and engaging interviewer, was kicking off a series called “What’s the Point of?”.

Billed as a series casting a “critical but amicable eye across institutions at the heart of British life”, it started with a body well known for some high profile cock ups.

I give you the Met Office.

Take for example the great storm of 1987 that was never meant to be, or the miserable 2009 “barbecue summer”.

Mistakes inscribed in British folklore. Taxi driver favourites. In a country where weather is the first point of conversation, they regularly crop up.

What was curious about this programme was its intense focus on the veracity of climate science through the lens of the Met Office, from who we heard only briefly.

The Met Office was part of a conspiracy, argued maverick weather presenter and climate sceptic Piers Corbyn, who says solar energy not carbon dioxide drives global warming or cooling.

“They have had another purpose latched on to them,” he told Letts.

“It’s to promote defend and propagate the man made climate change theory and suggest what horrors will come from CO2, which is fictional.”

It was, admitted Letts, a “contentious point and one we will come back to”.

Meet the sceptics: why science can’t compete with beachballs

And so he did, introducing Conservative MP Peter Lilley, self-styled “climate lukewarmist”, who said the Met Office was stuck in a vortex of climate alarmism.

“They are committed to a pseudo-scientific doctrine and they are now unwilling to change their doctrine when the facts are refuted,” he said.

Met Office suggestions that heating linked to greenhouse gas emissions was being sucked into the ocean was described by Lilley as an “oceans ate my homework thesis”. A droll description it may be, but that thesis has widespread scientific support.

For another view, Letts spoke to Labour MP Graham Stringer, who allied with Lilley last year in an unsuccessful effort to block a UK endorsement of the UN climate science panel’s recent findings.

Met Office climate predictions are “pretty random and very poor” said Stringer. The organisation’s warnings were forcing governments to invest in expensive, ugly renewables, he added.

And to emphasise the millions wasted on useless Met Office supercomputers investigating a giant hoax, Andy Silvester from the Taxpayers Alliance was roped in.

He’s no stranger to the climate change debate, working in an organisation that consistently lobbies the government to scrap its climate targets.

Silvester said he was concerned it was a monopoly, that new computers had not improved forecasts. It should stick to short term predictions, he stressed.

Feedback loops?

Unfortunately, there was little time to hear the Met Office explain its part in this massive hoax, despite BBC guidelines specifically calling for controversial subjects to be treated impartially.

“Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact,” guideline 4.4.7.

“Its history was saving lives at sea… essentially that’s at the heart of our ethos,” said Helen Chivers, one time meteorologist and now head of communications in her brief appearance.

Sometimes it did get things wrong, but, she said, they had an 80% accuracy rating.

But she wasn’t asked about heat uptake by the oceans, solar influence on weather forecasting or several of the other topics mentioned, said a Met Office spokesperson.


“In What’s the Point of …?, Daily Mail columnist Quentin Letts questions the continued relevance of British traditions and institutions, casting a sharp eye over their current functions and offering alternatives to well-established views. The light hearted tone of this series allows him to question and critique even the most sacrosanct of organisations, but we accept that in this episode about The Met Office, the comments made about science and climate change would have benefitted from broader representation from the mainstream scientific community, although we did hear from a range of contributors as well as from The Met Office.”

Nor does the Met Office “position” itself on climate change, they added, arguing it works “alongside research partners from around the world”.

“We publish our findings which forms an important part of the evidence base for government decisions, but we do not advocate policy.”

There wasn’t time on the 28 minute show for that bit. A bit dry perhaps.

The view on balance where climate change is concerned does depend on whether you accept the view of mainstream scientists, the UN’s IPCC panel and major scientific academies.

Or whether you don’t.

“The science was not so much dissected as drenched with a water pistol,” tweeted BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin. “Climate sceptics demanded their programme – they just got it,” he added.

Still, guidelines are there to be broken, even on a slot deemed sensitive enough by Radio 4 commissioning editors that they add this warning to producers.


It’s just curious that branding climate change a hoax seems to be acceptable on a primetime BBC slot, and also odd the corporation does not appear to to enforce BBC Trust recommendations on reporting this issue.

Few can doubt the tenacity, skill and rigour of the BBC’s team of environmental hacks, many of whom will be heading to Paris in December to cover a conference where the UN hopes a global climate deal will be agreed.

But some may be wondering if everyone at Broadcasting House sees this as such a big deal.

If you don’t agree with me – you can listen to the show again here and add your comments below. I’ll leave with you with Letts, an undoubted wordsmith.

“Such work demands respect… but how does that sit with sexed up press releases… and politically risky interventions on climate change said by some scientists to be plain wrong.

“As the shipping forecast might put it, sober predictions on short term precipitations – good. Longer term visibility and political lobbying – poor. And that’s your weather.”

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