A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Everyone
Photo by JudyN
Yesterday afternoon I received the very sad news from Tony Brown that the prolific commenter on climate sceptical blogs that we knew as ‘Max’ has died at the age of 82.
Reading each and every comment is one of the less well-recognised duties of a conscientious blogger, a task that can become very time-consuming and demanding. Moderation is of course one of the reasons for this, courtesy another, but also learning from others is a very important part of it, and Max’s comments always came under that heading. I must have read tens of thousands of words that he contributed from his home in Switzerland and always with interest and respect. I never needed to fear that moderation would be necessary because his tone was always courteous, even in face of the most severe provocation. His approach to any discussion, however heated and controversial, was calm, friendly, well informed, and utterly rational. One always knew that any argument or assertion that he put forward could be well supported with references and I do not remember any time when what he said was effectively overturned by others. Such characteristics as these must have done much to promote rational climate scepticism among those who had the good fortune to come into contact with Max.
As a blogger, I was always happy when a post passed muster with Max, and must admit that when drafting a new post it was not unusual to be assailed by the thought, ‘Max won’t let me get away with that’, and then settle down to further revision. It’s remarkable how the web can bring people into one’s life and allow them to become part of it to an extent that you would not think possible when you have never seen them, spoken to them, or come to know anything about their real lives.
At this sad time our thoughts and sympathy will be with Max’s wife. He will be remembered with respect and affection by many, and of course all those comments will live on as a very durable contribution to the great climate change debate.
UPDATE 08/06/2014 17:30
Robin Guenier has just reminded me of a time when two Harmless Shy contributors - with very different views on climate change and also very different blogging styles - decided that they should put their money where their mouths were. This is what Max told Robin, who had been involved in the discussion, in an email he received last year:
I recall our exchanges with P—- M—– (now tempterrain), and remember how certain he was that global warming would resume “with a vengeance after 2009″. We started off with a bet of $1,000 on whether or not the next 3 years (after 2009) would exceed the 1998 record temperature, using the HadCRUT3 surface temperature record. In our off-line exchanges, Peter then asked for the amount to be reduced to a token amount of $100, and we agreed that the loser would pay this amount to the charity selected by the winner.
I haven’t checked in a couple of days, but the last time I did the December 2012 figure still wasn’t published.
Robin tells me that a later update confirmed that $100 (Australian I suspect) was duly paid to the Salvation Army by the looser at Max’s request. In view of what I might be able to deduce about tempterrain’s views on organised religion from the many comments of his that I have read, I suspect that Max had a great big grin on his face when he chose that one.
Current work should address the longstanding problem of this site loading slowly
The WordPress blogging platform is forever evolving and the time has come to check things over and make a few changes and updates too. For a day or two there may be times when things look a bit odd and some features don’t work as expected, but all posts should be accessible. Commenting should also be OK too.
Apologies for any inconvenience caused, but when the work is done Harmless Sky should be a faster and more user-friendlier site.
In the wake of press coverage (Mail on Sunday and Daily Telegraph ) of the BBC climate seminar scandal, I posted some background to the current revelations here. This touched on connections between Tony Blair’s presidency of the G8 in 2005 and the seminar. It is worth looking at this in more detail.
The G8 is a forum for the governments of eight of the world’s largest economies. During an eight-year cycle each nation takes it’s turn to act as chairman and set the agenda on an annual basis. Of course this opportunity does not occur for every government leader. Some may be in and out of office during the years when others hold the post, but there is no doubt that presidency of the G8 provides politicians with an opportunity to be seen playing a major role in international affairs. Of course it is also important that the G8 president should have solid public support at home for the policies that he chooses to be the hallmark of his term in office.
In 2005, Tony Blair had been prime minister for 8 years and was under pressure from his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, to stand aside. There can be no doubt the ‘Blair legacy’ was by this time a major consideration in formulating public policy. This golden opportunity to strut the world stage could play a valuable part in bolstering his rather tarnished reputation and particularly so in 2005, which was a general election year in the UK. Finding policy initiatives for the G8 agenda that would enhance the prime minister’s image as a caring man of the people, and command public support at home too, would be a crucial task at such a time.
Downing Street finally decided that the two subjects that would best serve the purpose were African development and global warming. The prospect of saving not only Africa from chaos and starvation, but also the whole of humanity and the planet from environmental catastrophe would surely fit Blair’s messianic persona perfectly. There is some inside information about the processes by which this decision was taken.
