Analysis of the documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle"
The Great Global Warming Swindle is a documentary produced in 2007 which argues the nonexistence of anthropogenic climate change - Analysis of the documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle" introduction. It seeks to poke holes in scientific evidence for climate change while illustrating the political and ideological motivations that fuel the myth of its existence. In the wake of the convincing nature of the recently released An Inconvenient Truth it provoked diverse reactions as being a strong alternative argument. Much critique of the soundness of its scientific claims has arisen since its release, as has backlash from people interviewed for the film.
The film was made by British television producer Martin Durkin for Channel 4 Television Corporation. Durkin has produced several anti-environmental documentaries in the past for Channel 4 including Against Nature and The Rise and Fall of GM, both with anti-environmental themes. After the release of both films interviewees came out complaining that they had been misinformed on the approach of the documentaries and that their statements had been taken out of context by only showing snippets of their full interviews.
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There were some 151 complaints filed about Against Nature with 4 of these upheld, and Channel 4 was ordered to issue an apology for taking the interviewees statements out of context and not informing them of the nature of the program they would be featured in (Programme Complaints & Interventions Report). A geneticist featured in The Rise and Fall of GM later said, “I feel completely betrayed and misled. They did not tell me it was going to be an attack on my position. ” (Monbiot) The style of the documentary can be compelling, but is also worthy of criticism.
The use of clips with a variety of scientists and opinionated intellectuals aids to build the argument by relying on varied sources. The use of corny childish animations when explaining scientific processes can be called helpful or annoying. The sound snippets from interviews are laid over clips of people sunning on the beach, as if to suggest that warming really wouldn’t be so bad. Throughout the documentary there is a lingering narrative voice, of whom we really don’t know, but it does much of the explanation which the interviewees back up with one-liners.
The line of argument is rather poorly organized, jumping from scientific to political critique, and back and forth in a nature that’s seems purposefully confusing. After an initial introduction the film’s first argument is for the natural variation of climate. It claims that the medieval warming period and little ice age are signs of a climate that has always shifted, and not necessarily with any correlation to CO2 emissions. Economic development and industrialization are said to cause a rise in CO2 emissions, but periods over the past 100 years of the strongest development haven’t correlated with periods of temperature rise.
If greenhouse gases are causing the rising temperatures then the greatest increase in temperature should be occurring in the atmosphere rather than at the earth’s surface where it’s actually occurring. It’s claimed that the warming is currently not greater towards the polls than towards the equator. Al Gore’s misrepresentation of the Vostok data is pointed out. It’s also noted that CO2 is abundant, found in all living things, and is produced in greater quantity by nature than by anthropogenic sources. It is argued that the rises in temperature are more closely correlated to solar activity.
Piers Corbyn is featured as a climatologist who previously gained fame by predicting the weather using solar activity. In 1991 scientists of the Danish Meteorological Institute found a strong correlation between solar activity and temperature rise. It’s explained that when there are sun spots, the sun blocks subatomic particles which form clouds. The resulting lack of cloud cover leads to higher temperatures. A correlation was also found when Nir Shaviv compared his own record of cloud-forming cosmic rays with the temperature record created by geologist Professor Jan Veizer, going back 600 million years.
When cosmic rays increased, temperature decreased and vice versa. We are then shown a graph depicting rise and temperature and rise in solar activity as measured by NASA and American’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The two seem to fit much more closely than CO2 levels do. The next part of the argument shows what political motivations are behind the ‘myth’ that climate change is driven by anthropogenic CO2 emissions. It’s implied that it began with Margaret Thatcher’s desire to phase out fossil fuels and promote nuclear power.
It’s suggested she paid the Royal Society to find anthropogenic sources of climate change, and the IPCC was thus set up in the UK Met Office. Climate change then supposedly became the best funded area of science. It was picked up by environmental activists who saw it as an argument against industrialism and corporate bullies. They romanticized the primitive lifestyle before fossil fuels. They also saw climate change as a good reason for governmental regulation, as many of them had moved into the environmental movement after the fall of communism in Soviet Russia.
