There are a few problems with the BBC’s version of the facts.
CREDIT: RACHEL BUTLER/BBC
The BBC got excited about two things last week. One was that topping the list of new words entering this year’s dictionaries is “fake news”. The other was that, thanks to “human activities” and an El Niño weather event, 2016 saw a record spike in global CO2, taking it up to levels not seen since the Pliocene period “three to five million years” ago, when the world was “two to three degrees warmer” than today, and sea levels up to “20 metres” (66ft) higher thanks to melting polar ice.
This enabled the BBC yet again to claim that Arctic ice is rapidly vanishing, supported on BBC News by a clip from David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series, intoning that, among species most “seriously affected” by global warming, are walruses, showing hundreds of them desperately squeezing on to a melting ice floe.
But there are one or two little problems with this BBC version of the facts. First, far from Arctic ice vanishing, there has been no further downward trend in the extent of its summer melting since 2006. Its lowest point this September was higher than in seven of the past 11 years.
Secondly, far from walruses being “seriously affected”, an exhaustive survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service has found that there are so many more of them than there were 30 years ago that last month it decided not to list Pacific walruses on its endangered species list.
Thirdly, what produced that 2016 spike in CO2 and global temperatures was not “human activity” but the unusual warming of the Pacific Ocean by an abnormally strong El Niño. It is this warming that causes the oceans to “outgas” more CO2, not the CO2 that causes the warming: as even the BBC was told when, in July last year, its website quoted the Met Office under the heading “El Niño likely to boost CO2 in 2016”.
Since that El Niño ended, however, the latest Met Office data show that ocean temperatures have dropped sharply, with global surface temperatures back to where they were in 2002. Which is why the BBC’s reporting of all this last week could scarcely have been a better example of what it likes to scorn as “fake news”.