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« Oreskes on statistics | Main | Sceptics are from Mars and warmists are from Venus »
Monday
Jan052015

In Our Time last time

Fifteen years ago this week the BBC's In Our Time show dedicated one of its shows to the subject of climate change (H/T Leo Hickman). In a break from its normal practice, Melvyn Bragg was joined by only two guests, only one of whom could even loosely be described as an academic. Sir John Houghton, the then chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, would best be described as a scientific administrator, having previously been the chief executive of the Met Office; George Monbiot is of course an environmental campaigner and journalist, although for the occasion - perhaps hoping to be taken more seriously - he also described himself as visiting professor of philosophy at the University of Bristol.

2000 was an interesting time in the climate debate. With the world having just entered the third millennium, thoughts of catastrophic futures seem to have found fertile ground and the global warming scare was therefore starting to gain ground. The IPCC's Second Assessment Report had laid the foundations for the scare a few years before; the ink was barely dry on the Hockey Stick papers and the onslaught of the Third Assessment was not far away. This is the context for the BBC's decision to use an environmentalist and a environmentally minded bureaucrat to provide what the corporation calls "due balance".

The intervening years have not been kind to the arguments put forward by Monbiot and Houghton. In fact it's hard to find anything very much that they said that would be accepted as mainstream in 2015. Monbiot opened his account of the global warming problem with the familiar claim that wet parts of the world would become wetter and dry parts dryer, a view that seems to be a complete fiction. He also gave an airing to the oft-repeated, but very tall tale about potential disruption of the Gulf Stream, which is now dismissed almost out of hand by the IPCC.

Then we had George repeating a claim by the Red Cross that the numbers of people being displaced by climate change was exceeding the number displaced by war. Tens of millions of climate refugees were said to have already fled their homes, with hundreds of millions more expected in the future. Houghton was quite happy to support Monbiot on this point. But again, the idea has been allowed to die a quiet death in subsequent IPCC reports.

It went on and on. There was the absurd claim that the melting of the Himalayan glaciers will cause problems for farmers in the Ganges valley, as if the monsoon did not exist. Floods and drought were said to be about to become more intense and more frequent, despite the fact that there are no such trends in floods and droughts worldwide. And there was a bizarre claim about the correlation between carbon dioxide levels and temperature rises, with Monbiot claiming that that the strength of the correlation meant there was a less than 2% chance that the relationship was not causal.

It was a shocking performance, at once unscientific and brazenly alarmist. In fairness, Bragg tried hard to challenge some of what was said, but the gulf in expertise (if that's the right word to describe what was taking place inside the heads of Monbiot and Houghton) was stark and he was unable to make any headway.

What fun it would be if Bragg were to revisit the subject now.

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Reader Comments (19)

Melvyn Bragg still does 'In Our Time' on BBC Radio 4. Unfortunately he gets completely lost when the programme is about anything scientific and so never asks the type of question anybody with any scientific understanding would want him to ask.

Jan 6, 2015 at 9:32 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I believe on of his "In our Time" programmes in the last year or so, the subject featured polar ice, but I can't be sure when. The impression I got was that basically he was just as malleable in terms of "advice" from his "guests", as the rest of the BBC...

Jan 6, 2015 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterOld Goat

Have we not had more than two millennia?

Jan 6, 2015 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Pedant

Philip.
Agreed. I used to listen to IOT. But compare and contrast Bragg's fierce, sometimes downright aggressive, questioning of the academics on historical and philosophical topics, with the soft soap to-and-fro on science programmes where he is clearly reading from his prepared researcher's notes.

Odd, isn't it, how liberal intellectuals will mercilessly mock anyone who doesn't know the difference between Rambo and Rimbaud, but will dismiss their own lack of knowledge about the difference between X-rays and Ultra-Violet rays with an airy wave of the hand as if it is a mere triviality and therefore beneath them.

It might help explain why the whole misdirection of CAGW was so easy.

Jan 6, 2015 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

I vaguely remember the programme and if memory serves me right was quite an epiphany. As a practising teacher at the time and an examiner it jarred with the orthodoxy of my academic background. Earlier that week, a BBC weatherman late on Radio 4 (probably on the verge of retirement) had reported that the satellite readings indicated no warming at all. Until then I had accepted a mostly academic discussion with an open mind, now it was obvious that when George Monbiot who knew far less than me on the subject was being given free rein to voice his views, that this had morphed into the presentist paradigm ( used by Phillip Stott) and was now in full flow.Even more depressingly, the political class, with some heroic exceptions, have swallowed it whole. So followed 15 years of tearing my hair out.

Jan 6, 2015 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered Commentertrefjon

Sir John Houghton and George Monbiot seem to be incapable of understanding real science. The alarmist nonsense these people disseminate whilst appear at the BBC and Guardian is like watching/listening to Monty Python.

It would be easier to ask has George Monbiot got anything right? Use denier to denigrate (with its holocaust connotations) people who do not agree with him

Has James ("Death train") Hansen got anything right apart from his bank balance and flying first class?

Did Al ("millions degrees below the Earth's surface") Gore get anything right apart from is vast wealth

Jan 6, 2015 at 10:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Monbiot?????

"Visiting professor of philosophy at the University of Bristol"


The same man who acted in a despicable way towards many who simply disagreed with his view point - including David Bellamy who Monbiot used his BBC cronies to isolate.

To me "philosophy" is about rational argument.

Monbiot is synonymous with bigoted views and a total lack of any moral compass.