Journalists and the media jumped on the opportunity for sensationalist news. We then return to debunking the scientific mistruths of climate change. Models forecasting future temperature trends can be unreliable, especially when they don’t account for cloud cover. Greenland has had higher temperatures before without vast melting, and the current melting is part of a natural cyclical trend that occurs seasonally, i. e. calving. The concept stated in the IPCC of malaria carrying mosquitos rising to higher altitudes because of rising temperatures is stated as false, as several species of mosquito can exist at very low temperatures.
The IPCC and its integrity are then attacked, as scientist Paul Reiter tells of his woes trying to take his name off of the third IPCC working group. We are read a letter published in the Wall Street Journal written by Professor Frederick Seitz, former president of America’s National Academy of Sciences about the censorship and “corruption of the peer-review process” of an IPCC report. The use of the precautionary principle when enforcing climate change regulation is criticized. With shots of the developing world we are shown that the alternative to using fossil fuels is very grim indeed, as solar panels are inadequate.
People living without electricity in oil rich Africa face deadly poverty if they can’t take advantage of their CO2 emitting resources. It’s implied that “someone” i. e. industrialized western nations, is trying to squash the African dream and hinder development to keep wealth to themselves. Apart from making wide and serious accusations against several groups of people, the film commits a great deal of factual inaccuracies. It’s valid to say the climate has always fluctuated, but climate scientists are aware of these.
Also its relative to comment that while there was warming in Europe at that period there was cooling in China, so the temperature chart shown in the film doesn’t graph the global mean surface temperatures but only in northern Europe (Piani). The suggestion that the global mean surface temperature since the mid 19th century has increased by only 0. 5°c is blatantly incorrect as it has risen by roughly 1°c since 1880 (Sato). It’s logical for temp increase to not coincide per year with decade long periods of economic growth, as it usually takes about that long for CO2 emissions to have any effect on climate (Piani).
When showing a cooling during the post war economic boom on a graph, they have omitted the period after 1980, making the cooling appear longer, and the warming less severe. This temperature graph is attributed to NASA, but hardly resembles that of NASA, as NASA’s doesn’t show a tremendous drop from 1940 to 1970, but rather stabilization that then increases much faster. Dr. Eigil Friis-Christensen one of the “senior scientists at the Danish Meteorological Institute” has stated that his views were misrepresented in the film, suggesting his comment was taken out of context.
He also said that the one of his graphs appeared to be falsified (Laut). The movie also fails to disclose that the 1991 paper it references has been academically refuted since then (Laut). Margaret Thatcher gave two speeches to the Royal Society, neither of which mentions the funding of climate science (Speech to Royal Society). The IPCC was not simply invented within the UK. It was established by two UN Organizations, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program to assess “the scientific, technical and socioeconomic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change. (History of the IPCC) The film grossly overstates US funding of climate science, which is $1. 1 billion per year (The U. S. Climate Change Science Program for Fiscal Year 2007).
To put this amount into perspective, the U. S. awards about $28 billion in grants to medical research (NIH Budget). That glaciers melt and freeze cyclically every year is true but irrelevant. What is relevant to climate change is if the summer peaks of ice are receding. This isn’t examined, however. While it’s true that models can be manipulated to do anything, it’s not accepted in the scientific community to present a model that does just “anything.
There are processes for adjusting models several times, conducting trial runs and observing their accuracy before they are published and referenced. The IPCC doesn’t exaggerate the potential of malaria spread due to climate change as the film suggests. Instead the Third Assessment Report states very conservatively, “Malaria could become established again under the prolonged pressures of climatic and other environmental demographic changes if a strong public health infrastructure is not maintained. ” The IPCC was selectively quoted. Suggesting that the IPCC is politically driven and isn’t scientifically rigorous is blatantly false.
Conclusions published in the IPCC go through several peer review processes and the contributing authors are thoroughly examined before their work is used (McCarthy). The IPCC explicitly demands that its reports be “neutral with respect to policy” (Principles Governing IPCC Work). The IPCC is composed of three working groups considering the science, the impacts to society and nature and adaptation, and the mitigation of climate change. In the last two groups, experts in the social sciences are included in dialogue to determine appropriate human reaction to the scientific findings, thus the inclusion of “non-scientists” is appropriate.
