Saturday, March 16th 2013, 8:25 PM EDT
De rigueur though it may be to describe Sir David Attenborough as a “national treasure” and our “greatest living naturalist”, it really is time he was called to account for the shameless way in which he has allowed himself to be made the front-man for one particular propaganda campaign that has stood all genuine scientific evidence on its head. Last week yet another report picked up on the part Sir David has played in promoting what the facts show to have been no more than a colossal scare story.
It is now seven years since Sir David was first wheeled out by the BBC as the main cheerleader in its campaign to whip up panic over man-made global warming. In two documentaries, he presented himself as a one-time “climate sceptic” who had now been convinced by the evidence. The only problem was that, as he repeated a series of familiar alarmist mantras, there was little sign that he had checked the evidence for any of them: not least his claim that, thanks to the melting of Arctic ice, the world’s polar bear population, already down by a quarter, could be facing extinction.
Pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth had already made polar bears the most iconic image for their crusade to save the planet. WWF, in its relentless pursuit of funds, was moving on from pandas to appealing to the public to “pay £3 a month to adopt a polar bear”.
Vainly, in the face of this avalanche of propaganda, did an array of experts and bodies such as the US National Biological Service and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature point out that, thanks to curbs on hunting in the Seventies, the world’s polar bear population had, in fact, risen from 10,000 in 1966 to 25,000 or more in 2006; that all but one of their 19 main groups were significantly increasing in numbers; and that, based on observed data rather than highly questionable computer models, there was not a shred of evidence of any threat to the bears from climate change.
Al Gore twice famously fell flat on his face in promoting the cause, first when his film An Inconvenient Truth focused on the fate of four bears that were later shown just to have drowned in a storm; then when he made big play with a picture of two bears on a half-melted iceberg, which the photographer later protested she had only taken because it was a striking image, unconnected in any way with climate change.
But although Al Gore may have been notoriously reckless in misusing evidence, he has no pretensions to being a scientist. Sir David’s reputation, on the other hand, is that of a man with respect for science, although this did not prevent him in 2009 from supporting a ridiculous BBC publicity stunt involving a giant blow-up plastic polar bear floating down the Thames, or making polar bears a key feature of his Frozen Planet series in 2011, ending in a propaganda pitch for global-warming alarmism that somehow managed to overlook the fact that polar sea ice had recently been greater in extent than at any time in 30 years.
When, last week, the Global Warming Policy Foundation published a new report, Ten Good Reasons Not to Worry About Polar Bears, Matt (now Lord) Ridley referred in his foreword to Sir David’s bizarre determination to ignore the evidence. The report’s author, Susan Crockford, an experienced Canadian polar bear expert, explains just why there is no connection between the thriving polar bear population and climate change, and how this has been concocted into one of the great urban myths of our time.
Nothing is going to stand in the way of Sir David’s reputation as a national treasure, even though it rests so largely on the extraordinary skill of the cameramen who make his documentaries so memorable. But for his readiness to lend his immense prestige to a scare story that defies all the evidence he deserves no respect at all.
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