There has been a growing perception amongst the environmental community that, given the political and economic prominence of climate change over recent years, that the battle over the issue is slowly being won.
Whilst this may be so, the oil industry and its cronies are still out there fighting tooth and nail, continuing the campaign of denying and delaying action on climate, through lobbying and blatant misinformation.
Take yesterday. In the US, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming published a damning report into a complete-U turn by the Bush administration on climate change after lobbying by the oil industry and Dick Cheney’s office.
The report revealed that in the Autumn of 2007, the highest levels of the Bush Administration decided for the first time to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources such as power plants, as well as emissions from motor vehicles. This was approved by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, and ultimately endorsed by the Bush’s Chief of Staff, along with numerous heads of Cabinet departments and White House offices.
However, these proposals were abandoned sometime between December 2007 and early 2008. But, the Bush Administration “reversed course in response to heavy lobbying by prominent oil industry representatives” from ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association, who adopted a “not on my watch” approach to the issue. Those arguments were echoed, within the White House, by Vice President Cheney’s energy adviser, F. Chase Hutto III
As the report concludes: “Doing the oil industry’s bidding, the Bush administration reversed course.”
Score: One- nil to the oil industry.
Meanwhile in the UK, the British television regulator, Ofcom, yesterday ruled on one of the most misleading films ever to be broadcast on British TV in March last year, the Great Global Warming Swindle. Although the regulator, Ofcom did find the film broke rules on fairness, the rest of its judgment was fundamentally flawed.
For example ( and this is not all of the flaws):
Flaw 1. Ofcom completely ducked the issue of whether the film was accurate or not. “Ofcom is not a fact-finding tribunal”, said the judgment. It went on to state that “Ofcom is required by the 2003 Act to set standards to ensure that news programmes are reported with “due accuracy” there is no such requirement for other types of programming, including factual programmes of this type.” In essence was the regulators are saying is that it is fine to broadcast something that is not accurate – as was this case.
Ofcom then went on to say that, even if the film was not “accurate”, it had to ascertain whether the film had “materially misled the audience” with the result that “harm and/or offence was likely to be caused.” It ruled that no harm had been caused.
This is once again a huge cop-out. How, for instance, do you measure “harm”? There is a huge amount of evidence that the programme has caused harm, in as much as it has done what the oil industry wants – it has kept the controversy of climate change open, when it should be closed.
Forty years ago if you had broadcast a programme saying there was no link between smoking and health, the programme itself may not have caused harm, but then millions would have been reassured to carry on smoking and would have died. The same goes here.
People would watch the “Global Warming Swindle” and be reassured that it is OK to carry on flying, driving etc as global warming is, as the programme said, a pack of lies. If you phone up MORI and ask whether the programme has made the UK and other publics more skeptical over climate, the answer, I am sure will be yes. Yes the programme caused harm, but no, the regulators buried their head in the sand.
Flaw 2: Ofcom messed up again on the issue of impartiality. It argued that because the “discussion about the causes of global warming was to a very great extent settled by the date of broadcast”, the film did not have to be impartial in the first four parts of the film, as it was not a “political” subject. This was despite the fact that the film said the science was political.
This complete regulatory failure was picked up by Sir John Houghton, a former head of the UK Met Office and chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “That’s a very big inconsistency. They said it’s completely settled, so why worry – so they can just broadcast any old rubbish. I know hundreds of people, literally hundreds, who were misled by it – they saw it, it was a well-produced programme and they imagined it had some truth behind it, so they were misled and it seems Ofcom didn’t care about that.”
Flaws 3,4. Ofcom also messed up on the factual accuracy of the graphs in the programme as well as the fact that Channel 4 claimed the film was portrayed as only a “minority viewpoint.” This later point was not true. It was broadcast and portrayed as what was really happening on climate change.
Flaw 5. Finally Ofcom did not even feel capable of examining the political and corporate links of many of the commentators in the programme who are linked to Exxon funded think tanks. At least ten of the commentators had links to the fossil fuel industry or groups funded by them. “Ofcom is unable to assess or adjudicate on the relative merits of these strongly disputed allegations,” said the regulator.
After some fifteen months, you wonder what Ofcom have been doing? They completely failed in the remit as the regulator. Channel 4 has been let off the hook.
As Professor John Mitchell, director of climate science at the Met Office, said the programme had “put the message about man-made global warming back by 10 years in the public’s mind”.
That’s just what the oil industry wanted. And Ofcom has no problem with that or the fact that the oil industry must be laughing all the way to the beach on their Summer holidays.
Score: Two-nil to the oil industry.