The BBC as a Fossil Fool?

The BBC is running a Climate Season once again. Like many arms of the media, they have jumped the climate change bandwagon.

And that’s a good thing.

BBC World’s blurb reads:
As part of BBC World’s extensive coverage of one of the key challenges facing humanity, the Climate Watch season throughout April will feature a host of special documentaries and factual programmes plus news and
business reports from its global correspondents.

This is only to be applauded. But it wasn’t too ago that the BBC – with other sections of the mainstream media – was still insisting on “balancing” its coverage of climate change.

Even a couple of years ago, the BBC appeared to be incapable of running an item on the subject without inviting a skeptic to comment on it.

Of course, the BBC is entitled to change its mind like everyone else. (As a certain Boutros Boutros-Gali once famously remarked, only fools don’t change their mind.)

George Monbiot wrote a column in The Guardian (UK) on 27 April 2004 commenting on this. It was titled: “Beware the Fossil Fools: The Dismissal of Climate Change by Journalistic Nincompoops is a Danger to us All”.

Here’s an extract from that article, published less than 1,000 days ago:

Picture a situation in which most of the media, despite the overwhelming weight of medical opinion, refused to accept that there was a connection between smoking and lung cancer. Imagine that every time new evidence emerged, they asked someone with no medical qualifications to write a piece dismissing the evidence and claiming that there was no consensus on the issue.

Imagine that the BBC, in the interests of “debate”, wheeled out one of the tiny number of scientists who says that smoking and cancer aren’t linked, or that giving up isn’t worth the trouble, every time the issue of cancer was raised.

Imagine that, as a result, next to nothing was done about the problem, to the delight of the tobacco industry and the detriment of millions of smokers. We would surely describe the newspapers and the BBC as grossly irresponsible.

Now stop imagining it, and take a look at what’s happening. The issue is not smoking, but climate change. The scientific consensus is just as robust, the misreporting just as widespread, the consequences even graver.

Monbiot ended the article by asking:

But isn’t it time that the BBC stopped behaving like the public relations arm of the fossil fuel lobby?

How times have changed! But hey, better late than never…

World’s richest environmental prize goes to the BBC

Fossil fuels and fossil fools in India

‘‘People in India, unlike the West, don’t understand the seriousness of climate change….They think global warming is a fantasy. Indians are using fossil fuel like never before. We have constructed oven-like buildings and spend enormous energy cooling them.’’

I came across these words by the well known Indian environmental film-maker Mike Pandey in an article in NewIndPress that surveyed how Indian documentary film-makers are rising to the challenge of communicating climate change.

The article, ‘Meltdown on Film’ published on 15 March 2007 highlights the formidable task of raising awareness in India, now one of the fastest growing economies in the world, consuming larger volumes of fossil fuels every year.

Mike knows what he’s talking about: his film Global Warming went largely unnoticed when it was released in India three years ago.

And he is one of India’s top notch film makers on environment, wildlife and natural history. He has won three Panda Awards — also known as the ‘Green Oscar’ — at the Wildscreen Film Festival held every other year in Bristol, UK — and considered to be the most important festival of its kind in the world. (Modest cough: I was on the jury of Wildscreen 2000, when we gave Mike one of his three Green Oscars.)

Viewer apathy is not the only problem that India’s environmental film-makers have to contend with. Here’s an extract from the article:

Like any environmentalist, our documentary filmmakers are “concerned” about issues like global warming. But the lacklustre reactions of research agencies (who ‘‘support” the cause but don’t really come forward to fund documentaries), zero interest from broadcasters who, according to one filmmaker, prefer ‘‘sexy environmental stories’’, together with viewer apathy, are the reasons why the few impressive documentary films on climate change vanish after a few screenings at festivals. Take the Public Service Broadcast Trust’s (PSBT) Open Frame, for instance, the annual documentary film festival held in Delhi. Or the roving environmental and wildlife film festival CMS Vatavaran, where open discussions are held after every screening. Barely a couple of films are chosen by the public broadcaster Doordarshan after they are screened at these two festivals, which is why most of the documentaries don’t ever reach the masses.

‘‘Public interest stories and documentaries are the last thing broadcasters want to show,’’ quips Pandey. ‘‘People like me are lucky to have found space on DD. Value-based programmes are nudged out so easily by broadcasters these days.”

The article continues:

A few years ago, when Mike Pandey returned to his favourite spot in Austria to capture a snowcap for one of his films, he was shocked to see it had melted. He says, ‘‘I had seen the ice cap the previous year. I had to go deeper into the area to get my shots. It’s common in Austria to see ice caps vanishing. You see blossoms and splendid crops in many areas.’’ After Earth Matters, which is being shown on Doordarshan, Pandey is coming up with a series of six films on global warming, which will talk about ‘‘using alternative energy for the future.’’

Whenever out for shoots at Lakshwadeep, Kochi and Gujarat, Mike has been noticing ‘‘visible changes’’ in ‘‘ocean ferocity’’ and where the sea neighbours the land. ‘‘The water has come in a bit more into the land over the years,’’ he observes.

‘‘You don’t have to be a scientist to notice these changes; you can see it all happening now. Unfortunately, people living along the Indian coastline will be the first ones to face any kind of major impact,’’ he adds.

On my visit to Hyderabad last week, I was told that there are now close to 50 TV channels that cover news and current affairs on a 24/7 basis (in English and other Indian languages). Yet this kind of news hardly seems to make the headlines….it’s probably moving too slowly.

Mike Pandey and other environmental film-makers have their work cut out for them.

“If (Indian cricketer) Sachin Tendulkar or (Bollywood star) Shah Rukh Khan loses his cell phone, the news will reach every nook and corner of the country, but the fact that iodine is essential for the human body is still not known widely,” Mike told India’s Frontline news magazine in 2004. Read full article: Nature’s film-maker in Frontline of 18-31 Dec 2004

Read TVE Asia Pacific website feature on Mike Pandey’s 2003 film on the whale shark in India