Podcast Ep. 25: the Autumn Statement, COP21 and blanking Katie Hopkins

Iceberg in Antarctica, January 2011 by Liam Quinn

George Osborne’s latest budget, this week’s climate change conference in Paris, and Brunel students’ spurning of rent-a-gob Katie Hopkins are the subjects of our latest episode, in which Jimmy and Jazza sound off about subjects they are vaguely familiar with.

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BBC apologises for airing climate sceptic show featuring Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers

Iceberg, December 2012 by National Ocean Service

The BBC apologised on Tuesday for airing a radio show involving climate change sceptics without pointing out that scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change is somewhat caused by man.

What’s the Point of the Met Office? was broadcast on Radio 4 early in August, featuring the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts, Peter Lilley MP, Graham Stringer MP, the TaxPayers’ Alliance Andy Silvester, and weather forecaster Piers Corbyn, brother of Labour leader Jeremy.

During the show the sceptics questioned the view that climate change is caused by man, Piers Corbyn having long argued that solar energy is responsible for climate change rather than manmade emissions, a view he has put forward through his company WeatherAction since 1995.

According to the weather forecaster the reason that the media, government and Met Office are so keen to push the carbon-based theory of climate change is because of a Qatari-led plot to keep oil prices high, a view that London mayor Boris Johnson has flirted with in columns for the Telegraph.

After the broadcast of What’s the Point of, scientists complained to the Beeb for not putting the comments in their proper context, with Andy Smedley, an atmospheric scientist at Manchester University, receiving an email from the broadcaster in response.

“With regard to What’s the Point of the Met Office, we do not consider that the programme met our required standard of accuracy or impartiality in its coverage of climate change science. As previously stated, we also recognise that, in giving voice to climate change sceptics, it failed to make clear that they are a minority voice, out-of-step with the scientific consensus – which we would normally expect on the occasion when we include such viewpoints.”

As the email states, “false balance” has been a problem for the Beeb and other broadcasters in dealing with climate change, with programmes often pitting one climate change advocate against a sceptic, making it appear as though scientists are divided on the matter.

There’s no better way of showing this than the clip from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which should also make you feel better about the whole situation (or then again, not):

Image Credit – Iceberg, December 2012 by National Ocean Service

Charlotte Church is right to say climate change could have fuelled the Syria conflict

Drought, April 2009 by Bert Kaufmann

Scribblers from both the Spectator and Guido Fawkes are having a dig at musician Charlotte Church for her contributions to Thursday night’s Question Time, where she brought up the role of climate change in the Syrian conflict.

“Another interesting thing with Syria – lots of people don’t seem to know about this – there is evidence to suggest that climate change was a big factor in how the Syrian conflict came about, because from 2006 to 2011 they experienced one of the worst droughts in its history.

“This of course meant that there were water shortages and crops weren’t growing, so there was a mass migration from rural areas of Syria into the urban centres, which put more strain [on things]…which apparently did contribute to the conflict there today.

“No issue is an island, so I also think we need to look at what we’re doing to the planet and how that might actually cause more conflict in the world.”

Church may well be referring to a piece of research from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, which linked climate change to the Syrian conflict as follows:

“There is evidence that the 2007−2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria. It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers.

“Century-long observed trends in precipitation, temperature, and sea-level pressure, supported by climate model results, strongly suggest that anthropogenic forcing has increased the probability of severe and persistent droughts in this region, and made the occurrence of a 3-year drought as severe as that of 2007−2010 2 to 3 times more likely than by natural variability alone.

We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.

As with much in academia, the conclusions are softer than the headlines that journalists like to write. The authors of that study use the word “implicated”, whilst Church used “contributed”, rather than suggesting climate change is the sole or only cause.

This has not stopped Guido Fawkes running with the headline “Charlotte Church blames Isis on climate change”, whilst the Spectator quoted a number of tweets that fudged what Church had said:

The view that mankind has had a role in affecting our climate is not disputed by scientists, though the specifics of it remain contested, as is common of just about every subject science bothers to investigate.

How that precisely relates to the drought in Syria between 2007 to 2010 is an issue that Fleet Street hacks and musicians are unequipped to answer – but it seems a plausible statement to make and has been suggested in studies other than that quoted above.

Image Credit – Drought, April 2009 by Bert Kaufmann