Who's Being Swindled Here?


A few years ago the ABC screened a two-part British documentary about environmentalism entitled Against Nature. According to the publicity material, the documentary characterised ‘environmentalist ideology as unscientific, irrational and anti-humanist.’

Against Nature created a furore after it was broadcast in Britain, not least for its extraordinary claims that modern environmentalism has its roots in Nazi Germany and that self-interested environmentalists are responsible for enormous suffering in the Third World.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with a documentary that challenges accepted views about the need to protect the environment, including global warming, but Against Nature was a series of distortions rather than a sceptical commentary.

Employing a range of editorial devices designed to exclude debate and inflame passions, the program fell well short of accepted journalistic standards. It contrasted images of Third World children dying of horrible illnesses with commentary about how environmentalists oppose dams that would bring clean water and electricity, with the aim of portraying them as callous fanatics.

For example, environmentalists were blamed for preventing construction of the Narmada Dam, although the dam was actually stopped by the Indian Supreme Court after a protest campaign by local residents who would have been displaced by it.

While the affiliations of the environmentalists were shown, the anti-environmentalists were presented as independent experts. One of the most authoritative voices, Fred Singer, was a well-known greenhouse sceptic who today heads an organisation supported by oil companies.

It was as if the ABC were to screen a program reporting on a doctor arguing that smoking does no harm, yet failing to mention that he had been funded by the tobacco industry.

The screening of Against Nature here and in the UK was a considerable coup for Right-wing groups that view environmentalism as a threat to capitalism and freedom. But the most remarkable feature of the documentary emerged only after it was shown in Britain. It was revealed that the program makers were linked to an obscure political group named the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).

A Trotskyist splinter group, the RCP published a controversialist journal titled Living Marxism (later LM Magazine), which frequently ran bitter attacks on environmentalism, describing it as a middle-class indulgence or a neo-colonial smoke-screen.

The journal also took contrarian positions on international issues, including opposing sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa, support for the Bosnian Serb forces and the Hutu militias and opposition to the ban on land mines.

Several of the people interviewed in Against Nature had links to LM Magazine and the RCP. The producer and director of the documentary, Martin Durkin, also had close links to the Party.

All of this would be history except for one fact. Martin Durkin is also the writer and director of The Great Global Warming Swindle, the documentary that will be screened by the ABC on 12 July.

Durkin has a sorry history. After Against Nature was screened in Britain the television regulator pressured Channel 4 into broadcasting an apology because the film distorted or misrepresented the views of environmentalists and scientists who had been persuaded to appear on it.

In another Durkin documentary promoting genetic engineering, two scientists complained that their views had been misrepresented with one saying she felt ‘completely betrayed and misled.’ A researcher hired to work on a Durkin documentary arguing that breast implants are good for women resigned saying that the program makers had ignored the facts and made misleading claims.

Sure enough, some of those who appeared in The Great Global Warming Swindle felt cheated. Professor Carl Wunsch, a leading researcher on ocean circulation and climate, wrote: ‘I feel angry because they completely misrepresented me.’

The Times reported that when two eminent scientists collaborating with Durkin on his next film emailed him with concerns about the way the science was presented in Swindle they received an expletive-filled tirade. Dr Armand Leroi, from Imperial College London, was called a ‘big daft cock’ and told to ‘go and f*** yourself’.

Durkin has been forced to cut his latest documentary by a third, taking out the more scandalous and indefensible claims.

As for the various ‘facts’ in Swindle put forward to support the thesis that global warming is a giant conspiracy carried out by scientists who want to boost their research funding every one of those ‘facts’ has been refuted by eminent scientists. For example:

the idea that the troposphere has warmed less than the Earth’s surface (which would be inconsistent with global warming) emerged in the 1990s but was shown to be based on some incorrect data measurements;

the claim that volcanic eruptions emit more carbon dioxide than burning fossil fuels is simply untrue; and

the central contention of the documentary that the observed warming is due to increased solar activity has been thoroughly considered and rejected by the consensus process of climate scientists.

The concoction of scientific distortions in Swindle led Britain’s most prestigious scientific organisation, The Royal Society, to respond publicly by declaring: ‘Those who promote fringe scientific views but ignore the weight of evidence are playing a dangerous game.’

Durkin and the other climate denialists hide behind the respectable veil of scientific scepticism. But there is a sharp distinction between healthy scepticism and cynical manipulation of the facts. Swindle is not a contribution to scientific debate but dangerous mischief-making in an area where the stakes could not be higher. According to the world’s best scientists, if we do nothing millions of people in poor countries will die from crop failures and diseases attributable to human-induced global warming.

Durkin’s intervention is not just controversialist; it is political vandalism. The objective is to wreck the fragile progress on climate change with no regard for the suffering it may cause.

In defending his decision to purchase Swindle, the ABC’s director of television, Kim Dalton, claimed that we should be listening to ‘a full range of views’. Does he really believe that? Would the ABC broadcast the lunatic conspiracy theories of American activist Lyndon LaRouche in order to ‘hear all voices’? Incidentally, the LaRouche organisation loves Swindle and is actively promoting it on university campuses. They understand the ideological purpose of the film, as do the denialists on the ABC Board.

In making judgements about documentary programs shouldn’t Dalton require a modicum of credibility and adherence to minimal journalistic standards, as well as looking for good entertainment? If a director is known to have a history of bitter complaints from people he has interviewed, and been censured by the regulators for dishonest practices, does that not ring an alarm bell in today’s ABC?

In truth, the programmers at the ABC have been conned by a very clever propagandist. Swindle is not about the science, it is a malevolent ideological intervention. If it were to succeed in its goal it would result in enormous avoidable suffering and those who promote or facilitate the documentary would all share in the culpability.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.