Jan 6, 2015 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterDoug UK

Sir John Houghton . . . would best be described as a scientific administrator

It may or may not be the "best" description but a more accurate one would surely note that he was formerly professor in atmospheric physics at the University of Oxford and thus unarguably a competent academic scientist.

Dismissing him merely as a "scientific administrator who can only "loosely be described as an academic" misses an important point: support from the likes of Houghton (and Tickell) back in the late 1980s and early 90s gave the AGW hypothesis a credibility it might not otherwise have had. That credibility was endorsed by the support of leading politicians of the day who saw to it that supporters of the hypothesis obtained the funding and secured the posts necessary to pursue what was always a political, never a scientific, project.

Jan 6, 2015 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

is Geirge Monbiot still going strong on climate change, in the Guardian? I haven't read that paper for some years, and have not seen him leading forth on TV for ages. He always struck me as a typical champagne socialist, very much at home in the Grundian, and the BBC, late at night. I wonder what he thinks of the situation regarding CAGW now, with the massive increase in sceptics..

Jan 6, 2015 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

Just watching Rory Stewart Tory MP talking to Stephen Sackur on Hardtalk

Says that too much emphasis was put on Climate Change under the last Labour government so much so that the foreign office missed and and got caught out by Civil War in Syria that spilled over into Iraq with ISIS and also Russia and Ukraine.

Still watching he supports the bombing campaign on ISIS

Jan 6, 2015 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

AFAIK the whole series is available in the IOT podcast if you want to listen to them. I have them all on my pc at home. Their treatment of some historical subjects is excellent and Melvyn Bragg plays the perfect interested amateur digging out facts and making them clear.

It would be interesting to see how many of his points George still stands by in view of 15 more years of research and data. I'm not sure he would welcome anyone asking though.

Jan 6, 2015 at 10:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterClovis Marcus

He was willing to believe this when there was no evidence or data supporting any of this.

Jan 6, 2015 at 11:15 AM | Registered Commentershub

Clovis Marcus
"George still stands by in view of 15 more years of research and data. I'm not sure he would welcome anyone asking though."
Interestingly one quick way to get yourself banned or 'disappeared' form CIF is to repeat Monbats own words on his extreme views on those who fly , which for added irony where written shortly before he went on a North American book selling tour, to date his never admitted any any error in this view.
And its not that is not the only instance of 1984 style rewrites of history, Hickman's CIF heavy promotion of the 10:10 splatter feast video is one they don't like to be reminded of either .

The real irony those where actually the 'good old days ' under Bob 'fast fingers ' Ward and the poor cartoonists side kick CIF environmental has actual got worse and become little more than a circle wa** for those who try to out hate each other over 'deniers'
Now who would have thought that under Monbat and Hickman that you would have seen better coverage of AGW then under others , it really shows how rubbish their coverage of the whole AGW thing has been . Which oddly is not that usual , as this paper does seem to cover a subject badly once it becomes obsessed by it and decides that nothing but unquestioning support is aloud.

Jan 6, 2015 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

"despite the fact that there are no such trends in floods and droughts worldwide"

Doesn't stop them repeating it ad nauseam, though, does it? Some drone or other was still pushing that line in the Telegraph yesterday, as part of an article claiming that 2014 was the hottest year ever, etc etc etc yawn yawn.

And if Bragg revisited the issue today, I am sure he would, without even blinking, say all the same things again.

Jan 6, 2015 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Duffin

Standard "green" tactics. Lie, lie and lie again.

And when someone points to the lies, attack the credibility of that person/organisation.

Unfortunately it does seem to work.

Jan 6, 2015 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&Twisted

Moonbat was an instigator: the title of his book "The Age of Consent: a Manifesto for a New World Order" makes it pretty clear.
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2003/jul/01/comment.climatechange

Jan 6, 2015 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSleepalot

"And there was a bizarre claim about the correlation between carbon dioxide levels and temperature rises, with Monbiot claiming that that the strength of the correlation meant there was a less than 2% chance that the relationship was not causal."

He's right, but the arrow of causality passes straight through his ears in an unexpected diection.

"In fairness, Bragg tried hard to challenge some of what was said"

Bragg was at the time vice chancellor of Leeds University, which has a LARGE earth sciences dept which gets major funding from NCAR

Jan 6, 2015 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterRog Tallbloke

2000 was an interesting time in the climate debate. With the world having just entered the third millennium, thoughts of catastrophic futures seem to have found fertile ground and the global warming scare was therefore starting to gain ground.

I hadn't made that connection before, but I think it has an element of truth in it.

Jan 6, 2015 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

I'm surprised that Houghton didn't take the Blues' Brothers line "We're on a mission from God" given that he later took that position. Also, according to Bert Bolin's book "A History of the Politics and Science of Climate Change", Houghton was front and centre pushing for revisions of much of the pivotal chapter of IPCC 2AR of 1995 after final expert review. These changes were made on the basis of a SINGLE report, which later became a very forgettable and flawed "Nature" paper, written by several authors most notably Ben Santer and Tom Wigley, both lead authors of that chapter of the IPCC report, and David Karoly who I think was just a chapter author (-this was prior to Co-ordinating Lead Authors, Lead Authors and Contributing Authors).

In other words Houghton played a leading role in the scam that saw the IPCC survive and be directed to support the UNFCCC, which for years had been making claims about greenhouse gases despite the lack of evidence.

Jan 6, 2015 at 9:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn McLean

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