While the IPCC releases a summary meant to be comprehensible to policy makers, it is by no means a political authority, nor takes instructions from any one government. The letter Seitz wrote regarding the IPCC was written about the 1996 Second Assessment Report. It isn’t disclosed that at the time Seitz was the Chair of the fossil-fuel industry–funded George C. Marshall Institute (George C. Marshall Institute). Throughout the entire course of the film serious allegations are made against the scientific community, suggesting scientists conduct research out of popular or monetary motive.
Most scientists have no background in politics and feel no popular pressure from the media to dedicate themselves to any one field. If a topic is judged by peer reviewed committees to be serious and in need of research, it should attract more funding. The media has little influence. Also, scientific problems of the past that have been targeted by the media have not always received proper funding because evidence of need for further research has been deemed unsubstantial by peer reviewed committees. The Ad Hominem arguments against environmentalists are generalizations that are widely untrue.
While there is a minority of extreme environmentalists, just as there is an extreme minority behind any position, many are aware of the stark realities of poverty and the benefits of technology. Volunteers with Greenpeace in developing countries, such as anti-consumerist advocate Annie Leonard, have seen the struggles of a community without electricity first hand and don’t advocate that. While they tend to support CO2 neutral energy sources, no one is forcing these on the developing world as most are aware that the emissions of developing nations are comparatively small to ours.
This is acknowledged by policy makers as well, who chose to ratify the Kyoto protocol which imposed no limits to the emissions of underdeveloped nations. Many developing nations, particularly China and India, are implementing carbon neutral sources of energy of their own accord, and more because of an interest in reducing their dependency on imported petroleum and improving air quality levels than because of global warming. There is some validity to the argument that a consensus needs to be questioned. In an issue of this magnitude, with this level of scientific uncertainty, popular representation of doubt is justified, even important.
The film has reason to claim that the media is overblowing the threat of climate change, suggesting huge sea level rises “by next Tuesday” for the sake of sensationalist news. The media also promotes ‘scare tactics’ around global warming. The public should be aware of the levels of uncertainty, which the IPCC clearly discloses in all its releases, and the media fails to disclose. The extreme ideology behind some believers in global warming is an important stance to highlight. The emotional approach can block cautious logical thinking for some members of the public, particularly extreme environmentalists.
Their approach to the issues is not beneficial to sane discussion, and should be discouraged. To present a possibility for political bias is also an important topic that is too little addressed in public discussion of climate change. There does need to be consideration of who stands to win from an economy re-oriented around the idea that CO2 emissions will raise temperature, in order to determine if their interests are pushing research towards a certain conclusion. It’s important to present these to the public, but the manner in which Global Warming Swindle supports them is unforgivably deceptive.
The chosen evidence is false or withholds crucial relevant information. Many sweeping serious accusations are made against large bodies of scientific and political authority with only outdated or irrelevant evidence to back them up. The evidence that is provided is the testimonial of several individuals who were either misrepresented, have conflicts of interest, or simply aren’t educated or experienced in the topic they’re addressing (Extracts from Ofcom Complaint). It’s true the media approaches climate change from a biased, sensationalist perspective, however, their influence on climate science is overstated in the film.
The media doesn’t influence governmental spending on research into climate change. If investigation is conducted, it’s because the scientific community has found reason for concern, and detected possible social impact. Scientists don’t conduct research because of popular interest. If they did, there’d be extensive studies on paranormal activity and extraterrestrials. The possible political action promoting climate change isn’t well argued in the film. It gives the idea Margaret Thatcher was the only political leader with an interest in promoting climate change, which would hardly account for it’s now global influence.
To include other leaders’ possible bias towards promoting green energy would have made for a stronger argument. It is a shame that the Global Warming Swindle failed in this way. As a counter argument it stood to have a positive effect on public discussion of global warming, which can at times be over emotional and extreme. Unfortunately, the illogical downfalls of the film have been made aware by many complaints from interviewees and outside academic bodies, essentially dismissing its consideration because of its inaccuracy. Judging by Durkin’s record, we can count on many such films to continue to be released in the future.