Guess which article was written by a BBC journalist:
One statement… claims: “We are indeed experiencing the greatest wave of extinction since the disappearance of the dinosaurs.” While that may (or may not) be true, the next sentence is spuriously precise: “Every hour three species disappear. Every day up to 150 species are lost’”… The International Union for Conservation in Nature (IUCN) has listed 801 animals and plant species (mostly animal) known to have gone extinct since 1500. But if it is really true that up to 150 species are being lost every day, shouldn’t we expect to be able to name more than 801 extinct species in 512 years.
Nearly one third of all species are now endangered due to human activities… the extinction of species is now happening between 1,000 and 10,000 times quicker than scientists would expect to see… more than 142,000 species have been assessed [by the IUCN] and 29% are considered endangered, which means they have a very high risk of extinction… it is hoped that an agreement can be reached to stop what scientists are calling the ‘sixth mass extinction’ event.
Correct, whichever one you chose – both articles were produced by BBC writers. But what a difference a decade makes. The first quote came from an article written in April 2012, while the second appeared a few days ago. The first article by Richard Knight reports the statement about a great wave of extinction. But it correctly shows it as a claim, and the author then goes on to examine whether it has any validity. The evidence suggests that it does not.
The second article, from Esme Stallard, takes a different tack. The now-familiar klaxon of ecological Armageddon is sounded, with hair-raising claims simply repeated without any attempt made to question them. The claim that species are going extinct 1,000 to 10,000 times quicker is linked to a blog called Global Forest Watch. The extinction quote on the first page of the blog does not attribute it to scientists – that appears to be the addition of Stallard. Far from querying the figures, it seems an attempt is made to give them added provenance.
Meanwhile, the idea that we are suffering a sixth mass extinction is little more than the invention of climate activists, led in this case by agitprop operations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The claim certainly isn’t backed up by dead bodies. The mass extinction scare was debunked about five years ago, at a time when it was starting to gain popular traction, by the Smithsonian palaeontologist Doug Erwin, who dismissed it as junk science. Erwin is one of the leading experts on the End-Permian mass extinction, 252 million years ago. “Many of those making facile comparisons between the current situation and past mass extinctions don’t have a clue about the difference in the nature of the data, much less how truly awful the mass extinctions recorded in the marine fossil record actually were,” he said. He went on to note that people who claim we are in a sixth mass extinction do not understand the logical flaw in their arguments. It is a “way of frightening people” since if it was actually true, “then there’s no point in conservation biology”.
The number of widespread, durably skeletonised marine species that have gone extinct, notes Erwin, is close to zero.
So how did the BBC, and most other mainstream media, move so quickly from a ‘mission to explain’ to outright green activism and, by default, the promotion of the political control-and-command Net Zero project? As with the Covid experience, we see a marked recent shift in the acceptance of alarmist official messaging and, hand-in-hand, a push for even harsher enforcement measures for the political agenda of the day. ‘Follow the science’ seems only to apply to the work of approved scientists. Social media companies are only too happy to go along with restrictions on permissible speech, while opponents are routinely traduced with terms such as covidiots, anti-vaxxers and climate deniers.
To your correspondent’s way of thinking, the true climate denial lies with the acceptance that the science is settled. Green alarmism has a long and continuing history of failed predictions, but the activists struck gold in the 1980s and 90s when temperatures rose after a fall from the 1940s. Global cooling was quickly substituted by global warming. It had a good run, but the writing was on the wall when the temperature stopped rising from around 1998 to 2010. And the slowdown continues with a current pause lasting another 91 months. Surface datasets can be adjusted, in many cases quietly upwards by 30%, pauses massaged away and record hot years proclaimed, but the jig is looking up. Bad weather can be rebranded as ‘extreme’, and mass extinctions declared to be underway, but their value is limited over time since the claims are easily debunked.
But the show can be kept on the road if the science surrounding carbon dioxide and its precise warming effect in the atmosphere is deemed settled and beyond dispute or debate. Despite 50 years of scientific work, nobody knows what happens to the global temperature if the levels of CO2 double in the atmosphere. Wild guesses that temperatures will rise by 6°C are fed into climate models, which use the politically correct data to produce constantly wrong forecasts. Many scientists suggest natural variations are far more important in determining climate, but their views are ruthlessly ignored under the ‘settled science’ mantra. Again, we see something similar over Covid. Despite being signed by many eminent medics, the lockdown sceptical Great Barrington Declaration was widely ignored in the mainstream media.
The BBC started to shutdown climate science debate early in 2006 when an internal conference, partly led by the environment analyst Roger Harrabin, attempted to redefine the editorial balance between competing scientific hypotheses. Natural forces were to be downplayed in favour of the unproven suggestion that warming is caused mostly by humans burning fossil fuel. This, despite the fact that it is generally known that humans only produce 4% of all CO2 that enters the atmosphere every year. The editorial rot started slowly at first – we can see that in 2012, work was still being published that questioned some of the extreme environmental claims being made. But by 2018, the Director of News and Current Affairs Fran Unsworth demanded that interviewees sceptical about man-made climate change “were no longer to be invited regularly”. In fact, we can read that as never.
Ten years ago the BBC was still questioning exaggerated or false climate claims. These days it is making them. As I noted on Wednesday, Justin Rowlatt claimed in his “Wild Weather” programme that deaths from warmer global weather were rising. In fact they are falling. His Panorama producer justified the statement on the grounds the deaths were “cumulative” – as though a running total of deaths would ever go down.
No need for an increase in the licence fee, then. The BBC’s income is always going up, cumulatively.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor