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Review of “The Great Global Warming Swindle”

“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.

About the author:
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Position: Editor Emeritus
E-mail: seck at stanford dot edu
Class: 2010
Major: Economics
Hometown:Singapore
Writing Interests: Academic issues, world politics, film and book reviews
Activities: Chess, writing, visiting the gym, enjoying 1960s music, and watching old films

Chris served as Editor-in-Chief for Volume XLIII, during Autumn Quarter 2009. Find the archives of his volume here.

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  • rukia hatibu

    The Swindle documentary is very relevant, I have watched it many times and it does have imprtant data that should be considered. I do respect The inconvinient truth but this documentary seems and asures me that the whole global warming phenomenon is shifty and uncertain.

  • John

    Rukia Hatibu. There is no important data within this films. All of it is misleading and has been tailored to make their point – not one issue or fact in that film was fact!

    And yes Al Gor An inconvenient Truth was one sided, however, 90% of his claims are now backed up by real scientific evidence. Human activity, is impacting climate change. and this has been proven!

    Yes the earths tempature and c02 levels have being rising and falling in sinc for hundreds of thousands of years – but the fact remains that tempatures have been increasing steatly along with CO2 levels since the late 19th century when industilisation took off! never have c02 levels been higher! NEVER! and this is causing tempatures, on a global level to rise.

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  • Phillip Arena

    John, even IF 90% of Al Gore’s claims are now backed up by ‘real’ scientific evidence, you must take another look at who has produced this evidence and how much of their research, their jobs, their mortgages and their very livelihood depends on their source of funding…….AND…to maintain the idea that man-made [sic] CO2 is the prime source of global warming. WITHOUT question, there is more ‘good’ science in Swindle than in ‘Inconvenient’. The latter film does a much better job at distorting facts and manipulating science….and a very poor job of doing this.

    Oh…and a good article Chris.

    Eco

  • james

    phillip. Almost all scientists in the world understand that global warming is due to human activity. Usually people like you are getting laughet at, but this is no laughing matter.

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