The Great Global Warming Swindle

A review and behind-the-scenes look at the making of a controversial documentary questioning the science behind global warming theories

Citation Information

Bender, Robert 2016. The Great Global Warming Swindle, URL = <>.

Publication Information

Durkin, Martin, The Great Global Warming Swindle, UK: Channel 4, 2007, 74 min, (video).

Humans setting fire to Earth

The documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, was screened in the UK on Channel 4 on the 8th March 2007. Here in Australia, the documentary screened on ABC TV on the 12th July 2007. The programme was introduced by Tony Jones of Lateline and was then followed by a panel discussion of scientists and business people. The discussion concluded with a debate with the audience.

The basic theme of the documentary is that the scary climate change scenarios predicted to radically alter the Earth's climate zones over the coming century are a pack of lies, foisted on the people of the Earth by money-grubbing scientists wanting funding for their projects. The lies are also promulgated by ex-Socialists who have moved into pushing their anti-capitalist agenda in a new way since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

The documentary-maker argues that any recent warming is part of the long cycles of warming and cooling that are the nature of our constantly changing Earth. So, there is nothing alarming or new in this warming, and it correlates strongly with changes in solar sunspot intensity. The warming, he argues, has nothing to do with anything humans are doing with fossil fuels. This human activity is on too small a scale to have the huge impacts claimed by alarmists.

Some 15 to 20 scientists and a few non-scientists contributed to the presentation. One, Dr Tim Ball, Professor of Meteorology at Winnipeg University, criticizes the increasingly apocalyptic nature of climate-change predictions. Professor Fred Singer, presented as the founding Director of the US satellite weather-observation system (in the early 1960s), scorns the absurdity of the scenario in which, by 2100, the only inhabitable part of the Earth where a few humans might survive will be Antarctica. This really is the scenario presented by James Lovelock in his recent book, The Revenge of Gaia, and in Mark Lynas' Six Degrees.

Book cover: The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity by James Lovelock

A contrasting point was made by Professor Phillip Stott, a biogeographer at the University of Arizona. When discussing one of the main themes of the documentary, the Little Ice Age (sixteenth to the early nineteenth century) and the preceding Medieval Warm Period (1250 to 1450), he said that the temperature at the peak of that period was warmer than now. He pointed out that this was a period of great wealth, when there was intense building activity and creativity in Europe. This was the period in which the great cathedrals were built. In this period, there existed a surplus of goods above what was needed by the people, which made available resources for such extravagances.

So, part of the argument presented in the documentary is that global warming is an improvement and not something for which we should be scared, but, on the contrary, we should welcome it. Some doubt on this comforting picture came out in a post-film interview by Tony Jones with the film-maker, Martin Durkin. Jones said scientists had told him that where the temperature chart presented in the film finished at 1990, that point was marked 'NOW'. This omission left out what is known of the last 17 years, in which the temperature has risen well above what is known of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP).

Another of the arguments presented is that increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have never driven climate change in the past. Much of the film is devoted to demonstrating from ice core data going back hundreds of thousands of years that increases in the level carbon dioxide eventuate before temperature rises and not after. So, the argument goes, temperature drives the gas and not the other way around. During the panel debate after the film, Dr Peter Karoly explained that this is true. Long cycles in the wobble of Earth's axis cause warming.  As the oceans can hold more gas when cold compared with when they are warmed up, this warming releases gas from the oceans. However, the released gas then reinforces the warming. Adding in this positive feedback, we can see that the cause-and-effect relationship goes both ways. So, climate dynamics are not as simple as the relationships presented in the film. Karoly went on to say that the increases in carbon dioxide emissions over the past 50 years have been conclusively shown to derive from human activity in burning fuels and land-clearing. There is no doubt about it at all. The same pattern of increasing carbon dioxide levels reinforcing rising temperature will follow, as has been shown from the ice cores. There is no conflict.

Book cover: Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas

One of the much-used arguments against global warming scenarios is that from about 1940 to about 1970, the temperature records show the Earth cooled a fraction of a degree. Even though, during this period, with World War 2 and the post-war commitment to full employment, the world witnessed a continuous economic boom. The world saw a huge increase in industrial output and car ownership, the spread of electrification and the growth in electricity generation, mainly using coal. As is supposedly shown by a Danish Meteorology Institute study, the cooling during this period correlates well with sunspot activity cycles, but not with the large increase in carbon dioxide concentration going on over those 30 years. Again, the data shown in the film's chart stopped at 1985. Since then, the Earth's temperature has risen sharply and sunspot activity has decreased. So, the neat correlation from earlier decades is now absent, and that is the end of that explanation.

There is much argument about the relative temperature changes on the Earth's surface, in the troposphere and in the stratosphere. It is claimed that warming should be greater in the upper atmosphere, but is actually greatest at the land and sea surface, contrary to the global warming models. This is supposedly shown by weather balloon and satellite data.

