Review of “The Great Global Warming Swindle”

by Chris Seck on April 27, 2007

“The Great Global Warming Swindle” does not pretend to be neutral or fair-minded. This controversial British documentary, first aired in March on Britain’s Channel 4, is a one-sided attack on the predominant scientific consensus on global warming. Its producer, Martin Durkin, has a reputation for producing controversial films. The bias of this producer and his film is blatant and unmistakable.

But at the same time, Durkin’s documentary plays a useful role: it reminds us that the global warming issue is actually debatable. Many people regard global warming as an unquestionable fact because it is reportedly proven by “science.” More often than not, the media reinforces this perception. For example, in February, the New York Times cited a “leading international network of climate scientists” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who reported global warming as “unequivocal.”

I am amazed by the powerful emotions that global warming inspires in people—even people who are usually liberal and open-minded about everything else. In reviewing Al Gore’s recent film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert awarded it four out of four stars, which he rarely rates any film. Then, in a manner completely uncharacteristic of his usual dry wit and impartial indifference, Ebert declared: “You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to… I believe that to be ‘impartial’ and ‘balanced’ on global warming means one must take a position like Gore’s. There is no other view that can be defended.”

It is in this sort of political environment—an environment where people not only believe in global warming, but also insist that there is no room for debate—that a film like “The Great Global Warming Swindle” comes in handy.

Much of the 75-minute documentary is spent interviewing scientists who are skeptical of the consensus on global warming. Some of them claim that human activity is responsible for only a small percentage of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Others argue that carbon dioxide itself comprises very little of the earth’s atmosphere and has a negligible effect on global warming. Still others contend that climate temperatures tend to fluctuate over the years, and that the world is cooler today than it was centuries ago.

For example, Professor Ian Clark, from the Earth Sciences Department of the University of Ottawa, suggests that climate temperatures have been much higher in the B.C. years: “If we go back 8,000 years in the Holocene period, our current interglacial, it was much warmer than it is today. Now, the polar bears obviously survived that period, [and] they’re with us today, they’re very adaptable, and these warm periods in the past, [which] we call hypsithermals, pose no problem for them.”
Professor Syun-Ichi Akasofu, the director of the International Arctic Research Center, also suggests that there is little correlation between carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures: “CO2 began to decrease exponentially in about 1940, but the temperature actually begun to decrease [around] 1940, continuing until about 1975. So this [represents] an opposite relation.”

Besides the interviews with scientists, “The Great Global Warming Swindle” also insinuates that global warming research is driven by financial motives. “Tens of thousands of jobs depend on global warming right now… It’s a big business,” says Professor Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia. Professor Philip Scott of London University echoes this sentiment: “It’s become a great industry in itself. And if the whole global warming farrago collapses, there’d be an awful lot of people out of jobs and looking for work.” They suggest that the prospect of global warming has created many jobs in journalism, the public sector, and academia—jobs that might be at risk if the idea of global warming comes under question. Therefore, scientists, government officials, and members of the media have a vested interest in promoting the idea of global warming, if only because their careers depend on it.

In addition, Durkin’s documentary even plays the race card, suggesting that the global warming movement is an arrogant Western imposition that will come at the expense of poor Third World nations. Prominent space is given to Kenyan economist James Shikwati, who is quoted at great length: “One clear thing that emerges from the whole environmental debate is the point that somebody is keen to kill the African dream, and the African dream is to develop.”

With great emotion in his voice, Shikwati then adds: “I don’t see how a solar panel is going to power a steel industry…We are being told, ‘Don’t touch your resources. Don’t touch your oil. Don’t touch your coal.’ That is suicide.”

Of course, “The Great Global Warming Swindle” is one-sided, and that the producer definitely cherry-picked quotes and facts to suit his belief that global warming is a hoax. At the same time, it is hard to imagine Al Gore as being completely neutral when he selected the statistics and quotes to be featured in “An Inconvenient Truth.” Both Durkin and Gore made their respective films with an eye to their own agendas, and neither is free of bias. The only question is who is correct.

Though there is some truth to the idea of global warming, the issue of climate change should also be openly debated. Although the majority of scientists do believe that global warming is a real phenomenon, there are also some scientists who are skeptical of the prevailing scientific consensus. And it is in the spirit of this debate that “The Great Global Warming Swindle” is relevant.

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