The BBC’s climate fake news

Time and again it has put the narrative ahead of the facts.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

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Topics Politics Science & Tech UK

The BBC is very worried about ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ – especially when it comes to climate change, a cause close to Auntie’s heart. So much so that in 2020, it hired its first-ever specialist ‘disinformation’ reporter, who last year fronted an eight-part series for the World Service all about ‘climate disinformation’. The main theme of the show was that fake news about the climate could lead us to ‘catastrophe’.

Perhaps the BBC’s misinformation specialists should have been looking closer to home. Recently, the corporation’s very own climate editor, Justin Rowlatt, was found by the Beeb’s own editorial-complaints unit (ECU) to have made two ‘misleading’ statements in a Panorama documentary about climate change and extreme weather, broadcast last year.

The most egregious of the two errors concerns the deaths caused by climate-induced natural disasters. In the opening sequence of ‘Wild Weather: Our World Under Threat’, amid the obligatory montage of wildfires, hurricanes, lightning and disaster wreckage, Rowlatt intones that the ‘death toll’ from extreme weather is ‘rising around the world and the forecast is… that worse is to come’. The clear implication is that extreme weather, caused by climate change, is killing more and more people.

But this is just not true. As the ECU ruling notes, a recent report from the World Meteorological Organisation found that while extreme weather events have grown in the past 50 years, the death toll has actually fallen.

In fact, over the past century of industrialisation, the global number of annual deaths from natural disasters has fallen from the millions to the tens of thousands – even as the number of people living on Earth has quadrupled. A human being’s actual risk of death from climate-related disasters has fallen by a staggering 99 per cent since the 1920s.

In other words, Rowlatt’s claim that deaths are rising was not a small error. It was the polar opposite of the truth. It was fake news.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that this absurdly false claim wasn’t picked up before broadcast. After all, it fits the narrative of climate change that everyone is now expected to imbibe – that humanity is on the brink of a man-made catastrophe, which only rapid and painful cuts in CO2 emissions can hope to solve.

The BBC has not only taken a clear side on this issue – it also tends to place climate change above every other worldly concern. Its usual pretence of impartiality is nowhere to be seen in its environmental coverage.

In Justin Rowlatt’s Twitter bio, he says his job as climate editor is to report from the ‘front line of climate change – how it’s going to affect our lives and what we can do about it’ (my emphasis). We learnt a fair bit about what Rowlatt thinks we should do about climate change during his coverage of COP26 last year. Most infamously, he berated prime minister Boris Johnson for refusing to block the construction of a new coal mine in Cumbria. Rowlatt blasted Johnson as ‘weaselly’, while raising his voice and gesticulating wildly. Concerns about what the mine might mean for local jobs or UK steel production (the coal isn’t going to be used for energy, despite what Rowlatt’s questioning implied) didn’t get an airing.

For all the BBC’s concern about climate ‘fake news’, its fact-checking seems to go in one direction. Just as its climate editor spreads untruths about the death toll from climate disasters, its outgoing environment analyst, Roger Harrabin, gleefully parrots nonsense about fracking – a cheap, reliable and safe form of energy that might have done us some good in the current energy crisis. Harrabin has continually described the hydraulic-fracturing process (ie, applying heavy water pressure to rocks) as a process of ‘tiny explosions’ which cause earthquakes. Fracking does not cause tiny explosions, at all. And while it does cause tremors, these are mostly imperceptible to humans. But who needs facts or context when there is a higher truth to serve?

Meanwhile, the BBC’s many profiles of eco-extremists like Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Insulate Britain rarely question their wildly inflated claims of the impending climate apocalypse. For instance, XR claims, without foundation, that billions of people will die from climate change. And so it advocates for the near-total decarbonisation of the economy and energy system by 2025. The human cost of such a policy really would be catastrophic. Blackouts, poverty and premature deaths would be all but guaranteed. But for the BBC, the only danger humanity faces is climate ‘inaction’. And so the lunatic XR policy is acknowledged to be ‘extremely ambitious’, while its obvious harms and trade-offs go unexplored.

The vast global reduction in natural-disaster deaths – tragically misreported by the BBC – tells an alternative, humanistic story. This is the story of human progress – of global economic development, industrialisation and innovation. This has allowed humanity to liberate itself from the vagaries and cruelties of nature. It is the simple reason why worsening weather does not translate into greater death and destruction. And it is this very progress and liberation that climate alarmists threaten to undo.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

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