In 2007, Sir David King retired from the post of Government Chief Scientific Adviser and was inclined to reminisce about the influence he had had on public policy during his term in office. During an interview on the BBC Today programme in late 2007 he had this to say:
… in that early period in 2004 there was much discussion about what we would be doing during our G8 presidency, and the response – and I think this was because it was taken up so well with the media, so let me say something nice about the media – the result was that we lead the G8 with climate change and African development, both of which I was very very strongly in favour of.
BBC Today Programme 20-12-2007
In other interviews Sir David provided clues as to how this came about, and the decisive influence that he had on events:
At the end of my last post I invited readers to write to the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee asking that there should now be genuinely independent inquiry into the BBC’s 2006 seminar Climate Change - the Challenge for Broadcasting. Below is Andrew Montford’s contribution, which covers all the angles.
If you feel that such representations are worthwhile, but don’t have time to construct the detailed arguments in a letter yourself, you might like to write to the chairman of the committee saying that you have seen Andrew’s letter here and support what he says. Or you might like to attach a copy. (Download pdf version here) The address is to write to is: firstname.lastname@example.org and do remember to give your name and address.
Dear Mr Whittingdale
Over the weekend an article was published in the Mail on Sunday Describing the links between environmental NGOs and the BBC and the possibility That the last government effectively subverted the corporation’s output. Those involved with the BBC – staff and management and the BBC Trust – have repeatedly made false representations to the public.
This is not the first time that BBC has received adverse publicity as a result of clandestine links to environmental organisations: in 2011 it was revealed that BBC World was taking free programming from environmental NGOs. It is now clear that the corporation has become inextricably linked with the environmental movement
There is now an urgent need for an independent inquiry into the links between the BBC and green groups. Despite direct representations, the BBC Trust has shown no interest in examining these issues; nor is there any likelihood that it would do so in a fair and transparent manner. Previous scandals involving the BBC have shown that the first instinct of the Trust is to protect the corporation rather than the public interest.
I would therefore like to formally request that your committee institute an investigation into the links between green NGOs and the BBC, and in particular the so-called 28-gate affair.
Please note that I will publish any reply you give.
XX X & XXXX
In the Mail on Sunday today, David Rose has reported on some startling developments in the long, long quest for information about a BBC’s 2006 seminar on climate change. He has been very careful, as ever, to get his facts right, but writing for a popular Sunday paper necessarily means that much detail has had to be sacrificed in favour of a broad brush and the big picture. This is not a criticism in any way, it is just that a lot more could be said if space and the genre permitted.
What is clear in the Mail on Sunday report is that funding for the 2006 BBC climate change seminar came from a government department. Also that the funds were channelled through environmental lobbyists who were organising the seminar. And it is possible that the government department that provided the funds had some input about the topics selected for the seminars.
The documents concerning the International Broadcasting Trust’s (IBT) application to the Department for International Development (DFID) were obtained by Terry Sanders who kindly sent them to me. He deserves a very big thank-you indeed!
The Mail on Sunday article does not mention the 2005 G8 summit, which Tony Blair chaired. The subjects that he chose to lead on were development in Africa and climate change. Those happen to be the very subjects that the seminars focused on at that time. It is also interesting that when Sir David King was reminiscing at the time of his retirement as Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government he not only laid claim to turning Tony Blair on to climate change, but he also seems to imply that he was instrumental in getting the subject on the G8 agenda.
What is certain is that the Government organised the 2005 Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change conference at the Hadley Centre, which led to a barrage of scare stories in the media, and that this was done in order to raise public awareness of the problem. A major seminar at the BBC early the following year, which was organised by environmental lobbyists who were being funded by a government department, must have seemed like a godsend to the Downing Street spin-doctors.
Lord Hall, as the man who encouraged Roger Harrabin to set up the seminar programme, features in this story too. He had left the BBC to run the Royal Opera House before DFID got involved with the seminars, so he bears no direct responsibility for what happened in 2005 and 2006. However since his return to the BBC he has thrown some interesting light on the matter, contradicting just about everything that the BBC has claimed about the seminar previously.
Here are some of the things that the BBC has said about the seminar:
It was described in John Bridcut’s landmark ‘Wagon Wheel’ report on BBC’s impartiality, which was adopted and published by the BBC Trust in July 2007, as:
”A high level seminar with some of the best scientific experts [on climate change]”
The BBC’s letter of 31st August 2007 refusing to disclose the information I had requested says:
”… information relating to the seminar is held to help inform the BBC’s editorial policy around reporting climate change.
The attendees at the seminar were made up of 30 key BBC staff and 30 invited guests who are specialists in the area of climate change.”
