The Great Global Warming Swindle swindle

by Chris Bertram on March 15, 2007

UK viewers were treated the other night to a superficially impressive global-warming denialist documentary: “The Great Global Warming Swindle”: . The programme was the work of “Martin Durkin”: who has previous form for dodgy science documentaries. “Medialens”: has a reasonably comprehensive account of the film’s reception and also gives an idea of the contents. See also “George Monbiot”:,,2032575,00.html in the Guardian and “Steve Connor”: in the Independent. Central to the film was the testimony of the MIT oceanographer Carl Wunsch. Wunsch’s own account of how his material was edited and presented so as to give a misleading account of his actual views is “here”: .

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03.22.07 at 6:36 am



ejh 03.15.07 at 11:41 am

Presumably though, the ambitious little shits working at Channel Four thought the programme would be “provocative” which is obviously the most important consideration if you’re trying to further your career in the media which is itself immensely more important than scientific truth or the welfare of humanity as a whole.

I have a theory that civilisation, rather than being a state of affairs as such, is actually a process – one in which we are permanenently obliged to struggle against all the greedy bastards and all the people who just can’t be bothered.


Nick L 03.15.07 at 11:42 am

Although I’m sure there is room for scientific debate on many of the technical issues and the public debate on global warming would be improved if these issues were discussed more often, the entire tone of the programme was sensationalist and hysterical at times. Carl Wunsch’s reply is damning, much of what he said in the programme seems to have been so heavily and selectively edited by the film markers as to seem nonsense (carbon dioxide can’t cause global warming because it makes up only a small % of the atmosphere!!).

However, I do have it on good authority that Paul Reiter’s claim in the programme that global warming is unlikely to increase the spread of malarial mosquitoes is scientifically sound. So there is some genuine science in the programme, mixed in with a few cranks and contrarians. It would be unfortunate if everyone involved was tarred with the same brush as Durkin.


Henry 03.15.07 at 12:21 pm

It would appear that the Powertools guys have “uploaded the show”: for the benefit of US viewers.


Doormat 03.15.07 at 12:23 pm

The link to the wikipedia article on Durkin has been messed up slightly.

[Thanks – I’ve fixed it by tinyurling it – CB]


Hidari 03.15.07 at 1:36 pm

As always this would seem to link easily into the strange story of how the weirdos of the ‘Revolutionary Communist Party’ ended up dominating the British public’s view of ‘risk’.


john b 03.15.07 at 1:40 pm

There’s another good expose-type piece here.

Have any of the LM maniacs managed to link their favourite memes of “climate change is made up” and “Serbian atrocities were made up” yet?


sk 03.15.07 at 1:40 pm

Sounds like a good counterpoint to the superficially impressive global warming activist documentary of Al Gore.



Per 03.15.07 at 1:47 pm

RealClimate has more on the “science”, including a letter from Wunsch to the producer of the programme, Steven Green.


Tom 03.15.07 at 1:54 pm

I’m afraid that the real lesson that Wunsch should be drawing is the one that the Harlan County miners learned long ago.


tom hurka 03.15.07 at 2:04 pm

Thanks for this. I saw the program, or the last half of it, and was both struck by the arguments, which seemed at first sight serious, and troubled by the lack of attention to any counterarguments or possible responses from the other side. I guess the latter was no accident.


John Emerson 03.15.07 at 2:45 pm

I hope that Wunsch has definitively given up his earlier “both sides are equally bad” prejudice. I hear this cliche all the time even today (though less so than five years ago) from neutral technocratic types who believe that they’re being tremendously penetrating and brilliant when they say it.

A lot of them are really completely clueless about contemporary political reality, and some of them hold to anti-democratic ideals of administrative rule by experts.

I’m not saying that Wunsch used to believe either of these stupidities, but his own descriptionof his earlier attitude makes it seem possible that he was.


dave heasman 03.15.07 at 3:27 pm

“It would appear that the Powertools guys have uploaded the show for the benefit of US viewers”

And now, the PowerLine blog in association with the Revolutionary Communist Party presents….


Paul Ding 03.15.07 at 3:54 pm

The democrats’ position on global warming is like the republicans’ position on embryonic stem cells. Faith is fine – but it’s not part of the scientific process. Skepticism is.

