The BBC has been criticised for giving a prominent climate change denier airtime during a news programme on a landmark UN report warning the planet faces imminent catastrophe if carbon emissions are not radically curbed.
Myron Ebell, a former environmental adviser to Donald Trump known for depicting global warming as a hoax, was interviewed by Newsnight presenter Evan Davis after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned humanity must make “unprecedented changes” to the way we live, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions almost in half by 2030.
Last month the BBC has previously admitted it got climate change coverage “wrong too often”, advising its journalists they “do not need to include outright deniers” in discussions because scientists accept man-made global warming is a fact.
In April, Ofcom rebuked the broadcaster for failing to sufficiently challenge inaccuracies during an interview with climate change denier Nigel Lawson on Radio 4’s Today.
Newsnight‘s invitation to Mr Ebell, director of environmental policy at libertarian thinktank the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), prompted accusations the BBC had failed to learn from previous mistakes.
“This is someone who thinks scientific consensus is some sort of bizarre conspiracy,” Rachel Kennerley, a climate campaign officer for Friends of the Earth, told The Independent. “Giving him prominent air time is contemptible to everyone who understands that scientific fact doesn’t need to be countered by someone wanting a bit of limelight. This isn’t balance, it’s just bad programming.”
Environmental writer Mark Lynas described the interview as “utterly pointless and embarrassing. Car-crash television, and a waste of time that could have been used addressing the real questions.”
“If you want political analysis, ask a policy analyst. If you want propaganda, ask Myron Ebell,” said Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at University College London.
Responding to criticism on Twitter, Newsnight editor Esme Wren said: “As part of our coverage of the IPCC report on global warming we currently plan to discuss the politics of climate change and the mindset of the current US administration.
“In this section it is relevant to hear from those who have advised President Trump.
“The issue of false equivalence is only in play when discussing the science of climate change. This point is entirely recognised and adhered to by the programme.”
Mr Trump appointed Mr Ebell to lead his transition team for US Environmental Protection Agency in September 2016. He had left the role by the time of the president’s inauguration the following January.
Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said Mr Ebell’s brief stint working for Mr Trump did not justify his inclusion on Newsnight.
“Ebell has never met Trump and has never served in the Trump administration. I doubt Trump has even heard of Ebell,” he said, accusing Newsnight of “desperately attempt[ing] to justify scraping the barrel for climate change deniers”.
During the five-minute interview, Mr Ebell claimed it had “become identity politics for the left to claim there was an imminent crisis” in global warming. He depicted the scientists involved in the IPCC report as “climate campaigners” who he suggested had been instructed by the UN to give ominous warnings about global warming.
He was repeatedly challenged by Mr Davis, who told Mr Ebell: “I don’t want to hear your argument that the science is wrong, because you don’t know anything about it.”
The conversation only briefly touched upon Mr Trump’s stance on environmental issues.
Asked if he could “imagine anything the scientists could say that would persuade the administration that it needs to take this more seriously”, Mr Ebell responded: “No. I think the administration and the American people are pretty convinced that a pro-energy agenda is much more viable and will have much better results than an energy rationing agenda.”
The CEI has previously received millions of pounds in funding from oil company ExxonMobil.
A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC does not dispute the science. We acknowledge the weight of scientific consensus around climate change and this underpins all of our reporting of the subject.
“This does not mean, however, that we should never interview someone who opposes this consensus, especially if they are influential in the political debate about how to tackle climate change. There are times when it is editorially appropriate to hear from a dissenting voice.”
On Monday, the BBC’s director-general vowed the broadcaster “won’t give in to pressure to silence dissenting voices”.
Delivering a lecture to the Society of Editors, Tony Hall said: “Our impartiality does not mean that we strike some sort of false balance – but that we reflect all contributions to a debate, and give each of them their due weight.
“So, no equivalence between the climate change sceptic – and the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion. But no exclusion of viewpoints because they’re generally felt to be beyond the pale. We won’t give in to pressure to silence dissenting voices – nor allow those voices to be seen as mainstream.”
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