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September 27th 2009 print

Bob Carter

Media ecoevangelists

By what authority does the ABC allow ecoevangelists to grandstand their relentless and extreme views at public expense – effectively providing their organisations with continuous free advertising at the taxpayers’ expense?  

Our ABC: mired in a moral morass 

A broadcaster is in trouble when it, rather than the news that it carries, becomes the story. And thus it now often is with the ABC. 

Why are today’s media directors and reporters so incapable of making accurate critical judgements on environmental issues? 

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It is a commonplace that the mainstream media distort the public debate on environmental issues of the day. 

A case in point is the continuing uncritical alarmism about allegedly human-caused global warming, at a time when the globe has been cooling for ten years and human causation remains chimerical. The Fairfax press, together with public broadcasters ABC and SBS, furnish egregious examples of this on a regular basis as they dutifully promulgate – without a trace of critical analysis – the unrestrained, apocalyptic imaginings of the many scientific, environmental and business lobby groups who are now poised to benefit from a carbon dioxide taxation system (aka emissions trading scheme; ETS). 

Daily, Australians are confronted on the radio and TV news with politically opportune opinions on “urgent” environmental matters by scientifically ignorant spokespersons for unelected, unaccountable and inexpert lobby groups: Greenpeace, ACF , WWF and the Climate Institute, to name but a few. By what authority does the ABC allow these ecoevangelists to grandstand their relentless and extreme views at public expense – effectively providing their organisations with continuous free advertising at the taxpayers’ expense? 

Unbalanced misreporting on global warming and other environmental issues is, of course, deplorable, but it is not in the least surprising. For as we are constantly told, alarmism rather than good news is what the punters and therefore the advertisers demand. As Julian Cribb, one of Australia’s most experienced science editors, has related: 

The publication of “bad news” is not a journalistic vice. It’s a clear instruction from the market. It’s what consumers, on average, demand.… As a newspaper editor I knew, as most editors know, that if you print a lot of good news, people stop buying your paper. Conversely, if you publish the correct mix of doom, gloom and disaster, your circulation swells. I have done the experiment. 

A recent case history demonstrates well the severity of the misinformation campaign about global warming that our media outlets have now waged with increasing intensity for many years. 

On September 7, ABC’s Four Corners programme screened a documentary film entitled “The Coal Nightmare”.

The first sentence of the script intoned by presenter Liz Jackson – “We all know that coal is polluting the planet” - being utterly untrue, the quality of the film as a documentary was doomed from that moment on. Presumably the programme was intended to be a serious contribution to public discussion about global warming, but as with so many other previous ABC efforts on the same topic it turned out instead to be a parody. 

One was reminded irresistibly of the famous, scientifically illiterate first sentence of Climate Minister Wong’s Green Paper on emissions trading last year, which contained no fewer than seven basic errors. As Ian Plimer sagely observed, an error rate of almost one mistake for every two words is surely deserving of an entry in the Guinness Book of Records

One guesses that Ms Jackson’s producer and Minister Wong share the belief, honed in Europe during the 1930s, that if you tell a big enough lie up front, and relentlessly repeat it often enough thereafter, then public opinion will follow right along behind. 

The second sentence of Ms Jackson’s script wasn’t much better, either, saying:“It’s a simple fact that coal is responsible for around 30% of the globe’s carbon dioxide emissions, the majority of which arise from burning coal for power”. Though the statement may be true enough on its own, the premise on which it is based, and the visual context in which it was presentedthat carbon dioxide emissions are environmentally damaging – is completely without empirical foundation.  

In fact, the reality is precisely the opposite of the conventional wisdom that our ABC so doggedly pursues in this film and elsewhere, and it is that carbon dioxide emissions are an environmental benefice. 

First, because at current and near-future levels the emissions do not cause dangerous warming (though they may yet prove to confer a just measurable mild warming that would help offset the current planetary cooling trend). And, second, carbon dioxide being effectively an aerial fertilizer for plants, because rising levels in the atmosphere during our modern geological time of carbon dioxide starvation provide a significant boost for plant productivity, and hence food supply. For example, during the second half of the 20th century world population increased 2.2 times, accompanied by a 2.7 times increase in food supply. This, the so called Green Revolution, had as one of its causations enhanced plant productivity driven by increasing carbon dioxide levels. 

The main focus of the Four Corners programme was on the development of “clean coal” technology, in other words carbon dioxide sequestration, the choice of phrase representing one of those clever pieces of language usurpation so beloved by our green colleagues. Throughout the film, the term is used as if it has a self-evident meaning. But, in fact, “clean coal” is being deliberately misused, and presents as code for “burning coal without making carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere” – yet such emissions are neither dirty nor pollution.