As a rule of thumb, when one side says “Don’t look at that man behind the curtain” and the other side says “The more you look, the better we’ll look”, my initial instinct is to trust the second side.


John Emerson 03.15.07 at 4:07 pm

Paul, what post were you responding to?


Jim Harrison 03.15.07 at 5:00 pm

Unintelligent criticism of global warming is not the preserve of dodgy British TV channels. The New York Times hit piece on Al Gore, though doubtlessly motivated as much by the Times’ long-standing vendetta against Gore as by skepticism about climate change, was an example of the same sort of journalistic dishonesty.


Barry 03.15.07 at 5:33 pm

Posted by John Emerson: “I hope that Wunsch has definitively given up his earlier “both sides are equally bad” prejudice. I hear this cliche all the time even today (though less so than five years ago) from neutral technocratic types who believe that they’re being tremendously penetrating and brilliant when they say it.”

IIRC, the word ‘sophomore’ was made up out of two greek words meaning ‘wise’ and ‘fool’. The idea was that a sophomore knew more than a freshman, but was still pretty raw, ignorant and naive. ‘Sophomoric’ meant something which wasn’t too well thought out.

‘Sophomoric’ is an excellent term for such cynicism; it’s the intellectual equivalent of thinking that wearing all black is somehow cool and artsy.

I’ve got a friend who like the term ‘slick willie’, referring to Clinton. Frankly, I’d be embarrassed to use that term, after six years of Bush. We now know what a *bad* president is like.


Doormat 03.15.07 at 5:44 pm

In reference to posts #7 and #13, it’s amusing that blog posts about climate change (and evolution I’ve found) enslessly seem to attract these types of comments. I can only assume there exist people who type “climate change” into Google, and then give some random comment (“Yeah, and Al Gore is fat!” etc.) without actually, you know, reading the post they found. Then again, having followed the link on post #13, I wonder if this is some new form of viral marketting?


Daragh McDowell 03.15.07 at 6:35 pm

This all reminds me of somthing… Oh that’s right.

BTW, even the Powertools are quickly bailing on this hit-piece. Check out their forum!


aaron 03.16.07 at 12:52 pm

Of course he’s right to be upset that his concerns weren’t included when he expected them to be and that he was painted as a heretic. But it hardly discredits the video, it goes without saying that if CO2 is a strong GHG and its effects don’t diminish with increasing concentrations, additional emissions from the oceans due to warming are a concern. Especially given the consensus that CO2 is a significant GHG. It doesn’t need to be mentioned (other than to save the man’s political face).


aaron 03.16.07 at 1:04 pm

And Al Gore’s not fat, he’s carbon sequestering.


rmark 03.16.07 at 2:17 pm

The vast majority of the greenhouse affect is due to water vapor, with other gasses being marginal additions. At some point, co2 effects do diminish, as you can only hold in all the heat. At that point added amounts don’t matter much.


Lee A. Arnold 03.16.07 at 6:55 pm

This devious crockumentary also makes hay out of the fact that the previous global warming episodes did not begin with carbon dioxide: another crafty intimation that carbon dioxide can’t be doing it this time! Now in previous warming episodes, carbon dioxide build-up has lagged by an average of 800 years, then boosted the warmings, which went on far longer. Switching things around should be cause for greater alarm, not less. Especially since methane release from warming permafrost bacteria has only begun. Methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere (years as opposed to centuries I think for CO2) but it’s much more radiation-absorptive.


mikeb 03.16.07 at 7:59 pm

I unfortunately did see this rubbish. I was torn between not wanting to add to the viewing figures, and knowing that I had to see it in order to rip apart.
Unfortunately the Science editor of the Guardian admitted he hadn’t seen it after writting a story about it, and was lambasted by the usual loonies (although he didn’t miss anthing).

Channel 4 is normally, I’m sad to say, not actually ‘dodgy’. It broadcasts overall a good selection of stuff – films, documentaries (Dispatches, for instance, which had George Monbiot examining HMG’s laughable attempts to cut our carbon output) and the best US programmes.