A BBC submission to my previous Information Tribunal appeal last year had the following description:
“The requested information concerns the organisation, administration and content of a seminar concerning editorial challenges to the reporting of climate change. The seminar was held in order to provide attendees with an understanding of the existing state of knowledge on the issue of climate change, to identify where the main areas of debate lie,to provoke the imagination of the media to deal with the scope of the issue and to consider the role of the BBC in the public debate.”
Lord Hall of Birkenhead, BBC Director General, in written supplementary evidence to the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee 25/06/2013:
“ The title of the seminar was ‘Climate Change, the Challenge to Broadcasting ‘ … the guests were not ‘a panel of climate change experts’, nor were they ‘advising the BBC on what their approach to climate change should be. Seminars such as this do not set BBC editorial policy on how it covers climate change’”.
You just could not have a more explicit conflict of evidence, and surely it really is necessary now to dig down to the truth, however uncomfortable that might be.
With so much at stake where trust in the BBC is concerned, it would seem essential that, as the statutory regulatory body, the BBC Trust should now set up a genuinely independent inquiry into how editorial policy on climate change has been formulated and who has been able to exert influence on that process. If you think that this is the right next step, then you might like to write to the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee (email@example.com). If enough people do so, then they just might put some pressure on Lord Patten to act next time he is hauled up in front of them. He has been on the receiving end of some pretty rough handling by that committee recently.
There is still a great deal more to come out about this matter, and I think that the best thing that I can do at the moment is attempt to answer any questions that people might have.
Documents that Terry Sanders obtained from DFID concerning IBT funding. These include a very recent additional disclosure which names some senior BBC executives and shows that Mark Thompson, then Director General of the BBC, was directly involved in negotiations over the seminar programme with the IBT.
The documents that I have obtained from the BBC, including lists of attendees, their brief biogs, Jana Bennett’s opening remarks, and a briefing document and some administrative documents.
Some of the files are quite large and may take some time to download.
Anyone seeking more context on this post may like to read Andrew Montford’s excellent The Propaganda Bureau or Christopher Booker’s equally excellent The BBC And Climate Change: A Triple Betrayal. Both deal with the earlier revelations about the BBC climate change seminar and its consequences.
With storms – and even better, rumours of storms – helpfully filling the usual holiday season news vacuum, I thought the letter transcribed below might be of interest. By a strange coincidence, my wife came across it today when sorting through some old family papers.
It is a letter from her grandfather to her grandmother on the eve of a trip to Ireland (from whence he came) and the night after addressing a local political meeting on his way to the port of Holyhead. The causeway he mentions is unchanged; a mile long embankment about 20ft high with the sea on one side, a road halfway up the other side, and a railway line on top. The weather was not very good.
The Station Hotel
29th Oct 1927
My darling Girl
Here I am after a queer night. The meeting was excellent, about 50 people, most well behaved.
After I had finished my speech I left and the sergeant [of police?] said to me “You cannot go home, all roads are under water; hopeless”. I said “I’m going to Holyhead. Which is the safest road? By Bethgelert or Portmadoc? He said “Portmadoc”. I went.
I very much hope that it will now stay online for the foreseeable future as my quest for the oh! so illusive BBC climate change seminar information that started in July 2007 has come to an end. More – much, much more – about this next week, and then some distinctly unsettling tales about a litigant in person’s experiences with the General Regulatory Chamber that administers Information Tribunals.
At a time when there is more reason than ever to doubt that human activity is causing dangerous climate change, the IPCC’s launch of its Fifth Assessment Report has been a triumph of spin over rational enquiry.
Whatever the strange and very lengthy Working Group 1 (The Physical Science Basis) Summary For Policymakers (SPM) may say, there is no doubt that over the past decade and a half, atmospheric Co2 has risen significantly and global average temperature has failed to do the same. This fact contradicts everything that the IPCC has told us in previous reports. It therefore undermines the alarmism, exaggeration and downright misrepresentation that characterise the IPCC process. So how is it that the world’s media has swallowed the scientist’s tale of woe so completely without questioning their extraordinary claim (p12) that they are now more certain than ever, rather than far less certain, that humans are changing the climate.
The answer is quite simple. The document that was so assiduously leaked and spun throughout last week, and finally published on Friday morning when the media agenda had been well and truly established - presumably to the satisfaction of the political representatives overseeing the final draft in the Swedish capital - is not a really a scientific document at all. It is a proselytising opinion piece that provides no clue as to whose opinions are being represented or precisely what evidence they are relying on.
I’m delighted to see that Tony Blair has thrown his weight firmly behind Rajendra Pachauri, and his willing little helpers, as they struggle to finalise the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report in Stockholm.
This is just what people need to help them make up their mind to trust the IPCC.