Burning coal does indeed produce some (subjectively) “dirty” products, including particulate carbon, NOX and SOX, but all western nations have had clean air legislation for several decades which removes most of this genuine pollution at source. That is why the air quality of virtually all the major western cities has been improving since the 1970s, as discussed by writers such as Julian Simon and Bjorn Lomborg. China and India will also adopt such legislation when they are wealthy enough to afford it, provided only that in the meantime the West doesn’t succeed in hobbling their development via some “Copenhagen Accord” this December. 

Throughout “The Coal Nightmare”, the choice of persons to interview was heavily biased towards those who (for either commercial, research funding or quasi-religious reasons) had an axe to grind for “clean coal”. Joe Romm, for example, is a notoriously unbalanced and zealous advocate for dangerous global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions. And a China Greenpeace representative, perhaps not coincidentally an attractive woman, was allowed to state baldly that “We need to walk away from coal, because that’s the only way we can save the climate disasters”. The statement is unsubstantiated claptrap, yet no attempt was made to provide balancing commentary for such hair-raisingly alarmist comments, nor to address the fundamentally flawed scientific assertions on which the concept of “clean coal” rests in the first place. 

In another example of allowing Green-derived language to control the debate, no attempt was made by Liz Jackson to question or correct those persons interviewed (of whom there were many) who referred to a “carbon” problem, or a cost on “carbon”. Discussion couched in these terms is meaningless, despite its widespread acceptance by persons up to the level of prime ministers. It is akin to talking about Sydney’s water supply in terms of “hydrogen”. 

Towards the end of the film, Liz Jackson opines self-indulgently: “There are moral as well as economic issues for us [Australians]. We rely heavily on coal-fired power for the energy that we use and we export more coal than any other country in the world.” 

It obviously hasn’t even crossed the mind of Ms Jackson’s prejudiced script-writer that the moral current is in fact running in Australia’s favour – for, by supplying third-world countries with the means to generate cheap electricity, Australia is in fact providing them with the only support there is that will allow them to lift themselves out of poverty. As other writers have commented, to intentionally obstruct development in third-world countries by depriving them of the right to use cheap, coal-fired power generation is a type of genocide; in essence, in order to expiate the consciences of comfortably-off middle class moralists in western nations, millions of underprivileged people are going to die. 

In summary, for propaganda purposes the “The Coal Nightmare” assumes throughout that coal is “dirty” and that there is an identified “carbon problem”, whereas in fact there is only a speculative “carbon dioxide problem”, the manifestation of which as expected dangerous warming has yet to be measured, and which – on more careful analysis – proves actually to be a benifice rather than a problem! 

So determined is the preconceived editorial line of “saving the planet” from “dirty” power generation that “The Coal Nightmare” manages to completely evade the critical issue that capturing and storing carbon dioxide in itself represents an expensive act of immorality. For to accomplish carbon dioxide sequestration requires the squandering of between 30 and 40% more coal per unit mined, and that for no likely environmental return; this represents profligate wastage of the most important, non-renewable, cheap energy resource on the planet. 

Overall, then, the Four Corners film on carbon dioxide sequestration was a disgrace to the formerly (1970s) excellent standards of ABC documentaries, and amounted to the use of a public broadcaster to promulgate a propaganda message from the Deep Greens. Regrettably, however, “The Coal Nightmare” is but one example of the genre, and many other similarly incompetent programs appear regularly on our screens from broadcasters all over the world, for dangerous warming hysteria long ago went global. 

What this reflects, in Australia at least, is the complete lack of any scientific expertise and judgment at the level of managerial oversight of news and current affairs programs, documentary making and newspaper reporting. The business community would not for one moment put up with the business section of the daily news being presented in the incompetent and partial way that today typifies press coverage of environmental issues. And neither should the scientific community allow its hallowed standards of objectivity, impartiality and falsification testing against empirical data to be traduced, as they regularly are, in the reporting of environmental and related scientific issues. 

It is dangerous for a media organization to start thinking that it has a special moral insight into an important issue of the day, as the ABC and SBS clearly do for global warming. It is even more dangerous for such organizations to discard evidentiary arguments in favour of a crusading approach to an issue, as exemplified by “The Coal Nightmare”; first, badging disparate views as non-mainstream, before, second, discriminating against their presentation on the grounds that the ends (“saving the planet”) justify the means (“bias and censorship”). 

Perhaps the ghost of Bishop Rowley has already nominated for one of the three current vacancies on the Advisory Council of the ABC, for his writings demonstrate a firm grasp of this issue, viz: 

Righteousness consisteth not merely in a holy state of mind, nor yet in performance of religious rites and obedience to the letter of the law. It is not enough that one be pious and just: one must see to it that others are in the same state; and to this end compulsion is a proper means

And here starteth the slippery slope that ends in the dismal swamp of politically correct alligators that now engulfs the ABC. 

Whether ABC and SBS management have the self-awareness to discern these problems with their environmental programming is doubtful, and nor do they obviously possess the skilled staff needed to direct their struggle back onto the dry land of scientific empiricism. One can, however, always live in hope.