But it also has a fatal weakness for shlock, which is why we got the Big Brother debacle from them, and this pile of crap, which C4 thinks was made to stimulate ‘debate’. Indeed, they tried to defend it on the grounds that because part of their remit is to cater for minorities, it was OK programme because a ‘small minority of ‘scientists’ agreed with the programme…
Actually it was incrediably biased, with the usual suspects coming up with long debunked ideas.
Whats really frightened me is the huge number of posts to various newspaper and TV websites saying they were pleased with the programme, they agreed with it, and think that it should repeated! The tone is almost cult-like, with the same discredited points being made over and over again.
There are those of us that do try to post links to the usual websites, but they are simply ignored. Add to that the occasional positive TV review (check out the Times for the 9th), and I’m worried that C4 gave the deniers a massive shot in the arm.
Frankly, it seems many of my fellow countrymen are total idiots, but then again, I shouldn’t be surprised, considering how many of the buy the Sun. But I didn’t think they could switch on a computer, never mind type..


mikeb 03.16.07 at 8:08 pm

Forgot to mention – the Now Show has marcus brigstock giving it a kicking


DavidB 03.18.07 at 12:21 am

I just wish the level of discussion on global warming stuck to the standards of honesty, openness and reasoned discussion shown by Carl Wunsch in his response to the programme.

Unfortunately most of the discussion in the UK media falls well short of that and there are similar examples in the postings here. I can fully understand why Channel 4 felt it needed to take the contrary shock position against the combined weight of the political lobby and most of our media (that is not to defend the methods of the programme or the shocking response of Martin Durkin to Carl Wunsch’s polite and reasoned critique on the selective editing of his contribution).

Karl Popper wrote at length on the philosophy of science in Conjectures and Refutations. Science should be based on properly developed theories that can be tested and then rejected if found not to accord with experimental evidence.

Science is clearly quite limited when it comes to dealing with complex natural phenomena and the best it seems we can do at the moment – as Carl Wunsch admits – is to take an insurance policy approach.

But it is also quite wrong to mindlessly attack those who question the orthodoxy through genuine scientific inquiry. We are not getting the reasoned refutation at the moment but the proverbial kicking – but then Marcus Brigstock had a go at Lily Allen the previous week so that’s alright then.

This is an immensely difficult area with many unknowns as Carl Wunsch calmly admits. There are also a lot of people with vested interest on both sides of the “argument”. Forgive me if I don’t immediately trust our politicians to tell me about science when they see new industries and new ways of taxing us.

So I freely admit to feeling deeply sceptical about many of the arguments, filtered as they are by “freakanomic” vested interest. I can agree with the insurance policy stance but at the same time I also feel I should finish Svensmark and Calder’s book and explore the possibility that the earth is going to warm up whatever we do. This conjecture appears to be well reasoned and backed up by experimental evidence – which of course does not mean that it will not be refuted at some point in the future.


Norman Day 03.18.07 at 12:47 pm

A great programme which will severely damage the credibility of the claims of the anti-americans – sorry, correction, I mean the “environmentalists”.


Monica 03.18.07 at 2:16 pm

Some comments specifically on the part of the show that addressed climate charge and the Third World: This portrayed an extreme environmentalist view point on climate change and inaccurately applied it to developing nations. It poorly addressed how the reducing the impact of climate change practically pertains to developing countries and completely ignored the effects – current and potential – of climate change on people there… Or maybe they were just being tongue-in-cheek; I never really understood British humour, smiley faces are as sophisticated as I get :)

But anyways, as someone working in renewable energy in Nigeria, I found many of the assertions and arguments to ring particularly false to the reality on the ground. These four points in particular:

– “The polices being pushed to prevent global warming are having a disastrous effect on the world poorest people.” The only part of the Kyoto Protocol’s climate change policy that directly affects developing countries is the opportunity for partial sponsorship of clean energy projects in developing nations through carbon trading schemes such as the Clean Development Mechanism. CDM has been estimated to free up around $10 billion for clean energy projects in developing nations. The issue with CDM is that Africa is currently getting a meager share as governments like China and India’s were more able to organize to access this funding. I don’t think that’s quite the “disastrous effect” Paul Driessen alleges. Since there are no proposed policies that I’m aware of requiring Africans to limit their CO2 emissions, I’m not quite clear what policy he’s referring to…

– The implication that all renewable energy, particularly solar, is too expensive and inadequate. (via one improperly sized photovoltaic system!) The claim that renewable energy is three times more expensive than conventional grossly oversimplifies energy costs in Africa – where cost per unit energy can be many times that of North America. For instance, the convention in Nigeria is that anyone who can afford it buys a generator as a backup power source since the grid is only up about a third of the time. The office I’m working estimates they spent the equivalent of 10 bucks a day on fuel alone or about $50/week. Since we installed a $6000 solar system 2 months ago, we’ve only had to use the gen once (when the grid was off for a week straight). So our PV system will pay for itself in a little more than two years while most of the components (excluding the batteries) are supposed to last for 15-20 years. However, the majority of people don’t have that much cash to put up at the onset and interest rates are 18-30% here… assuming one could get a (very scarce) loan approved for something as uncommon as a PV system. So solar is too expensive much the same way buying a house is too expensive compare to renting – it actually can be cheaper in the long term but only if people can access loans. Granted, there are quite a few other issues with solar, but it’s deceptive to claim nobody in Africa can afford it.

– Africa is being told by climate change activists “Don’t touch your resources” Well yes, they’re right that Africa has oil. But no one, not even environmentalists, would or could argue that Africa shouldn’t benefit from it. Let’s just be practical about who is currently benefiting from those resources. In Nigeria, only one thousandth of the oil produced here is used by Nigerians. And the profits from the exports mainly go to the international oil companies and very rich politicians. The current climate change movement is not playing an even incremental role in keeping Africans from benefiting from their resources, especially compare to the (incredibly complex) economic and political systems that have evolved over the past two centuries. Please, let’s be realistic – if this is seriously a concern then climate change is the wrong scapegoat.

– Energy infrastructure in developing nations is being [though I’m assuming they meant ‘should be’ ] restricted to wind and solar as part of the global warming campaign. No one is actually advocating this. There are certainly people encouraging alternative energies to be included in a diverse energy mix and for very good reasons: Africa is still expanding its energy infrastructure which making both grid connected and decentralized alternative energy option cost-competitive in some situations. However, since these technologies aren’t as well-established they may not otherwise be considered. Diversification of non-fossil fuel energy also makes nations less vulnerable to fossil fuels’ unpredictable costs. Most developed nations planned their infrastructure in an era when fossil fuels were assumed to be endless and benign. Now they have a host of issues because of it. Shouldn’t developing countries learn from this and use it as an opportunity to develop better than the West? Due to the vastly different situations pertaining to North American and African electricity development the ‘We’re slow at adopting alternative energies and it’s even more difficult for them to’ line doesn’t necessarily hold. But that’s not to say that renewables, especially solar, don’t have some major challenges in order to be effectively utilized. (Detailed post on that here: ) Some of those challenges do require large scale action, but not one simple solution (that would make the topic too easy and uninteresting :)


Scott Ahlf 03.19.07 at 4:03 pm

Tom Tomorrow weighs in on the argument–

I think it is a liberal conspiracy to take away my right to divine prosperity.


Paul Dietz 03.19.07 at 4:23 pm

The vast majority of the greenhouse affect is due to water vapor, with other gasses being marginal additions.

This is a common denialist talking point. It glosses over the ‘inconvenient truth’ that warming due to increased CO2 (or other greenhouse gases) causes there to be more water vapor in the atmosphere, so water amplifies the effects of the other greenhouse gases.

None of the climate models could get anywhere close to realistic results about even the current climate if they did not take the effects of water vapor into account.

At some point, co2 effects do diminish, as you can only hold in all the heat. At that point added amounts don’t matter much.

The ultimate limit is demonstrated by the planet Venus, where the atmosphere is 90 times as thick as Earth’s, mostly CO2, and the surface is hot enough to melt lead. Earth won’t reach this state in the next billion years or so, and certainly won’t from the current bout of CO2 emission, but this does show the ultimate limits are not very hospitable.


Delta 03.19.07 at 9:40 pm

Thanks Monica for addressing this particular message of the documentary, which to me was trying to say, “poor Africa can’t fulfill it’s dream of developing because of all those Global Warming Activists… and just look at this dismal solar system that this clinic has to deal with… and just look at this poor woman being forced to burn wood to cook with giving her cancer! Damn you contingents of Global Warming!” This big finale of the program was absolutely laughable.

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