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BBC, Climate Change & Censorship: An Interview With Benny Peiser

The Institute of Art and Ideas

Benny Peiser is a social anthropologist best known for his work on the portrayal of climate change. The founder of CCNet, a leading climate policy network, Peiser is the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Following the BBC’s recent decision to uphold a complaint against comments made by climate change sceptic Lord Lawson on the Today programme, we spoke to Peiser about scientific consensus and climate change in the media.


The BBC’s head of editorial complaint recently said that Lord Lawson’s views are not supported by any evidence from such things as computer modelling scientific research; thus, they should strengthen their editorial procedures to avoid misleading the public.

Do you think there is such a thing as a unanimous scientific consensus about climate change today?

I think this is irrelevant. I mean, there is a general agreement on CO2 and on greenhouse gases: that we are pumping CO2 into the atmosphere and that this will have a warming effect. This is agreed by everyone, so that is not the real issue. Even the sceptics agree to that. So, this is a red herring, because no one denies the basic physics, no one denies the basic facts.

And that was not part of the discussion at the BBC anyhow. It was about the flooding last winter and whether it was caused by climate change, as well as what to do about climate change. And, of course, there is no consensus about these issues. So, the BBC is using a red herring to deny critics of climate policies and climate alarmism a forum.

A question of rhetoric then?

No. It’s a bit like saying, “do you accept that there is a European Union?” This is the consensus, right, and because Euro-sceptics don’t accept that there is a European Union, they shouldn’t be interviewed on the BBC because they deny the existence of the consensus.

I see.

It’s an argument that no one denies, but which is used to silence critics of the policies, and the subsidies, and the billions of pounds being thrown at the problem. So I think it is basically censorship, using a scientific argument that is standing on [flimsy ground]. No one really questions this general consensus.

So this is a problem of censorship? We know that climate change is a debate that attracts some extremely strong opinions. Why do you think this is?

This is not about scientific proof. It’s about how serious is it and what should we do about it, you see. It is only the BBC who claims this is about scientific proof. As I’ve just said, no one is questioning the basic physics; no one is question the basic consensus. So this is not about denying climate change or denying the effects of greenhouse gas or that there is human contribution… this is all a red herring. This is about denying anyone who criticises the green lobbyists and the green agenda from raising criticisms. This is what is at stake. It’s not about the science.

So do you think that, when it comes to the media, it is a one-sided kind of alarmist perception of risk that comes into question?

Of course, because they are well-known for pointing out everything that is alarming and being silent on reports that show it is not as alarming. So you have a bias in favour of alarm, and a kind of ignoring any evidence that suggests that it might not be that alarming.

It’s about people who think we are facing doomsday, and, on the other hand, people who are thinking that the issue of climate change is exaggerated. And if you deny anyone sceptical of the apocalyptic doomsday prophecies, then you get in a position where the BBC is so biased that MPs are beginning to consider cutting the license fee, or abolishing the license fee altogether, because people are beginning to be upset by the BBC’s bias.

This is a self-defeating policy; the BBC is digging its own grave by annoying half of the population who are known to be sceptical about the alarmist claims which are not substantiated, which are not founded on any evidence. They are only based on on some computer modelling, which is not scientific evidence.

So scientific evidence, such as computer modelling and research, is being used as an instrument in the rhetoric?

Well there is a big difference between observation, what you actually observe in reality – that’s what I would call evidence – and computer models that try to model the climate in 50 or 100 years time. I wouldn’t call that evidence. There is a difference between evidence and people saying, “if we don’t act now then in 50 or a 100 years time we will face mega-catastrophe”. That’s not evidence, it is speculation.

So, for example, if someone were to say, “scientific knowledge or evidence is always a requirement to express criticism toward the prevailing views on climate change as portrayed in the media,” would you agree with that kind of comment?

No, of course not. Because what is scientific knowledge, you know? Who decides what scientific knowledge is? Do you have to be a climate scientist to have scientific knowledge or do you have to have enough information? Who decides who’s qualified to decide what the right policy is? Because at the end of the day, the scientist cannot tell us what is the best approach to deal with climate change.

The scientists have no idea about costs and benefits; about policy and economics. The scientists only know the atmosphere, they know how the atmosphere functions. But if you want to decide what to do about climate change then the climate scientists are really the least likely to understand what policies or alternatives there are.

The climate debate is not just about the science, but also about policies, about economics, costs, benefits. That’s where the scientists are unequipped, and where the economists and policy makers are those at the forefront of the debate. The BBC makes it out as if it was all about the science, but it isn’t. There are so many other questions where the climate scientists simply haven’t got the expertise, or certainly less expertise.

Do you think this is part of the reason why there was a controversy with Lord Lawson when the argument was made that he shouldn’t be censored because he had an argument more in terms of economics and policy making, rather than science?

Of course. And in any case, if the BBC were to adhere to this policy, they would never ever again interview Ed Miliband or any MPs or Minister or policy maker on climate change, right? For example, you mention Lord Lawson, who has written extensively about climate change issues over the last six, seven years. If he can’t be interviewed because he is not a scientist, well then you cannot interview any politician.

Do you think Lord Lawson is an authoritative and representative figure of the views of climate change when it comes to critics or sceptics?

Well of course. He’s one of the world’s leading authorities who has written, as I said, extensively on climate change. He is not a climate scientist, but I just said this was not about science. It is about what to do about climate, how Britain may again be flooded in the future. So it’s not about science, it is about what are the best ways of dealing with flooding in the future.

Full interview