Professor Tim Ball scorns the idea that changes in the level of carbon dioxide could possibly drive climate change as carbon dioxide constitutes such a tiny proportion of the Earth's atmosphere. It comprises a mere 0.045 per cent, with the amount claimed to be added from human activities far smaller than even that. As one science commentator said afterwards, a tiny injection of strychnine would still kill you. So, the effect need not be in proportion to the quantity injected.

Nigel Calder, ex-editor of New Scientist and author of many popular science books, had much to say about the decline in integrity of journalism. He bemoaned the fact that sensationalized stories now sell well, irrespective of evidence. Climate scenario stories are becoming increasingly hysterical, just to increase ratings and sell papers. Calder recalled the 1970s, when there was much anxiety about the potential for global cooling. He described the shift by Margaret Thatcher away from the UK using coal and oil towards using nuclear power. She didn't trust the Arabs and a damaging coal miners' strike in the 1970s showed that coal had big problems as a reliable fuel. So, to support her move away from relying on Britain's plentiful coal reserves, she put a lot of government money into funding research that would show a connection between carbon dioxide levels and global warming. Professor Lindzen of MIT and members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also had much to say on this. They claimed that the enormous increase in research funding of climate modelling has created a large industry with a vested interest in scaring politicians into continuing the funding.

One interesting contributor was Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace and now a senior executive with a nuclear power lobby group. This tie was not mentioned in the film. Moore claimed that by the late 1980s, many of the campaigns of anti-Establishment groups had been successful. They had achieved what they wanted and needed new fields to develop new anti-Establishment issues and campaigns. So, Moore said, many shifted into the climate debate and have made it into an anti-business, anti-economic development argument.

Attention is given in the documentary to the melting of the polar ice and the glaciers with the claim that satellite data show what is happening is just normal seasonal expansion and contraction. People have been influenced too much by dramatic films of big chunks of ice breaking off the snouts of glaciers. This happens every year. The documentary claims that the predicted sea level changes are unlikely to even be detectable for hundreds of years.

DVD cover: The Great Global Warming Swindle by Martin Durkin

Professor Fred Seitz discussed the alarm about the predicted move into the temperate zone of supposedly tropical malaria. This disease, he said, used to be common in Europe until improved public sanitation eradicated it. It is a disease of poor countries, not of the tropics. Seitz claimed he was an early member of the IPCC, but withdrew when he found that statements to the effect that there is no evidence of a connection between human activity and rising global temperature were removed from the early drafts of IPCC reports to 'sex up' the final version. Several people, including Patrick Moore, commented that the global warming prediction has become orthodoxy, much like a religion in which doubters are treated like heretics.

The film-maker's final claim is that the global warming argument is being used to discourage and prevent economic development in the poorest countries. The claim here is that it is just a conspiracy by comfortable residents of the wealthiest countries against the desperately poor people of Africa. In Africa, millions of impoverished people live in nonelectrified villages and millions of children die of smoke inhalation from dung fires in unventilated huts. All of which, the film-maker claims, could be prevented by developing the coal reserves of Africa.

It is an amazing set of claims, all of which are dismissed as distorted, dishonest and vicious by the vast majority of practising scientists. Two panellists from BP and the NSW Minerals Council said the power generation and mining industries have moved beyond the sceptics' arguments and are now actively dealing with the risks to business and to the future of our economy exposed by the convincing science.

Right at the end of the debate, Jones opened up to questions from the audience. To show how seriously it was all being taken, the first strident question came from a creationist alluding to the fact that Carbon-14 has a short half-life, becoming almost undetectable after about 100,000 years. This questioner claimed that coal cannot be hundreds of millions of years old, as scientists assert, because many reports have shown a lot of Carbon-14 in coal deposits. He was obviously not interested in dealing with the science, only in pushing a young-Earth creationist agenda. Jones quickly bypassed him and moved on in the hope of getting questions from people living in the real world. Instead, he got several questions from people obsessed with the evils of eugenics and wanting to vilify scientists. Reference was made to Julian Huxley, who had an enthusiasm for eugenics in the 1930s. Apparently, getting a select audience to take climate change seriously is a big challenge as audience members had entirely different agendas to pursue.

During Jones' interview with Durkin, Durkin revealed that his 'documentary' had been through several versions, with significant errors having to be removed. In addition, one interviewee had to threaten legal action if his segment was not removed from the film. His views had been totally distorted through the editing process to make him appear to utter views opposite to those he presented in the interviews. So, after all the controversy, it was exposed as a shonky effort from a film-maker with a history of producing dubious 'documentaries'. His methods included using contributors who were either misled and their views distorted, or using discredited data and dishonest argument, all of which had been shown to be false by the scientific community. The politicisation of science is a dangerous process as it becomes just another set of 'opinions' to spin into whatever the presenter wants to claim.

Copyright © 2016

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